Governor Picks Sentencing Commission

Mar 3, 2015

Gov. Bruce Rauner at the February announcement of his sentencing commission.
Credit Brian Mackey / WUIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday named the men and women he's asked to assess crime and punishment in Illinois. The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform comprises 28 men and women, a significant number of whom are well known as advocates for a more rational approach to criminal justice — that is, basing sentencing decisions on what's most likely to rehabilitate an offender while also protecting the public.

I've spoken with several people on the list for my recent series of stories on criminal justice, including Doug Marlowe, a lawyer, psychologist and researcher at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Last year, he gave the keynote speech at a conference of Illinois judges, lawyers, probation officers and other "problem-solving court" professionals. In an interview, he told me politicians who think their constituents want them to be "tough on crime" are misunderstanding public sentiment.

Marlowe says victims of crime are generally more rational than many policymakers: “You ask members of the public: ‘What would you feel if we started sentencing people in a way that actually reduced crime, protected public safety and actually rehabilitated people?’ And they will look at you like you have three heads, and say, ‘Isn’t that what we’re doing now?’ And then you say, ‘No, that’s not what we’re doing, and we haven’t been doing that for 40 years. We punish people for the sake of punishment, and rehabilitation and public safety are not the goals of sentencing, and have not been the goals of sentencing in the United States since the '70s and '80s, and so what do you think about us returning to punishing in a way that’s actually effective?’ Most people, including victims’ groups, would say, ‘Uh, yeah, why don’t you do that?’”

The commission also includes Kathryn Saltmarsh, who heads the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, a group created by the legislature in order to provide lawmakers with information about what does and does not work in sentencing. Last summer she described an "astounding" change in attitude about prison sentences among some members of the Illinois General Assembly. The old way of doing things had been: after something bad happens in a lawmaker's district, the lawmaker tries to appear "tough on crime" by proposing that what had been a Class 4 offense should be made into a Class 3 offense. More and more legislators have been questioning the wisdom of that approach, because decades of following that policy has left Illinois with a prison system at 150 percent of its design capacity.

"There's an awful lot of information out there," Saltmarsh says. "There's been a pretty ongoing and robust national discussion about our overuse of incarceration, a growing awareness that many of those we incarcerate are there because of addiction or mental health issues. And when you're imprisoned, the likelihood that you have will that addressed is really pretty small."

In his first month on the job, Rauner went much further than his predecessor — including visiting a state prison — in acknowledging problems with the way Illinois handles crime and punishment. On the other hand, Rauner resorted to a classic "soft on crime" ad against former Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 campaign. Given that, I am waiting to see whether Rauner will take the politically dangerous positions necessary to truly reform sentencing in Illinois. At this point, one thing is clear: at least some of the people he handpicked for his commission are likely to present him with sound, serious options.

Here's the full list of commission members, taken from the governor's press release:

  • Chairman: Rodger Heaton – Public Safety Director & Homeland Security Advisor, Office of the Governor
  • Vice Chairman: Jason Barclay – General Counsel, Office of the Governor
  • Kathryn Bocanegra – Director of Violence Prevention, Enlace Chicago
  • Jerry Butler – Vice President of Community Corrections, Safer Foundation
  • Brendan Kelley – State’s Attorney, St. Clair County
  • Andrew Leipold – Edwin M. Adams Professor of Law, University of Illinois
  • John Maki – Executive Director, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority
  • Doug Marlowe – Chief of Science, Law & Policy, National Association of Drug Court Professionals
  • David Olson – Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Loyola University
  • Michael Pelletier – Illinois Appellate Defender
  • Elena Quintana – Executive Director, Institute for Public Safety – Adler University
  • Elizabeth Robb – (Ret.) Chief Judge, 11th Judicial Circuit
  • Pamela Rodriguez – President and CEO, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities
  • Kathryn Saltmarsh – Executive Director, Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council
  • Stephen Sawyer – Director of Specialty Courts, 2nd Judicial Circuit & (Ret.) Chief Judge
  • Michael Connelly – State Senator
  • Karen McConnaughay – State Senator
  • Michael Noland – State Senator
  • Kwame Raoul – State Senator
  • Scott Drury – State Representative
  • Elgie Sims Jr. – State Representative
  • Brian Stewart – State Representative
  • John Cabello – State Representative
  • (position vacant) – Director, Illinois Department of Corrections
  • Howard Peters– Former Director, Illinois Department of Corrections
  • Greg Sullivan – Executive Director, Illinois Sheriffs’ Association
  • Gladyse Taylor – Assistant Director, Illinois Department of Corrections
  • Michael Tardy – Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
  • Staff: Samantha Gaddy – Public Safety Policy Advisor, Office of the Governor
  • Staff: Zafreen Farishta – Public Safety Dunn Fellow, Office of the Governor