Keeping it Real

Criminal justice reform

By: pardoned Illinois death row prisoner Stanley Howard

It’s really frustrating to be trapped in the belly of this cruel beast, while the cries and screams for justice and reforms continue to fall on deaf ears.

In March 2000, shortly after declaring a moratorium on executions in Illinois, Gov. George Ryan appointed a commission to determine what reforms would ensure that the criminal justice system and its death penalty are fair, just and accurate.

The 14-member blue-ribbon commission included a former U.S. senator, former prosecutors, defense attorneys and other criminal justice experts.  This prestigious group wrote a 200-page report documenting everything they believed to be fundamentally flawed with the system, from arrest to appeal, and listed 85 much-needed reforms.

Some of the reforms consisted of ways to deal with and weed out corrupt police officers, faulty confessions, unreliable testimony and evidence, inadequate lawyers and an insufficient appeal process.  Considering that the U.S. leads the industrialized world in incarceration and the immeasurable cost in human suffering due to wrongful incarceration, the public should be more than outraged to learn that the courts and lawmakers basically ignored the commission’s findings and recommended reforms.

I strongly concur with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board’s assessment that “Illinois sends too many people to prison for too long, and it is costing [taxpayers] a fortune.” I support the plan to release prisoners to cut costs and deal with overcrowding.

What I want everyone to know is that this is the equivalent of putting a bandage on a gaping wound, because much more needs to be done. 

“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace,” says Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). “Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding...  We need to fix the system.”

We cannot begin to address this problem without first acknowledging and rescinding the failed tough-on-crime laws and policies that are causing the problem.

I recently read a report written by Malcolm C. Young, an adjunct professor at Northwestern School Law, and founder and former executive director of the Sentencing Project in Washington D.C.

The report, “Controlling Corrections Cost in Illinois,” makes 24  recommendations to reduce the cost of corrections, and is an excellent counter to the claims that “we need more jails and more prisons in order to reduce crime and to bolster the case for policy reforms.”

The reforms deals with ways to reduce recidivism and improving  prisoner’s reentry to their communities.

You can contact Stanley by writing to:

Stanley Howard #N71620
2600 N. Brinton Ave.
Dixon, IL 61021