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Sens. Sims and Peters

CHICAGO — Members of the Illinois House and Senate came together to discuss sentencing reform and violence reduction in a joint Senate hearing on Tuesday.

“We must confront the vast disparities in how individuals throughout the state are sentenced,” State Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Criminal Law Committee, who co-chaired the joint committee alongside State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), who heads the Senate Public Safety Special Committee. “We have to ensure that our justice system treats everyone fairly regardless of their race, religion and economic status. That often is not the case. These issues are important to achieve a more fair and equitable system.”

State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), chair of the House Judiciary-Criminal Law Committee, and other members of the committee also participated in the hearing, which is the third joint hearing prompted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ efforts to develop an agenda to address systemic racism ahead of the upcoming veto session. Criminal justice reform is first of four pillars, which are the foundation of their developing agenda. They include:

  1. Criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability
  2. Education and workforce development
  3. Economic access, equity and opportunity
  4. Health care and human services

"The decades of 'tough on crime' sentencing laws have proven to be public safety and justice fallacies that have cost too many lives," Peters said. "We can no longer stand behind a failed system that is hellbent on long sentences that lock people up and throw away the key. We should be embarrassed, since perceptions of public safety and violence haven’t changed like we were told they would.

"We need to look less at a mass incarceration and more towards mass investment," Peters continued. "Let’s move away from failure and toward a new path that wins real safety and justice for everyone.”

Members of the joint committee on Tuesday discussed sentencing reform and violence reduction specifically in the areas of removing economic bases for driver’s license suspensions, reclassifying misdemeanor offenses to civil offenses, drug penalty reform and parole of elderly people. Legislators heard testimony from the West Side Justice Center, ACLU of Illinois, State’s Attorneys and Restore Justice Illinois.

"We must continue our fight for justice and equality by addressing policies that create unnecessary barriers to employment and other critical resources,” Slaughter said. “Reforming our penalties for drug-related offenses, reclassifying certain misdemeanors as civil offenses and expanding elderly parole would create opportunities to improve the quality of life of those who have been impacted by the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. I look forward to continuing these discussions and taking action to implement better policies that lift up our communities."