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peters sims 1200 091520CHICAGO—Illinois legislators examined disparities in sentencing throughout Illinois during a virtual joint Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

State Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Criminal Law Committee, and State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Public Safety Special Committee, co-chaired the joint hearing. State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), chair of the House Judiciary-Criminal Law Committee, and other members of the committee also participated.

“To truly combat racism within our criminal justice system we must evaluate our sentencing policies,” Sims said. “No longer should the color of your skin affect the length of your sentence. We have to strike a balance between protecting the public and ensuring that bad actors receive sentences that fit the crime. This subject matter hearing provided fruitful insight from all sides that will be useful to develop meaningful reform in the future.”

This is the second Senate Criminal Law Committee 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 one of the four pillars guiding the Black Caucus’ legislative 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

“Decades of unsuccessful sentencing laws have done nothing to reduce gun violence, and are rooted in a history of racist ‘tough on crime’ safety policies,” Peters said. “There is nothing prideful or righteous about clinging to failure. If we truly do want to win real safety and justice in our communities, then we must commit to real, tangible change.

“Half measures are not working, and we’ve seen that over the years and years of failed policy,” Peters continued. “It is now, in the midst of an economic, public health and systemic racism crisis, that we must remember the famous words of one of our country’s greatest leaders: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”

The Senate Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday discussed sentencing reform in the areas of truth-in-sentencing, mandatory minimums, three strikes enhancements and re-sentencing after decriminalization.

Legislators heard testimony from the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the John Howard Association, the Illinois Public Defenders Association and a retired judge, Donald Bernardi.

“As we continue our work to demand justice and equality, it is critical that we dismantle the systemic racism that exists in our criminal justice system and continue working for real reforms that put an end to oppressive and unjust sentencing,” said Slaughter.

The Black Caucus organized another joint Senate Criminal Law Committee and Special Committee on Public Safety earlier this month focused on police accountability.