Democrats seek to tackle crime with youth investment programs and witness protection


Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, introduces a youth investment crime reduction agenda on Capitol Hill Friday. The package, presented by Democrats, is still evolving, they said. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

Crime intervention program continues to evolve in final week of term, sponsors say

Illinois Capitol News
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SPRINGFIELD — Democrats in the General Assembly on Friday presented community investment proposals that they say will be part of a broader crime reduction package that is still being negotiated as the session enters its last week.

The measures outlined by House and Senate Democrats stand in stark contrast to the improvements in punitive sentencing and mandatory minimum sentences called for by Republicans. Instead, they are focusing on what Democrats have called long-term violence interruption programs.

The lawmakers said they came from weeks of discussions with a public safety task force that included law enforcement groups and victims of crime.

Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, said the investments outlined in the proposals are intended to address “a 30- to 40-year-old Groundhog Day-like story” of what he called “the failure of the status quo of crime control”.

“Fundamentally, I feel like I wish we had done a lot yesterday and yesterday and before that and before that decades ago,” Peters said. But the goal now, he said, is to “turn around”, from a “state of deep crisis”.

Their proposals were largely appropriation-based, asking for nearly $240 million in funding increases over the current fiscal year for intervention programs such as early childhood education and after-school programs. .

But they also included a grant program to establish anonymous tip lines across the state to help solve crimes, as well as a program to expand a witness protection program for those involved in bringing violent criminals to justice.

Those programs, according to Deputy House Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, would have the most immediate crime-reducing impact of the measures mentioned Friday at the Capitol press conference.

“We have to be aware that when we see crime and violence, often, most of the time in all of our communities, the crime is perpetuated… (by) a small group of people,” she said . “If we give law enforcement the tools to solve crimes, and we’re able to get these small groups of people off the streets, that produces a significant turnaround that we see relatively quickly in communities. “

Gordon-Booth gave a personal example. In 2014, her 22-year-old son, Derrick Booth Jr., was killed at a birthday party. A witness came forward to identify the killer, who Gordon-Booth said would still be at large without the testimony.

“One of the things that stays out of this conversation is, what does this individual have to go through to witness a homicide?” she says.

They must be witnesses to the crime, but also be willing to be part of a prosecution, she said.

“They also have to go and testify in court and stand in front of this individual that they saw take someone else’s life,” she said.

Gov. JB Pritzker has offered to fund a gang violence witness protection program with $20 million for the next fiscal year. Peters has a bill, Senate Bill 4203, appropriating that amount while asking for an additional $1 million to fund grants to create anonymous hotlines statewide and fund rewards in species for tipsters.

His amendment to Bill 4736 would also rename the Gang Crime Witness Protection Act to the Violent Crime Witness Protection Act and expand it to fund emergency relocation expenses, wage loss assistance, security deposits for rent and utilities and other relocation expenses. .

The financial aid program would go live in January 2023, according to the bill.

The plan would also create a crime reduction task force that would include lawmakers, law enforcement, legal and criminal justice professionals, victims of crime and witnesses. The task force will meet four times to discuss violence prevention measures and report back to the governor and the General Assembly by March 1, 2023.

Democrats have made it clear that the long-awaited package is still being negotiated in the General Assembly, particularly the funding elements.

As noted, proposed funding increases in Senate Bill 4202 include $598 million for early childhood education, an increase of $54.4 million from the current year, which which corresponds to the Governor’s budget proposal. The monetary scholarship program offering financial aid to students with financial aid would see $529 million in the bill, an increase of $50 million from the current year, but less than the proposed $601 million by Pritzker.

The Child Care Assistance Program would receive $3 billion, an increase of $41.1 million; a Teen REACH after-school program would bring in $19.6 million, an increase of $5.1 million; a Redeploy Illinois program focused on incarcerated youth would bring in $14.3 million, an increase of $8 million; and other after-school programs would receive $45 million, an increase of $25 million.

Other proposed spending includes $7.7 million for the Parents Too Soon program that helps new and prospective teen parents, an increase of $850,000 from the current year; and $10.8 million for the Healthy Families Illinois program under the previous program, an increase of $850,000.

Democrats said the programs were identified because of their effectiveness, but dollar amounts are subject to change.

“These are programs that we are already funding, what we are pushing to do is increase funding for these programs because we know they work,” said Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago.

Gordon-Booth also introduced an amendment to House Bill 1360 that would create a pilot “co-responder” program that sends social workers alongside officers from the East St. Louis, Peoria, Springfield and Waukegan police departments. Social workers would seek to address mental health issues.

In recent months, Republicans have hit out at Democrats on crime, including for passing a criminal justice reform in January 2021 known as the SAFE-T Act.

Although Republicans called this law a “police funding” law, it took no action affecting funding for law enforcement, although it did add requirements that departments adopt body cameras on a staggered schedule, with smaller departments required to adopt them. by 2025. The governor’s budget includes $10 million in grants to fund body cameras.

At a press conference on Thursday, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said the measure was a “de facto defunding of police” that has been “catastrophic to police department morale.” “.

The SAFE-T Act eliminates cash bail from next year in favor of a system that prioritizes the offender’s threat level over their ability to pay. This is to be determined in court. The law also changes guidelines on the use of force for law enforcement, creates a new police certification system and expands the rights of detainees.

Peters dismissed Republican attacks on the SAFE-T Act after the press conference, noting that several of the provisions most maligned by the GOP have yet to take effect.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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