Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some just aren’t happy unless they can label other people in a derogatory way

I recall a moment over a decade ago when now-former state Senator Walter Dudycz told me that it is proper that someone who serves some time in prison has to live the rest of their lives with something of a stigma on their reputation.

At the time, I dismissed it because it came from Dudycz, who was a former Chicago cop who also was a rare breed – a Republican elected official who lived within the city limits (the far Northwest Side, to be exact).

BUT THEN, THE General Assembly created laws requiring people convicted of sex crimes to have to register with the police – even after they have served their sentence. Those registries are public, which means everybody gets to know what once happened.

Considering that some communities have local ordinances that allow landlords to refuse to rent to people with criminal records, this does get to be a major inconvenience.

It may well be a hindrance to the ability of some people to get their act together and live something resembling a normal life.

Now, we have the state Legislature wanting to impose similar requirements for anyone who has a murder conviction.

EVEN AFTER SERVING their prison terms (which are lengthy in and of themselves), those people would have to go to the police department in their home community and put themselves on a list for public inspection.

Perhaps we want a scarlet “M.” Or maybe some ghoulish individuals would rather it be a “K” (for “killer”).

Such a requirement, according to the bill that got passed this spring by the General Assembly, would be in place for 10 years after being released from prison. This measure is now pending before Gov. Pat Quinn, who’s going to have to decide whom he is willing to offend.

Because he’s going to upset somebody, regardless of what he does.

YES, I SEEM to be on the side of people with a murder conviction. But only because I think the “logic” of the people who are most eager to have this bill enacted into law is based in mean-spirited sentiments.

I happen to believe that the prison sentence itself (along with the inevitable probationary period that follows) IS the punishment. This just strikes me as an attempt by people of a certain mentality (they’d call themselves “law and order,” while I’d say they’re mere “vigilantes”) who are eager to pile on the punishment.

There literally are some proponents of this new bill who say the reason they want it is to provide additional reminders to the individuals of what they did.

As though the actual prison sentence (a significant portion of which likely was served in a maximum-security facility) didn’t provide ample reminder, or an experience horrific enough that they could ever forget it.

IT STRIKES ME that the kind of people who want a law like this are the same people who are going to complain that 10 or so years in a federal prison isn’t enough for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and that they wish he could get something close to the 300 years that, in theory, is an option.

Anybody who gets a murder conviction has at least a 20-year sentence to serve (and it is that short only IF the person was a model individual in the rest of their life AND if the actual crime could somehow be portrayed as something resembling an accident).

In most cases, a murder conviction results in a prison sentence of severe length. Forty to 60 years is common, although with the concept of “extended sentence” it can be a virtual life prison sentence.

That is, if the inmate doesn’t get an actual life-without-parole prison term.

THE IDEA THAT anyone thinks there is a need to add on to that punishment is absurd. Even the Chicago Sun-Times saw that logic in officially editorializing against this bill.

Which is why I don’t get swayed by the stories told by the measure’s proponents, including state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, who talk of cases where someone got out of prison after serving about a decade for a murder conviction (which is possible in cases where the original crime wasn’t severe and where the inmate behaves so well in prison that they qualify for all the early-release good time possible).

The cases they are describing are the exception. They are so far from the norm. But these proponents seem more interested in exaggerating the situation, even if it penalizes the masses.

Even though these individuals have a conviction for one of the most heinous crimes imaginable (I know those who’d argue that sex crimes are worse because the victim survives), they do still have some sense of humanity.

I’M NOT FOR trampling on that, just because some people feel the need to have someone else to look down upon.

Let’s hope that Quinn, when he makes his decision on this particular bill sometime this month, sees this issue sensibly – and doesn’t decide to give in to a “bullying” mentality that should have died once we got past the mentality of the schoolyard.


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