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US state seeking to re-label ‘offenders’ as ‘justice impacted individuals’

Opponents of the proposal say it shows disrespect to the victims of violent crime

Legislators in the US state of Illinois have approved a controversial bill changing the term “offender” in the criminal code and classifying those convicted of a crime as “justice impacted individuals.”

House Bill 440, which includes the renaming, passed both the Illinois House and Senate on Tuesday, and has been sent to Governor J.B. Pritzker for his signature. The bill also adds Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) representation to the Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI) oversight board.

The ARI program was created to increase alternatives to incarceration for individuals with probation-eligible charges. It seeks to keep non-violent offenders out of prisons by means of counseling, substance abuse treatment, mental health therapy, and job location services.

The proposal sparked heated debate among lawmakers. Some senators urged a ‘no’ vote, arguing that the name change could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. 

“Over and over again, we keep changing the name of how we are referring to those who have entered into criminal activity, and each time we make that change, each agency has to make that change on every one of their documents,” Republican State Senator Terri Bryant said during a hearing, according to local media.

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Legislators opposed to the bill also stated that focusing on the offender disrespects the victims of violent crimes. According to Republican State Senator Steve McClure, the bill takes away all accountability for people who commit criminal acts.

“This apologizing for the criminal, the person who chooses to commit crimes to the detriment of our victims, the people who don’t choose to be victims of crimes, is absolutely incredible,” McClure said.

Meanwhile, the bill’s supporters emphasized the success of the ARI program in reducing crime and that it has eligibility requirements. Specifically, individuals in the program have to be first-time offenders.

“We’re adding the DOC, adding Human Services, Sangamon and Cook County adult probation and two members who have experienced the ARI system as offenders or as justice-impacted individuals,” Democratic State Senator Robert Peters said. He urged his colleagues not to get hung up on the term change and stressed that the program’s oversight board could use more representation.

 

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