Illinois: Cutting criminals' costs

January 23, 2014 

If you haven't already, take time to read the story of Judy Ferguson in the Monday editions. She is a Caseyville small business owner who was shot six times and essentially left for dead by a robber.

She has a lot of reason to be angry, but what stood out for us was her sense of gratitude to still be alive and to those who have helped her.

We, too, are feeling gratitude towards the prosecutors who are coming down hard on the man charged with trying to kill Ferguson, Phillip T. Smith, 28, of Caseyville. They are using a federal law about interfering with interstate commerce as a way of putting Smith and 11 others in the federal pen.

Yet the gratitude is accompanied by regret.

It doesn't take a law degree to figure out that applying the federal Hobbs Act here is a bit of a stretch. It is not being used to stop a multi-state conspiracy, but because the state system that should punish Ferguson's attacker is broken.

Illinois prisons are little more than revolving doors for criminals who have hurt people. Prison stays in Illinois average two years versus three nationally, plus a Pew study found over 20 years Illinois prison time dropped by 25 percent -- the biggest drop in a nation where the average prison stay grew by more than one-third.

So bless the local and federal prosecutors who have figured out an end run to the state's broken system of dealing with violent criminals. But shame on the state leaders who have failed to fix that system, instead allowing money to be spent on correctional officers claiming "owies" from opening too many cells while putting too few dollars in those workers' pensions.

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