Senate Republicans Introduce Legislation to Reform Prisoner Review Board

In the wake of a decision by Governor JB Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board to release a dangerous felon with a history of domestic violence accused of murdering an 11-year-old boy less than 24 hours after his release, the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus is introducing fundamental reforms that would put victims first, remove politics from the appointment process, and hold members accountable for their decisions.

Crosetti Brand is accused of stabbing a former girlfriend, Laterria Smith, and killing her son Jayden as the boy attempted to defend his pregnant mother from Brand’s brutal attack. The murder occurred just a day after Brand was released by the PRB. In February, while on parole, Brand sent Smith messages threatening to kill her, and tried to break into her home. This violation of his parole landed him back in the State’s custody while the PRB could reconsider his parole. Despite the threats, the boy’s mother seeking an order of protection, and Brand’s history of domestic abuse that included orders of protection from four different women, the Pritzker-appointed PRB voted to release him.

“This never should have happened,” said Illinois Senate Republican Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove). “Many areas of our criminal justice system failed Ms. Smith and her heroic son, but at the end of the day, it was Governor Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board that released this violent criminal despite overwhelming evidence that he was a danger to his victims and to the general public.”

At a news conference Tuesday, Curran unveiled legislation that would implement a number of reforms to improve how the Prisoner Review Board operates. Curran’s legislation would:

Put Victims First

  • Requires the Prisoner Review Board to immediately inform a victim of the early release of a prisoner from State custody or of the prisoner’s pardon, commutation, furlough, granting of sentence credit, or following a final revocation hearing when an individual has violated the conditions of their mandatory supervised release if the victim has previously requested notification of that information. If they have not, the board is to make every possible effort, which must be documented, to contact the victim.
  • Requires members of the board to complete yearly mandatory training on domestic violence and sexual assault so they may better understand these crimes impact the women and children who often become victims.

Put Experience Ahead of Politics

  • Requires that appointees to the Prisoner Review Board must have at least 20 years of cumulative experience in the criminal justice system.
  • Experience in the criminal justice system is defined as time spent as either a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, judge, probation officer, or public defender.

Increase Transparency and Hold PRB Accountable

  • Requires the PRB to make written notice public within 24 hours of a decision to release in cases following a final revocation hearing when an individual has violated the conditions of their mandatory supervised release.
  • Provides that notification must include votes from the members of the board and any relevant notes about information presented in the case, as well as notes about the board’s deliberations on the case.

The Senate Republican legislative package is two-fold, focusing both on reforms to the PRB and on more severe consequences for repeat domestic abusers like Crosetti Brand, who had previous convictions for home invasion causing injury and violating an order of protection.

State Senator Steve McClure (R-Springfield), who sits on the Executive Appointments Committee, will also be introducing legislation that will:

Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

  • Increases the penalties for violating an order of protection.
  • Provides that for a first-time violation, the penalty increases from a misdemeanor to a class 4 felony; and from a previous conviction, it increases from a class 4 to a class 3 felony.

“This case is a tragic example of a problem that is sadly all too common in this country,” said McClure. “The legislation I’m preparing to file would increase the penalty for violating an order of protection and ensure that this crime is treated with the seriousness it deserves.”

Crosetti Brand’s case is just the latest in a string of controversial decisions made by the PRB, which has released numerous convicted murderers and violent offenders with Governor Pritzker’s oversight. In recent years, members of the Senate Republicans have raised serious questions about the highly political process the Governor had used to appoint controversial members to the board.

Governor Pritzker had repeatedly circumvented the Senate confirmation process by nominating, rescinding, and then re-nominating controversial appointments so they can sit on the board and collect a paycheck without legislative oversight. In doing so, his nominees avoided a public hearing and vetting outside of the Governor’s Office. 

“The Governor knew his appointees, including a convicted double-murderer, would not be able to withstand public scrutiny,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville), the Republican Spokesperson for the Senate Executive Appointments Committee. “His appointees have largely been unqualified and letting violent criminals out at a much higher rate than previous administrations. We’ve been calling attention to this dangerous issue for years, and the Governor’s response has been to manipulate the nomination process to avoid checks and balances in the Senate. While we’ve forced his hand on some nominations, clear issues still remain at the PRB and Governor Pritzker will not fix them unless he’s forced to.”

Senate Republicans view this legislation as a first step in the larger process of reforming how the Prisoner Review Board operates. The Senators noted that in this particular case, Pritzker’s Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) was also complicit. IDOC was notified of Lateria Smith’s attempt to get another order of protection following Brand’s attempted home invasion three weeks before but failed to make the information available to the PRB.

“Sadly, this is a clear life-and-death example of the need for our Governor to focus on improving the management of the agencies under his control,” Curran said.

Jason Plummer

Want to stay up to date with your Senator?

Sign up for the District E-Newsletter below: