Durkin Proposes Victim-Focused Overhaul of Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board

With a focus on protecting victims of violent crime and their families, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) introduced legislation on Thursday to overhaul Illinois’ Prisoner Review Board (PRB) and provide greater weight to the interests of victims of violent crime, rather than criminals.

“Today, I am here to give hope to the forgotten voices in our present criminal justice system, the victims of crime. The despair and anguish felt by crime victims and the futility they experience seeking closure for the tragic and brutal loss of a family member, loved one, or friend cannot be discounted,” said Durkin. “That pain and torment is only fueled by the decisions of Governor Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board.”

According to Durkin, there are a number of recent examples of violent offenders being released by Pritzker’s PRB over the objections of victims, their families, law enforcement, and judges.

Paul Bryant has a long history of violent crimes, including numerous convictions for murder, rape, home invasion, burglary and more. Bryant was convicted of killing a 59-year-old woman whose throat he slashed during a robbery in 1976 and the murder of a 19-year-old woman who he raped, beat, strangled and set on fire in 1977. Another woman was held at knifepoint, robbed, and raped in her home.

Ultimately, Bryant was caught after breaking into a woman’s home, robbing and raping her, and returning several days later to rape her again. The repeat victim was able to identify Bryant as the man who repeatedly violated her. The judge who sentenced Bryant to 500 to 1,500 years for just one of the murders he committed said at the time he wanted to send a message to future parole boards that Bryant should never be released. On July 14, 2020, Pritzker’s PRB voted to release him. 

Ray Larsen, a man convicted of murdering a child and deviant sexual behavior, made headlines last year when, just days after being released, he absconded from the state, violating the terms of his parole and becoming a fugitive. It wasn’t the first time that Larsen had proven himself a risk. 

In May of 1972, while on a 3-day furlough, Larson entered the home of an older woman sexually assaulted and robbed her. Following the assault, he went to Schiller Woods Forrest Preserve “Looking for something to shoot” when he came across 16-year-old Frank Casolari, who was fishing. Larson shot the boy 23 times and left his naked body in the woods. He was caught the next day in a stolen vehicle with an underage girl who had been missing overnight. 

Ultimately, Larson was released by Pritzker’s PRB on May 13, 2021, over the objection of Attorney General Kwame Raoul, whose office tried to delay the decision for 90 days so Larson could be evaluated as a possible sexually violent person. Ultimately, the PRB was forced to rescind Larson’s parole.

In July of 1970, Chicago Police Sergeant James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato volunteered for the “walk and talk” community outreach program, which aimed to reduce crime. On July 17, Severin and Rizzato were murdered in cold blood while crossing a baseball field as part of a coordinated sniper attack planned and executed by a local gang. Johnny Veal was an integral part of planning and carrying out this attack on law enforcement and bragged about his involvement to rival gang members.

Testifying before the PRB, Sgt. Severin’s nephew said he remembered his uncle saying how much he loved working with the kids at the local baseball field the week before he was brutally murdered on the same baseball field. Even Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx voiced opposition to Veal’s parole, calling the officer’s murders a “cold blooded execution,” while also pointing out that Veal bragged about the crimes. Nevertheless, Pritzker’s PRB voted to release Veal on February 21, 2021.

Durkin’s legislation, House Bill 5126, makes a number of reforms aimed at protecting victims of violent crime and ensuring dangerous offenders remain behind bars. 

Under Durkin’s proposal, victim-focused reforms would be instituted to the Prisoner Review Board. Durkin’s legislation does the following:

  • Codifies the mission statement of the PRB:
    • The PRB is to protect the rights of victims of crime, their families, and the citizens of Illinois by ensuring that the rule of law is upheld and justice is carried out. The Board has the responsibility to give voice to the victims, their family members, and public safety officials when an inmate’s situation is being reviewed.
  • Requires five members of the board to have experience as a law enforcement officer or prosecutors.
  • Increases transparency by:
    • Making En Banc hearings available for viewing via live stream.
    • Making clemency recommendations from the board to the Governor available to the public with appropriate redactions to protect the victim’s identity.
  • Requires a higher 2/3 vote threshold for parole of people convicted of 1st-degree murder.
  • Outlines those who may present testimony at the parole hearing:
    • One representative of the person under consideration for parole.
    • One representative of law enforcement from the county of conviction.
    • One family member of each victim.
  • The Governor has to grant or deny the decisions of PRB to release an inmate on parole or to revoke their parole or aftercare release in cases of 1st degree murder. These decisions are subject to FOIA.
  • In regards to clemency hearings, the legislation:
    • Requires the board to give victims registered with the Board written notice of the application for clemency within seven days of the filing of the application.
    • If the victim does not file a witness statement 30 days prior to the clemency hearing date, the board shall send a second written notice to the victim.
    • The victim can ask for an extension of 45 days to submit their victim’s statement. If an extension is requested, the board cannot proceed with a hearing until after the extension has expired.

“The state of Illinois must change. This administration is placing criminals above victims, and are disregarding the voice of victims across the state,” said Durkin. “There is no reason that cold blooded murderers are released back into society against the wishes of the people they hurt so profoundly. Governor Pritzker gave Veal, Larson and Bryant the second chance that their victims and loved ones will never get.”