George Kemper, Candidate for the Illinois House’s 12th District
Party affiliation (options: Democrat, Republican, Independent, other):
QUESTION 1: There are several areas of criminal sentencing law that help fuel long-term incarceration. For each of the policy areas below, please indicate if you support changes. Expand on your answer if you would like to share additional comments.
Mandatory gun enhancements: Judges must add 15 years to the sentence of a person 18 and older who possesses a firearm during a crime. For those ages 17 and younger, judges have the discretion to decide whether to add the gun enhancements.
Should Illinois make gun enhancements discretionary for everyone, even adults?
YES, I believe that having a mandatory sentencing as high as 15-25 years is excessive. Sentencing of that type should be handled case-by-case rather than a blanket “solution”.
Accountability: Accountability theory allows individuals to be convicted of the same serious crimes as their co-defendant(s) in an underlying felony, even if they did not directly participate in or plan to participate in the other crime. Should Illinois abolish or narrow the usage of accountability theory?
YES, Like the previous question, I believe that instances like these should be handled case-by-case. While I understand the idea behind this law, I can see many opportunities for it to be abused.
Earned sentencing credits: In Illinois, most individuals serving prison time are unable to earn time off their sentences for good behavior or for successfully completing rehabilitative programming because of a “truth in sentencing” law passed in 1998. This reduces incentives for good behavior and decreases safety in prisons. Should Illinois restore earned sentencing credits to pre-1998 levels?
YES, As a whole, I believe that most agree that incentives benefit multiple parties. In this case, it would better the individuals, the safety within prisons, and society as a whole. I believe that prison should be a combination of punishment and rehabilitation. By restoring earned sentencing credits, offenders would have the chance to serve time while also better preparing themselves to rejoin society.
Parole review: Parole is early earned release and allows people who are rehabilitated to come home. Since Illinois abolished parole in 1978, the only people who are eligible for parole are those who were sentenced before 1978 and most young people under 21 who were convicted after June 2019. Should Illinois restore parole as a system for early release?
YES, Parole should be an option for most offenders, excluding those who have committed the most heinous crimes against others. Overall, opening up parole for the majority of those within the prison system would help the individuals who want to rejoin society.
Life without parole sentences for children and young adults: Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, Illinois created parole review opportunities for most people 20 and younger entering the system. Youth could still serve their full sentence if the Prisoner Review Board and Governor reject their application for early release. Should Illinois now expand parole opportunities to all individuals convicted before age 21?
YES, As previously stated, I believe that each case is a delicate issue. Illinois should have a system that handles each case individually rather than a blanket ruling. If expanding parole opportunities to all individuals convicted before age 21 is part of that solution, then I would support it.
QUESTION 2: In 2021, the General Assembly created the Resentencing Task Force to consider innovative ways to reduce the prison population by exploring pathways for resentencing review. The Task Force will release its recommendations to the Legislature later this year. Given that Illinois eliminated parole or earned early release for most people in 1978, should people who are serving long sentences and who are rehabilitated be allowed the opportunity to apply for early release?
YES, While I believe that prison is meant to be a form of punishment, I also believe that the end goal should be rehabilitation. Depending on the individual, and their case, they should be given the right to demonstrate why their previous sentence should be shortened and why they will return to society as a productive and better person.
QUESTION 3: What do you think are the best ways to address violence and ensure community safety?
I think that the two best ways to address violence and ensure community safety is by building up broken neighborhoods where crime thrives, and addressing the mental health crisis that is rampant in our country.
Firstly, in order to lower the crime rate we must support programs that better the lives of those who live in communities most affected by criminal activity. Helping build communities and providing everyone with an equal opportunity at success will deter criminal acts in the long run. If we can aid in rebuilding both broken communities and broken families, we will be able to offer future generations a brighter tomorrow.
Secondly, we must address mental health. Most of those who commit mass shootings show early warning signs. Rather than wait until the last minute to act, we must remove the stigma around mental health, which prevents some from seeking help. By aiding them with their personal struggles, whatever they may be, we will be able to stop potential mass shooters before they go down a dark and destructive path.
QUESTION 4: What are your general thoughts on the criminal legal system in Illinois (i.e., anything related to policing, incarceration, prosecution, sentencing, or re-entry), and what do you see as the biggest opportunities for improvements over the next several years? Have you experienced any parts of the criminal legal system firsthand, whether through your own personal experience or that of a family member or friend, that you’d like to share?
Overall, I believe that we must find the balance between punishment and rehabilitation. We must have system in place that provides consequences for the actions of criminals. We must also provide opportunities for those who see the folly of their previous actions and wish to better themselves. While I recognize that this is a difficult task, I believe that it cane be completed by working together, ignoring party politics, and focusing our efforts on localized issues. At the end of the day, I do not believe any good will come if we refuse to listen to those most impacted. And there is no hope of growth if we refuse to work, let alone listen, to those who may share different views than us.