Gov. Pritzker Signs Legislation Providing Compassionate Release for the Critically Ill
CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker signed legislation today that creates a path for the compassionate release of medically incapacitated individuals by the Prison Review Board (PRB). House Bill 3665, also known as the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act, reflects the administration's commitment to bringing about true, meaningful reform in the justice system.
"By signing the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act into law, it's my intention to honor Joe Coleman's legacy as a father, as a veteran, as a man who spent his days raising funds for charity from behind bars," said Governor JB Pritzker. "Thanks to the many advocates and General Assembly sponsors Senator John Connor and Representative Will Guzzardi, more families will get to say goodbye to their loved ones the way we all hope to get to when the time comes: together. This is another step toward the world, the Illinois, our families deserve. And I'm proud to turn it into law today."
To provide dignity for all Illinois residents in their final days, HB 3665 allows for the discretionary early release of those who are medically incapacitated or terminally ill and serving time in an Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility.
"This bill creates policy that honors people's humanity while at the same time prioritizing public safety," said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. "I am proud that Illinois is leading with compassion and bringing a restorative justice lens to criminal justice policy making."
"With a shift to evidence-based programming and the utilization of early release mechanisms for our most vulnerable population, I am pleased this legislation will further reduce the prison population and recidivism rate," said IDOC Director Rob Jeffreys. "Governor Pritzker's prioritization of legislative reforms of the criminal justice system reinforces the importance of collaboration among Illinois agencies to cultivate positive change."
Currently, the Prisoner Review Board (PRB) determines conditions of parole and notifies victims and families when an inmate will be released from custody. The board also makes recommendations for clemency petitions to the Governor. This legislation gives the PRB the authority to grant or deny a prisoner early release based on their medical incapacity or terminal illness. In cases of medical incapacity, individuals may not be terminally ill, but in a state that renders them no longer a threat to the community. This can include circumstances where an individual may be non-ambulatory due to a spinal injury.
While this legislation is applicable to all who are currently incarcerated in Illinois, crime victims have the right to submit a victim statement to the PRB for consideration at a medical release hearing.
"Illinois continues to lead the Nation in sensible criminal justice reform with Governor Pritzker's approval today of the Joel Coleman Act," said Craig Findley, Chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB). "Governor Pritzker's signature on legislation authored by Senator Connor and Representative Guzzardi demonstrates compassion for those with greatest medical need and lowest risk of reoffense. This landmark legislation requires that PRB both verify eligibility for release and consider victim statements in making its determinations."
The legislation was named after Joe Coleman, a father, decorated veteran, and active member in his community who had terminal cancer. While he was awaiting a decision on clemency, he passed away alone in prison, though he did not pose a risk to the public. HB 3665 not only provides better, more compassionate care to Illinois' seriously ill population, but helps improve the overall prison healthcare system.
"I watched helplessly as my father died a lonely death behind bars," said Joe Coleman, Jr. "I thank the Governor and the General Assembly for ensuring no other family has to experience that despair, and for doing so in the honor of my father."
"Joe spent his life in service of others — from his time in the military to his time in prison," said Jennifer Soble, Executive Director, Illinois Prison Project. "It's only fitting that his death in prison, though tragic and unnecessary given the many who loved him, will help to restore dignity and humanity to incarcerated people and their families."
"Joe Coleman, a decorated Vietnam veteran, died of cancer awaiting clemency on a 1981 case where no one was hurt, without the opportunity to say goodbye to his family from his deathbed," said State Senator John Connor (D-Crest Hill). "The Joe Coleman Medical Release Act will make sure that doesn't happen to an inmate in Illinois anymore."
"We cannot forget that people who might be incarcerated are still human beings and they are still people deserving basic human dignity and respect," said State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago).
"Too many seriously ill people in prisons are getting substandard medical care at exorbitant cost to the state," said State Representative Will Guzzardi (D- Chicago). "Instead, those who pose no risk to the public should be able to go home, get the care they need and spend their final days with their families. I'm sorry we couldn't afford this mercy to Joe Coleman, but I'm proud that we'll be able to do so for hundreds of other Illinoisans now that this bill is signed into law."
HB 3665 is effective January 1, 2022.