While people were attending Holy Family Church on Sunday, February 24th, three teenagers were reported to be breaking into cars in the church parking lot.
When police arrived, the three sped away in a vehicle, resulting in a fatal crash at the intersection of Alpine and Brendenwood, just a few hundred yards away from the church’s parking lot.
We all know the name of the victim, 58 year old Karen Shafer of Rockford, who was pronounced dead from her injuries less than an hour later at the hospital where she had worked for 30 years in obstetrics as a nurse.
But what do we know about the teenage perpetrators? Only that the driver is 16 and the other two are a 16 year old and a 17 year old, Corey J. Butler. The 17 and 16 year olds have been charged with parole violations, while the 16 year old driver has been charged with negligent homicide, aggravated DUI with drugs, and multiple other charges.
Nothing more is known about the 16 year olds, not even their names, since their privacy is protected under the law. They were old enough to kill someone trying to escape from police, but they are underage and the law protects their rights.
If the community had been informed of these juveniles’ previous rap sheets, their names, where they lived, what kind of crimes they were committing, their physical descriptions, their modus operandi, the community might have been alerted to their possible crimes and some action might have been taken to prevent this tragic death.
Prevention of crime requires data to be measured and explained to this community with a high crime rate why it is happening. Had the juveniles served time for their previous crimes? Why were they on probation and not in jail?
What redeeming value did they offer to the community that allowed them to continue to roam the streets after committing their crimes? Do we need more police?
Did the perps get a slap on the wrist because they were juveniles? Maybe they received probation from a lenient court system or was it an overcrowded jail that allowed them to be at the church’s parking lot last Sunday?
But the community and the victim’s family will never know, because the law protects juveniles 16 and under – the community’s rights are not even taken into account. People’s property and their lives are obviously placed at risk every day because these teenagers are not retained under our current justice system.
Police Chief Chet Epperson has been quoted that up to 80% of the crime is committed by repeat offenders, who are on parole or probation – recidivism is not being controlled through alternatives to incarceration, because the truly hardened criminals are not counted by the system.
Our rights, as law abiding citizens, are just as important as these “underage” juvenile’s rights, especially repeat offenders, and the community should be considered during their rehabilitation.
However, a bill has just been introduced in the General Assembly to prevent even the 17 year old in this case from being treated as an adult. It is a step backward for community rights. It is one of the recommendations by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The 24 member commission, chaired by retired Chief Judge George Timberlake, is recommending changes to the juvenile justice system that will emphasize rehabilitation and support alternatives to incarceration — a focus shift the commission predicts will produce massive savings for the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice.
It wouldn’t be a savings to the Winnebago County’s detention center, however, which would have to be expanded to house 17 year old inmates, even those who have committed felonies, according to the commission, and who would now be considered juveniles in all cases, with the possible exception of murder.
It would be another unfunded state mandate on local taxpayers. It would decrease the safety of the community and alternatives to incarceration have been shown not to work on those criminals who are not ready to change their behavior.
The commission’s full report may be found at the following link, http://ijjc.illinois.gov/rta
I wonder if Karen Shafer’s family feels that the Juvenile Justice System in the State of Illinois has been too harsh on teenage criminals and is justified in raising the age of juvenile criminals to 17?