Gov. Pritzker’s attempts to circumvent the appointment process hit a few more snags this week as the Senate rejected one of his nominations to the Prisoner Review Board (PRB) while another resigned the day they were scheduled to be voted on.
On March 28, Pritzker nominee Oreal James submitted his resignation from the board. Later in the evening, the full Senate took up the nomination of Eleanor Wilson, where she received only half the required number of votes to be confirmed.
The PRB is made up of 15 members appointed by the Governor. One of the primary purposes of the PRB is to determine whether or not to release certain individuals from prison. Because of changes in sentencing laws decades ago, most of the prisoners who come before the PRB are those who were convicted of very serious, usually violent offenses.
During his nearly four years in office, the Governor had been gaming the Constitutional process for making appointments to the PRB. Appointees are supposed to be approved by the Senate within 60 days of their nomination by the Governor. Pritzker, however, had been appointing individuals to the board and then withdrawing those nominations before the 60 session-day deadline, often reappointing them days later. Both Oreal James and Eleanor Wilson were initially appointed on April 2, 2019, then withdrawn on March 23, 2021. Pritzker reappointed them both on March 25, 2021.
In fact, only one PRB appointee has been successfully confirmed by the Senate since Pritzker took office, and that nominee was actually appointed by the previous Governor.
In the meantime, Pritzker’s nominees were serving, taking votes on whether to release inmates, and drawing nearly six-figure annual salaries. During Pritzker’s time in office, the members of the PRB have been voting to release a much higher percentage of inmates, including several individuals convicted in notorious murder cases.
Members of the Senate Republican Caucus have worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of the issues within the PRB, hosting numerous press conferences, and repeatedly calling for confirmation votes on the nominees. After more than a year of continued pressure from legislators, the Senate finally began taking up the Governor’s pending nominations during the last two weeks.
During the previous week, the Senate rejected the nomination of Jeffrey Mears, while the Governor withdrew another nominee, Max Cerda. Cerda himself was a convicted double murderer who was released in 1998. Cerda generated further controversy this year as a member of the PRB when he voted in favor or releasing a convicted cop-killer he had served time with.
Gov. Pritzker had also withdrawn the nominations of Arthur Mae Perkins and Joseph Ruggiero hours before a Senate Executive Committee hearing on March 8 in which the nominations of those two members were scheduled to be heard.
Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) says that she encourages Governor to rethink his approach to the process and nominate individuals who would appeal to a bipartisan majority of the Senate. She believes the Senate is more than willing to approve qualified candidates to the PRB who will serve the interests of the people of Illinois.