Sitting in an Illinois prison because someone tortured a confession out of you? Sorry, the state doesn't have enough money to do much about that.
That's not what anyone thought three years ago, when a bill creating a new commission was signed into law. Or two years ago, when Illinois appointed commissioners to the new Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission. Or last year, when the commission hired its first executive director.
But late last month, funding for the commission was one of the casualties of budget-cutting in Springfield.
The commission was created after years of controversy over former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was accused of overseeing the torture of more than 200 prisoners to extract confessions. Its goal is to show the state is committed to "fairly and impartially investigating a claim by any person who alleges that he or she has been tortured into making a false confession, and that the confession was used to obtain a conviction for that crime."
Since the commission started accepting claims in April of last year, more than 100 people have said they are sitting in prison because they were tortured into talking. The commission is scheduled to make recommendations - its first - on nine of those cases Tuesday. Five of them involve cases the commission considers worth further examination.
But we may never know if their complaints are valid.
Some of the work was done by five private law firms, who were enlisted to help out pro bono. But those law firms won't have any legal framework to work within without the commission.
The commission isn't an especially huge cost for the state. Its expenses pretty much are the salaries of the executive director and a secretary. The entire Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which ends June 30, was $150,000.
But, of course, the same can be said of many other worthy undertakings that lost their place in the state budget because there just isn't enough money to go around. Technically, the commission will still exist, but the people who do the investigating won't be around.
That won't be much comfort to any prisoner who really was tortured and is seeing a possible avenue of hope come to a dead end.
UPDATE: Kelly Kraft, Gov. Pat Quinn's budget spokeswoman, on Monday said the Quinn administration proposed a $235,000 budget for the torture commission for Fiscal Year 2013, but the General Assembly appropriated just $0.
"We do not have the authority to restore funding to the budget but we feel the issue needs further examination," Kraft said in an e-mail.
Kraft also said the commission is just one of many items getting squeezed because "our pension challenges" have not been resolved in Springfield.
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