Did Indian Head Park murder suspect fall through the cracks?

November 10, 2011 4:20:03 PM PST
John Wilson Jr. is charged with the murder a 14-year-old Kelli O'Laughlin in suburban Indian Head Park. He was supposed to get anger management training and mental health treatment when he was last paroled before this crime. That never happened. The question is, did his case just fall through the cracks or is there a system wide problem?

On a Northwest Side street nine years ago, Wilson reached inside an open car door, grabbed a woman by the throat, and took her wallet. Wilson now stands accused in O'Laughlin's murder.

Wilson's family says they made known nine years ago that Wilson was in need of psychiatric help. In fact, court records show that Wilson himself wrote in prison that he should be on psychiatric medication for mood and personality disorder. He did undergo psychological exams in which he reported hearing voices at night. But two different examiners found that that he was lucid, intelligent, well-spoken and mentally fit and that his claims to the contrary were clearly manipulative.

As a condition of his parole less than a year ago, his family says Wilson was to undergo mental health treatment and anger management.

"About 35,000 people leave prison every year. As the numbers can tell you, we don't have the time, resources, and money to take a close look at every person," said John Maki, John Howard Association.

Every person released is assigned a parole agent who may carry a caseload of 100 or more. Periodic check-ins often don't reveal what ex-inmates are really doing. Whether Wilson ever even attended anger management is unclear.

Two years ago the state passed a crime reduction act meant to set up a more comprehensive review of who comes into prison, what happens when they are in, and what risks they might present when they get out.

"Right now we spend a billion dollars on our prison system. I think we could easily spend a billion more and we would still not have the most effective system we should have. We need to find a way to divert low level, non-violent offenders to focus on people like Mr. Wilson," said Maki.

What's called the Crime Reduction Act of 2009 remains a work in progress. When it eventually comes together, it does not mean that ex-cons who might turn violent are all going to be caught at the gate, or turned around by an anger management class. But it is meant to bring some continuity, and detail to inmate profiles to a level that does not now exist.

The difficulty is the system is so overcrowded. There are 50,000 inmates now in a system designed for just over 30,000.

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