Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicago, crime, writing, and Seinfeld

by David Ellis

Just a few things I want to get off my chest.

1. Dick Adler was always a great reviewer of thrillers for the Chicago Tribune and I just recently found him in the blogosphere. I highly recommend his blog. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he just said my novel, THE HIDDEN MAN, was the best thriller of 2009.

2. I was rocking my baby daughter to sleep this evening and watching a Seinfeld rerun. Although there are many, many memorable cameos in that series, I am now convinced that there is none better than Bookman, the Library Cop. For the life of me, I don’t know how he went through that entire rant with Jerry without bursting into laughter.

3. Congratulations to our newcomer Bryan Gruley on the Edgar nomination for Best First. I’m looking forward to reading STARVATION LAKE and some of the others on the list. But I noticed something missing from that list—BAD THINGS HAPPEN by Harry Dolan. Am I missing something? Was this not released in 2009? Is he not American? Because it’s one of the best books I have read in a very long time. Great fun.

4. The “scandal” surrounding Governor Quinn’s early release program has been—surprise—completely blown out of proportion. From a political and public relations perspective it was a blunder of monumental proportion. But substantively, what they did hardly made a difference compared to the previous policy. Instead of making inmates wait 60 days in prison before being granted “meritorious good time” (MGT), they granted it right off the bat. Sounds bad until you consider that they pretty much always give out MGT in full, anyway, so these inmates getting released from prison after 7 days or 22 days or whatever—all that Quinn’s policy did was shave a month or two, at most, off their sentences. You want to argue that they shouldn’t give out MGT so freely? Fine, go ahead, I might agree, but that’s nothing new. That wasn’t the story. The part that Quinn played just shaved a matter of days off someone’s sentence. That person who got out after 18 days in prison and committed another crime—well, if the old policy had been in place, he’d have been out after 60 days and probably would have committed the same crime. 60 days versus 18. That is basically the whole story.

5. And when the media reports that someone was sentenced to 3 years for battery and only served 35 days in prison, we need to keep in mind that this only could have happened if that person had spent a great deal of time in county jail, awaiting trial (i.e. the person couldn’t make bond and stayed locked up pending trial). You get credited for time served in county lock-up pending trial. Sometimes cases take so long to go to trial, the amount of time you serve in county, awaiting trial, ends up being half or more of the sentence you ultimately receive. So if you are getting a day for a day, and you walk into prison already having served half your sentence—well, yes, you aren’t going to spend much time in prison. But you did serve time—just not in prison. And anyone who thinks county jail is better than state prison is dreaming.

6. I’m just going to say one more thing on this topic. A lot of people think that the 60-day-minimum rule is discriminatory against the poor. It is a fact that in many cases, the people who couldn’t afford bail and awaited trial locked up in jail will ultimately spend more time in prison than those who could afford bond and were living in their comfy homes prior to trial. Same crime, same sentence, the poor person serves more time because of the 60-day-minimum policy. In fact, the current Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, whom I consider to be one of the finest jurists I have ever known, back when he ran the criminal courts in Cook County, held that the 60-day policy was unconstitutional for this very reason. His decision was reversed by a sharply divided appellate court, but even the judges finding it constitutional didn’t think the policy was so grand.

Let’s see … I covered Chicago, writing, and crime. I guess that means I’m done.

17 comments:

Dana King said...

I agree completely about BAD THINGS HAPPEN. An excellent book, and clearly better than the one nominee I read, at least in my mind.

Jamie Freveletti said...

Seems like there is no good answer to overcrowded jails and recidivist criminals. Wish there was.

On a lighter note: never saw the library cop episode! I'll check it out on HULU.

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting for me to read the article. Thanx for it. I like such themes and everything connected to them. BTW, try to add some photos :).

Bryan Gruley said...

Thank you, David, for the kind words.

If you do want to see Jerry S crack up in the middle of a scene, watch the last two episodes of last fall's Curb Your Enthusiasm. The plot is that Larry David and the Seinfeld gang are shooting a reunion on the old familiar set. The scene I'm thinking of involves Newman. They had to keep reshooting it.

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