HB 531 has a clause stipulating that offenders must first serve ten years of their sentence before being eligible for parole and twenty years for a different class of offenders. This bill is fundamentally flawed in three ways:
First, offenders serving a sentence below ten years are excluded for early release on parole simply for being less culpable.
Second, there will not be any returns in the form of fiscal relief or social benefits from this legislation for at least ten and twenty years after its effective date.
Third, this bill falls well short of Governor Rauner’s goal to reduce the prison population by 25% by 2025.
In sum, HB 531 discriminates against non-violent and less culpable offenders, does nothing to reduce the state’s annual spending on the department of corrections ($1.3 billion, and $131 million on the Department of Juvenile Justice), and does not begin to reduce the prison population for ten to twenty years, which already operates at over 150% capacity.
Written by Raúl Dorado
In Opposition to the Ten Year Standard
I am in opposition of a 10 year standard before one is eligible to see the parole board for the simple fact that I believe to allow such a significant amount of time to pass before an individual even sees the board for the first time is counterproductive to the purposes for which a parole board is supposed to serve.
A parole board is to be one of the instruments that determines if and when an individual convicted of an offense has been restored to useful citizenship i.e. fit for re-entry into society.
In a span of 10 years, a person has already developed their own methods and/or system for dealing and coping with the daily occurrences and circumstances of prison life, whether they be healthy or unhealthy or right or wrong. It is a grave disservice to the behavioral as well as the mental development of the incarcerated person that it be determined after such a long period of time which areas, such as educational, vocational, and/or/ any awareness programs, that may be of benefit in being deemed rehabilitated.
Written by Richard Morris, B-65709
On the Misguided Provision of Access to Rehabilitative Services
In order for the Youthful Offender Parole Board to make informed decisions that result in increased public safety, low recidivism and a reduced prison population that is sustainable over time, the Department of Corrections has to make a serious commitment to preparing individuals for return to the community by providing them, well in advance of parole eligibility, with opportunities for positive change. The current Youthful Offender Parole Bill calls for the DOC to prepare a written assessment of an eligible person’s needs and to identify programming and services that would be appropriate to prepare the offender for return to the community, but allows the IDOC to wait until an offender is within 2 ½ years of parole eligibility before notifying the offender of his or her rehabilitative needs and making the corresponding programming available.
This requirement feels a lot like “last minute cramming” on the behalf of the IDOC, where the focus is simply on preparing an offender to pass a parole hearing, instead of producing a measurable change in offender behavior as stated in the IDOC’s mission. It is also another example of the state putting its own economic interest ahead of its constitutional mandate to “restore offenders to useful citizenship”.
I am aware of the argument that with long-term offenders, their needs tend to evolve during the time of their confinement, and that an offender therefore has the best chance for successful re-entry when he or she has access to programming that is tailored to his or her needs as they are at the time closest to release. So waiting until as close as possible to the time of parole eligibility before investing resources can be seen as reasonable. But we also know that many critical skills such as anger management and good work ethic take time to develop and require practical application to master. Can a decision to grant parole to an offender with only a 2 ½ year rehabilitative track record satisfy the public’s trust?
I believe that inmates should be presented with clearly articulated rehabilitative goals and objectives within 6 months of being committed to the IDOC for non-homicide offenders, and within 10 years for homicide offenders, then periodically throughout his or her period of confinement. Whether or not he or she is granted parole should be based on whether he or she can demonstrate a track record of rehabilitation through completion of the objectives.
Written by Howard Keller
On the Exclusion of Retroactivity
First, as a whole we thank Scott Maine for his efforts in drafting and presenting this bill for consideration. Its overall legislative purpose and intent brings into focus the rehabilitative ideals of Article 1 Section 11 of our Illinois State Constitution. It is well-intended at its core, in that it affords our juvenile (17 year or younger at the time of the commission of the offense) and young adult offenders (18-20 years of age) an opportunity to show they are rehabilitated and can be trusted with their freedom. Its spirit, however, in so far as it excludes those juvenile and young adults who have for decades been subjected to unnecessary and prolonged periods of removal from any opportunity to show they too are rehabilitated (and most are) effectively renders House Bill 531 unworthy of passage.
Adopting such a measure would in essence be the equivalent of saying that we as a state somehow hold the belief that those juvenile and young adult offenders who have been housed in our state prison system for exceedingly long periods of time are, for whatever reason, different from the very same class of individuals (i.e. juvenile and young adults) we aim to protect with this legislation.
Indeed, HB531 was drafted in recognition of an expectation of rehabilitation as it pertains to juvenile and young adult offenders who possess a greater capacity for change as they mature, and thus should at least one day have an opportunity to be released. In recent years, your courts have echoed similar sentiments; determining that sentences natural life in prison without the possibility of parole and lengthy sentences which amount to de facto life sentences violate our US Constitution’s 8th Amendment as applied to juvenile and young adult offenders.
HB531’s non-retroactive provision simply undercuts that rehabilitative ideal and effectively renders Article 1 Section 11’s guarantee and empty promise, and determines on its own that the class of juvenile and young adult offenders it seeks to exclude are incorrigible and irredeemable – a determination that neither our courts nor constitution ascribe to.
The non-retroactive provision should be excised from HB 531.
Written by Eugene Ross (a.k.a. Al Ameen)
On the Exclusion of Natural Life Sentences
What is the difference between a natural life sentence and a 100 year sentence? Or even a natural life sentence and a 70 year sentence at 85% which amounts to a de facto life sentence?
This is a question that deserves an answer, especially when someone presents a bill asking for a parole board for everything but life sentences.
The only thing that I can see is that natural life sentences came in as an alternative to the death penalty, and as such, was meant for the worst of the worst.
The problem with this is that if a study were done, at least 50% of the people that have natural life sentences in Illinois could not be considered the worst of the worst.
Some of us with natural life sentences were convicted under the theory of accountability, some were extremely young when they caught their cases, and some were both young and convicted under the theory of accountability.
Let’s take my case, for example. I was an 18-year-old kid at the time of my crime. I was convicted of guilt by association under accountability theory. I did not have a weapon, nor was I even at the scene when the actual crime occurred. I was even offered an unconditional eleven year plea for my purported role in the crime. When I did not take the eleven year plea (at 50%), I was given a mandatory natural life sentence.
Now, from what I described, does that sound like someone who should be labeled as the worst of the worst?
The point I’m making is this: the parole board should look at situations from a case by case basis. There is no need to discriminate against natural life sentences because as you see first-hand, we are not always the worst of the worst.
Written by Oscar Parham (a.k.a. Smiley)
On the Continuation of the Prisoner Review Board
The difference between the Prisoner Review Board (PRB) and a parole board is that one depicts hope for a prisoner and the other does not. One potentially honors, “restoring an offender to useful citizenship”, the other one says, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” One encourages an offender to work on his life. The other doesn’t.
Under the PRB came determinate sentencing, mandatory minimums, and truth in sentencing. These policies only increased the amount of time an offender would serve for a crime. Longer sentences combined with the fact that the governor has the last word over the PRB leaves most prisoners with no hope since, for fear of being labeled soft on crime, a governor would be unlikely to grant a long-term offender clemency. (Executive Clemency is the only avenue for release a long term offender has currently.)
If a parole board is set up, especially one that is free from political influence, it will potentially allow Article 1 Section 11 of the Illinois Constitution to be honored. If long-term offenders are afforded the opportunity to go before the board to show how they have changed, this will give long-term offenders incentive to work on their lives rather than sitting around with the thought, “I don’t have anything to lose.”
Moreover, this would make prison much safer – if more people felt like they had a change to go home.
So, I believe that bringing back the parole board is absolutely essential, that is, if rehabilitation is the true goal of IDOC.
Written by Oscar Parham (a.k.a. Smiley)
On Age Limitations
Parole eligibility should not be limited to people who committed a certain crime prior to their 21st birthday. This demarcation creates a bright line, and makes a parole board system a mathematical one instead of a conceptual one. Limitaiton for parole will make older prisoners who committed a crime at 30 years old and is now 50 years old ineligible for parole irrespective of them being rehabilitated and the least likely to recidivate. A limitation for parole will also create an age discrimination.
A parole board that is conceptual in nature will allow the prisoners characteristics to be the clues for future behavior. Instead of his age. This way a parole board will have the idea of rehabilitation at the forefront without eliminating the idea of deterrence, retribution and incapacitation. This will also ensure that all Illinois citizen’s equal protection rights are not infringed upon.
Written by Michael Sullivan (a.k.a. Tall Mike).
On Rehabilitative Programming
Regarding HB 531 and the subsection pertaining to rehabilitation, goals and access to programming related to meeting requirements for rehabilitation in consideration for parole. In my opinion, this subsection is instrumental to the success of the prisoners’ return to society. Also, I believe that no only should the IDOC require prisoners to participate in rehabilitative programming, but must also reallocate funds in order to assure prisoners can have the requisite programming available to them. The right to transfer to a facility that provides the programs I s a great step, yet the IDOC should also expand the programs to all facilities and ensure that the required programs are individualized to suit and remedy the deficiencies of each prisoner. This can be accomplished through the psychological evaluation process upon prisoners’ entry into IDOC. The parole board can access the evaluation and set fort the goals, then ensure the prisoner has the ability to meet those goals.
Written by Antonio Jones
Important considerations missed by HB 531
On the Failure to Acknowledge the Necessity of Access to a Support System
Access to a support system has dramatic impacts for an inmates rehabilitation while incarcerated as well as their success while on parole.
Having a support system while incarcerated plays a huge factor in an inmate’s life. Being able to talk to loved ones as well as friends allows that inmate to continue to receive the type of love that allows that person to continue to want self-improvement, not only for self, but to be able to contribute back to his family and friends. Having access to support from the outside gives inmates hope at one day having a better life. That support tends to ease stressful times while being incarcerated. Known that one has loved ones in his or her corner gives that person a sense of comfort. Whether it is financial, spiritual, or mental support, it is a positive energy surrounded in an environment that tends to produce nothing but negative energy. That support can be the determination of an inmate spending huge amounts of time in segregation, or one obtaining all the valuable education one can receive. That support allows you to hear from those who have your best interests at heart.
Once an inmate is released, having access to a support system on the outside can be vital to his future, and the determining factor in whether or not they will recidivate. Having support on the outside allows that person to surround himself or herself among people who may have the necessary tools for that person’s success once released.
Having that support from the outside can make the determination of whether or not that inmate will be successful on parole. People who have support while incarcerated tend to want to do better in life, because they continue to hear that encouragement. This encouragement can be life-changing. A parole board may tend to look more at the possibility of paroling an inmate who has huge support systems than those who do not. Even though this should not be the determining factor of being allowed out on parole or not, people with such a support system on the outside tend to put in the mind of the parole board that this person can succeed once released.
Written by Benard McKinley
-630,000 re-entering society every year – 2/3 of them return within 3 years
Offenders are caught, tried and convicted. Then begins their sentencing hearing which is a ritualized ceremony of closure for the victims and for all of society as a whole. It communicates and announces to the whole world that this offender is bad. It publicly displays what evil thing the offender did, how this evil negatively impacted everyone’s lives, and how the offender must pay for this offense. After the sentence is announced and the judge bangs the gavel, the community breathes a sigh of relief as justice is seen to be served. The offenders are then swept out of sight, into the system to begin paying their debt to society.
But what happens after offenders pay that debt and are released back into society? Is there any sort of ritualized ceremony that announces to the community that the offender has paid their debt in full and is to be restored or seen as having paid their societal debts? They care out the stigma of being an “ex-con” for the rest of their lives, affecting their prospects of finding gainful employment and suitable housing. This begs the question, is justice served or severed when it condemns a person to permanent slavery to their past without any hope of ever being emancipated? What greater good can possibly be served by insisting to forever defining a person by their worst deed, and ignoring any attempt they make to reconcile their wrongs?
Written by Luigi Adamo (a.k.a. Louie)
Sentencing is extremely ceremonial. A judge knocks you down a few notches in a very official and demeaning way. There is no equivalent ceremony to bring people back up after they have served their time.
The Publics and Legislators’ Misconceptions About “Violent Offenders”
Unfortunately, in this country, we have a bad habit of basing many of our policies not on fact, but rather on myth, fear-mongering, hyperbole, or just to benefit special interest groups. After four or five decades of tough-on-crime rhetoric and the demonization of people who are convicted of “violent” crimes, and after decades of legislators, private prison companies (through the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC), and guards’ unions pushing tougher sentencing laws for their own financial or political benefit, we have a society that wrongly believes that people incarcerated for a “violent” crime are the most likely to commit further crimes if released. In reality, the opposite is true.
A recent study concluded that:
Among members of the public, a violent conviction signals a uniquely high level of recidivism risk and increases support for social exclusion, at least in the case of conventional employment roles. That signal, although strong, runs counter to statistical evidence, which shows clearly that those individuals whose most recent crime was violent are less likely to recidivate.
The study above looked at labeling and how it affects people’s perceptions. They found that it makes a difference in whether someone is called a “violent offender” compared to being called a “person convicted of a violent crime.” For decades, we have been calling people “violent offenders,” a false moniker that has infected the national psyche. Not only is it false to say that there are completely separate categories of people who commit solely violent crimes versus solely nonviolent crimes, but many people whom we label as “violent offenders” have never really committed the violence for which they were convicted. Leaving aside the hundreds of innocent people incarcerated at the hands of state violence via Commander Jon Burge, Detective Reynaldo Guevara, and others; many people are convicted under either the laws of accountability and/or the felony murder rule – mechanisms of conviction which Illinois’ overuse of makes it an outlier in the nation.
Many people who have been sentenced under section 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1, which HB531 excludes from being applicable to, never personally committed the violent act, but nevertheless are serving LWOP sentences under that statute, either for aiding and abetting someone who did, or committed a felony that led to someone being harmed even though they had no intention of harming anyone.
Nearly every study ever conducted on the subject of recidivism rates as they related to crime categories, including the IDOC’s on statistics, show that people convicted of murder have the lowest recidivism rates. Society has created false boogeymen and enacted legislation in response to a myth. This is now costing us hundreds of millions of dollars per year, taking funds away from education, fire departments, emergency responders, and a host of other social services, all of which is either contributing to increase crime, or making our communities less safe.
It’s time to make policy based on fact; make policy that actually keeps people safe and uses our limited funds wisely; and time to return to upholding our ideals of everyone deserving a good education and a second chance. A good start would be amending HB531 to take out the section 5-8-1 exclusion, increasing the age limit to 25 to meet the neuroscience it is based on, and investing the money saved into education.
Written by Joseph R. Dole
 Megan Denver, Justin T. Pickett, and Shawn D. Bushway, “The Language of Stigmatization and The Mark of Violence: Experimental Evidence on the Social Construction and Use of Criminal Record Stigma” Criminology Vol. 5, No. 3, 2017. (680)