Illinois. Does. Not. Have. A. Parole. System
WHY WE NEED FAIR AND INCLUSIVE PAROLE
Our loved ones – our sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandchildren, grandparents, and friends – are locked up in Illinois, and without our help, they will die in prison. Victims of crime, convicted people, and their families all suffer when people are locked up for years beyond the needs of public safety. Nearly every other state has some type of mechanism to release long-term incarcerated individuals who are ready to rejoin society. Illinois does not. Parole Illinois is working to establish a fair and inclusive parole system that will give our loved ones a chance to demonstrate that their readiness to rejoin society and to come home. We ask you help to shift the IDOC’s focus from warehousing to rehabilitating people, so that all of our families and communities can heal.
A fair parole system would not let everyone out. However, it would ensure that our loved ones would not be locked up and forgotten about without at least having the opportunity (after a reasonable period of incarceration) to demonstrate before a parole board their level of rehabilitation.
A fair and effective parole system provides one crucial response to our state’s impending crisis of geriatric prisons. National studies show that states pay $70,000 a year for each person over 50 in prison. Studies also show that recidivism rates drop dramatically as people age. Nonetheless, Illinois has no mechanisms for releasing elderly people in prison. We currently have over 5,000 individuals who, if no change is made, are required to spend the rest of their lives in prisons. Parole would provide a safety-valve for aging people in prison, who no longer pose a risk to public safety but have no other mechanism in our state for release.
A fair parole system is integral to an effective department of corrections that shifts from warehousing to rehabilitating people. Not only would a fair parole system periodically evaluate incarcerated individuals and guard against decades of costly and senseless over-incarceration. It also would provide incarcerated individuals with clear standards for rehabilitation, and would motivate individuals to work toward those standards.
A fair parole system would provide a safety valve for the wrongly convicted who lack the resources to prove their innocence. Faulty eyewitness testimony, coerced statements, and other official misconduct by police and prosecutors regularly lead to wrongful convictions. Experts believe that the numerous recent exonerations represent only the tip of the iceberg of people who have been wrongfully convicted. Parole can serve as a safety valve for people who have been wrongly convicted, but who lack the resources to prove their innocence.
A fair parole system is integral to mending our families and communities. According to a 2016 Alliance for Safety and Justice national poll of crime survivors, 69% of survivors supported alternatives to incarceration, such as mental-health treatment and other forms of rehabilitation that focused on positive transformation. Crime victims, people convicted of crime, and their families all suffer when over-incarceration forestalls such transformation, keeps families broken, and prevents communities from healing. When joined with re-entry services, a fair parole system can help restore people to useful citizenship; and allow victims, convicted people, and their families to mend.
What kind of parole?
An effective parole system must evaluate people based on their current risk to public safety. Especially in the context of Illinois’ history of criminal-legal corruption, excessively long sentences, bloated prison population, and impending crisis of geriatric prisons, we need a parole system that does not continually define people by a past crime conviction (which could have occurred decades earlier) but evaluates incarcerated individuals in terms of their present risk to public safety.
An effective parole system must be inclusive. If we want to shift from warehousing people to rehabilitating people—and if we want the IDOC to fulfill its constitutional mandate to restore people to useful citizenship—then no individual can be merely warehoused and forgotten about. Every incarcerated individual must be provided with a path and standards for rehabilitation.
Exempting people from parole eligibility based on the category of crime for which they were convicted is imprudent and unjust for several reasons:
• Many people who have been charged for multiple murders and sex crimes (the categories of crime typically excluded from reforms) have been convicted under a theory of accountability, a theory that extends legal accountability to people who were only indirectly involved in an act. People found guilty based on a theory of accountability did not actually commit the murder or sex-offense, even though they are charged under these categories of crime.
• As many of the recent exonerations demonstrate, people are regularly wrongfully convicted of multiple murders and sex offense, often due to faulty and coerced testimony. A parole “safety valve” for the wrongfully convicted is particularly necessary for people convicted under these categories of crime.
• Categories of crime conviction tell us little about a person’s growth in prison and current risk to public safety. In fact, contrary to popular myths about “violent-offenders” and “sex-offenders,” studies of recidivism rates show that people who have been convicted of murder and sex-offenses have the lowest recidivism rates.