Parole Illinois: Understanding Parole

                                                                                             PAROLE ILLINOIS: FAQS ON PAROLE IN ILLINOIS

What is parole?

Discretionary parole is a system that reviews people for early release. Historically, discretionary parole was used together with  indeterminate sentencing. Judges sentenced people to indeterminate sentence ranges, such as 20 to 40 years, and people were reviewed for parole when they reached the minimum of their range.

“Parole” is sometimes confused with Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR). Unlike parole, MSR is a period of intense supervision added to someone’s punishment after they have served their entire sentence. MSR is often informally referred to as “parole” because the supervising officers are  called “parole officers.” However, MSR is an additional punishment,  not a form of early release.

Why did Illinois eliminate parole?

In 1978, Illinois abolished discretionary parole. Why?  First, when the United States Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972,  some people sought to replace the death penalty with life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences. In 1976, the death penalty was reinstituted, but the push for LWOP sentences continued. Second, many people viewed the Parole Board as racist because they tended to release  white people earlier than people of color. Many hoped that replacing parole with  determinate (fixed-length) sentencing along with day-for-day good time credits for everyone would be more fair.

Did the elimination of parole cure the system of racism?

Not at all. Prosecutors and judges have been as racist as the previous parole board, regularly saddling people of color with longer sentences. In fact, while blacks comprise less than 15% of Illinois’ population, they make up 68% of the people sentenced to die in prison. In effect, before 1978, everyone was considered for parole, but people of color had to wait longer for release than whites.  Now, thousands of people–a disproportionate number of whom are people of color–have been ordered to spend the remainder of their lives in prison, with no review process.

Is anyone in Illinois eligible for parole?

Still today, several dozen people are being reviewed for parole because they were sentenced for crimes that occurred before 1978. These people are called  “C-Numbers,” as  their prison identification numbers begin with a “C.”  Also, in 2019, a juvenile parole bill gave parole eligibility to a limited group of people:  People who were under 21 years old  at the time of the alleged crime, who do not fall into excluded crime-categories, who are not serving life sentences,  and who were sentenced on or after June 1, 2019.

Illinois has no discretionary parole for well over 90% of its  tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals.

Why is parole needed now more than ever? 

Prison sentences have now reached absurd proportions.  Since 1978, tough-on-crime sentencing enhancements have piled up on one another, so-called Truth-in-Sentencing has eliminated regular day-for-day good time, and the average time people are serving for many crimes has doubled or tripled.

If nothing is changed, over 5,000 people will be required to grow old and die in prison, with no review of whether their continued incarceration serves any purpose.