Debate Team Letter to Gov. Rauner

May 17, 2018

Open Letter to Governer Rauner from the Stateville Debate Team

Dear Governer Rauner,
We, the Stateville Debate Team, write this letter to implore you to reverse Assistant Director Gladyse Taylor’s (and thus the IDOC’s) unjustified decision to terminate the Stateville Debate Team and class, and reverse the unjustified ban of our teacher, Katrina Burlet, from Stateville Correctional Center and other IDOC facilities.
–Who We Are –
We are human beings whom society has demonized, dehumanized, discounted, and warehoused for decades in Illinois prisons. In the face of that, though, we each believed in, and worked to rehabilitate, ourselves, until others began to believe in us as well. We are a 13-member team handpicked by the IDOC to be in the debate class due to our outstanding academic records and work ethic.
Several of us are factually innocent of the crimes that we are incarcerated for. Half of us were found guilty by a theory of accountability. Nearly all of us were adolescents or young adults when incarcerated for the rest of our lives.
Collectively, we run the gamut from white to black, atheist to faith leaders among our peers. Most of us are current college students enrolled in major universities like De Paul, NEIU, Ohio University, etc. Several of us are published writers, authors, and artists. All of us are concerned citizens.
–Who Is Katrina Burlet—
Ms. Burlet is the founder of the Justice Debate League. She is also an excellent teacher, an experienced debater, and a devout Christian.
–What Took Place—
We didn’t ask to be put in the debate class, we just were, based on our positive records. Katrina Burlet came in to teach us how to debate. She left picking the topic of our first debate up to us. Actually, we even debated about the topic, and then ended up voting on it. We settled on parole and rehabilitation, two things Illinois illogically abandoned long ago.
We then discussed having an audience. Ms. Burlet got institutional approval, and once we had done a ton of research on parole and felt we had a good grasp of the subject, someone posited the question: “Wouldn’t it be great if the legislature could see it?” Many of us laughed, doubting they would ever be interested in what we had to say. Ms. Burlet thought otherwise, so we invited them.
Originally the debate was scheduled for December 15, 2017. As soon as Gladyse Taylor learned that nearly a dozen legislators had accepted our invitation, she banned them from attending and then cancelled the debate altogether.
After much effort and lobbying by others, and our teacher jumping through a plethora of newly-invented hoops, the debate was re-scheduled for March 21, 2018. There would be no video-taping the debate, but legislators would now be admitted in to see it. This time, twice as many accepted our invitation.
The debate was a huge success by all standards. Ten percent of the Illinois General Assembly attended. So too did dozens of other policymakers, activists, professors, IDOC officials, people from SPAC, ICJIA, the CAARPR, the ACLU, the John Howard Association, the Prisoner Review Board, and even someone from your office. Several legislators described the debate as “phenomenal.” More than half of the legislators in attendance expressed a desire to work with us on parole legislation. Nearly every other attendee expressed positive views of the event. Weeks later, both WGN and WBEZ reported favorably upon both the debate and the class itself.
Here at the prison it was much the same. During the debate, staff were relaying updates to incarcerated people in the cell houses (who were not allowed to attend) about how well we were doing. Several staff members remarked that many of us deserve release. The wardens were even pleased. Not only did they thank each of us by name in a memo posted on the closed-circuit institutional television channel, but they awarded us by adding us at the last minute to the list of those allowed to attend the first real music concert at Stateville in decades.
After the debate (and then again after the WGN airing of the news segment about the debate class) dozens of other guys incarcerated in Stateville thanked us both for igniting the conversation about parole and for showing Stateville residents in a positive light.
After the debate, we felt proud and started preparing for an upcoming debate on voting rights against Wiley College. Riding high for about two weeks, we felt we had accomplished something positive with that debate, something substantial. Then everything changed on April 3.
On that day, a state legislator was scheduled to attend our class for further discussions about parole legislation. Instead, Gladyse Taylor, without invitation, rudely took over our class.
Flanked by two wardens and an unidentified third person, Gladyse Taylor entered the classroom, ordered both doors closed and (an act which is usually forbidden in Stateville for security reasons), rudely rifled through Ms. Burlet’s personal notes, and announced (without introducing herself) that: a) She had denied entry to the state representative that day; b) she didn’t want any more legislators invited to our class (“no more legislators,” she admonished Ms. Burlet with a finger wag, as if our teacher were a child); and c) she, Gladyse Taylor, had skipped a public event to come set us straight.
She also verified that she had cancelled the first (December 15) debate, when she learned that state legislators were planning to attend; informed us that she had come “this close” (holding finger and thumb close to touching) to cancelling the March 21 debate; and told us that she had not allowed the debate to be video-taped because she did not want other legislators to be able to see it.
She then proceeded to threaten us both outright and in thinly veiled ways. First, she told us that she could shut the class down whenever she wanted because it wasn’t “evidence-based.” Then she mentioned that, assuming that we were all “lifers,” or close to it, classes really shouldn’t be wasted on us—insinuating that she could take us out of all of our classes. Then she mentioned that some of us may not be properly placed at Stateville—insinuating that she could transfer us to Menard, where there are no programs, and where guys are simply warehoused inhumanely. Then she also claimed to have threatened at least one state legislator at the debate, warning her not to put up any legislation concerning parole, or she, Gladyse Taylor, would “get” her (the legislator). Finally, on four or five occasions, Gladyse Taylor warned that she better not see her name in any lawsuits.
Her main “beef” with the debate: we were distracting the legislature from working on “her” appropriations. We assume she meant the IDOC’s appropriations, but at least three times she stated, “the legislature does not need to be thinking about bringing back parole, they need to be focused on my appropriations.” At one point, she even attempted to claim that this was an effort to help us get an extra pair of boxer shorts, as if that would earn her points with us. It didn’t. It was condescending. Moreover, it seems Gladyse Taylor doesn’t believe that legislators can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Then came the WGN news story featuring our debate class and the success of the debate. This aired on April 19.
On April 24, we had our regularly scheduled class and were informed by Ms. Burlet that she had met with Gladyse Taylor, who made it clear that this would be our last debate class because Taylor had terminated the class under the guise that it was not “evidence-based,” that she (Taylor) did not want us (the students) meeting together any more, but that she appreciated Ms. Burlet’s work and would allow Ms. Burlet to teach another class in an adjacent facility.
Also, we were still being allowed to hold a re-creation of the debate for Stateville residents on April 26, and that, although we still couldn’t video-tape it, the IDOC was going to do so, and would then decide if/when to release the tape.
Finally, we received one last piece of news—the night before, the The Shade Room on Instagram had posted something about the WGN story regarding our debate class and the debate. By that morning, there were nearly 30,000 “likes.”
Wednesday morning, we were all informed by incredulous staff members that Gladyse Taylor had cancelled the re-creation of the debate and banned our teacher from all IDOC facilities.
–Why Gladyse Taylor is Wrong—
–Smokescreens for Taylor’s Unethical and Possibly Unconstitutional Conduct—
Gladyse Taylor’s “beef” with the class was, unequivocally, that we were getting access to legislators, were successful in getting the attention of the legislature on an issue we wanted addressed, and that several legislators were now considering bringing back parole. To her thinking, this diverted attention away from “her appropriation.” She made this crystal-clear on April 3. As more media attention thereafter was brought to the attention of our debate and parole, she decided to try to nip it in the bud. To do so, she employed one smokescreen after another.
–“It Must Be ‘Evidence-based’”-
Her first smokescreen was that she was killing the class because it wasn’t “evidence-based” (this was also her making good on her first threat). According to Taylor, the 2009 Crime Reduction Act only requires that the IDOC provide rehabilitative programming to 75% of IDOC residents (and she specifically noted that none of us would fall into the 75% due to our lengthy sentences). She also noted that the rehabilitative programming must be “evidence-based.”
She furthermore informed us that it doesn’t matter if studies from other states show a specific educational course reduces recidivism, the IDOC won’t consider it “evidence-based” unless a study has been conducted in Illinois in the past 3 years and shows it reduces recidivism here.
There are so many problems with this that we don’t know where to begin. First, there is the obvious fact that it takes 3 years to track releases to even complete any legitimate recidivism study.
Second, the only way to do so is in a controlled study where each course is the only one received by the students and then compare them to non-students. As most people take several classes, religious programs, etc., it’s difficult to determine what the actual catalyst was for any reduced recidivism observed.
Third, under Gladyse Taylor’s definition, no volunteer course at Stateville qualifies as “evidence-based,” as they all began operating in the last few years due to the fact that most prior wardens, and the IDOC as a whole, were antagonistic to programs, and even the LTO (“Long-Term Offender”) and P-NAP (Prison-Neighborhood Arts Program) courses constantly change each year and no studies have been done on any of them. (Noteworthy, however, is the fact that they weren’t cancelled at the same time as the debate class.)
Fourth, there is likewise no evidence, that Katrina Burlet’s course doesn’t reduce recidivism, as we have yet to be released to track our recidivism rates, and this was her first class here.
Fifth, the State currently has no lists of approved “evidence-based” courses, thus not only do none qualify as “evidence-based,” but Gladyse Taylor also cannot point to any “evidence-based” program that the IDOC is going to pay for to replace the free course they were getting from Katrina Burlet and then illogically terminated.
Sixth, while according to Gladyse Taylor, the 2009 law may require 75% of residents to receive “evidence-based courses,” as far as we can tell, it in no way prohibits free non-evidence-based courses put on by volunteers. Thus, Gladyse Taylor’s reasoning is illogical. She would rather have long-termers warehoused, stir-crazy, treated inhumanely, and violent like people in Menard, than acquiring free rehabilitative skills and being treated like human beings in Stateville.
Also, let’s be clear, the IDOC refuses to pay for any post-secondary educational programs at Stateville. All such programs are provided by professors who volunteer their time, and are funded and supplied by donations from private citizens, colleges, organizations, grants, and fundraisers.
The IDOC only grudgingly allows college-based courses space in the school building, which used to stand 90% vacant. The dramatic increase in the number of such courses was only allowed to occur recently under the guidance of now-warden Nicholson and the organizing efforts of Chaplain Adamson. The IDOC even has an administrative directive that prohibits any IDOC staff or resources from being used to proctor college exams for students taking college correspondence courses.
Finally, as we’ll see, the next smoke-screen Gladyse Taylor employed unequivocally proves the fallacy of the “evidence-based” smokescreen.
–“It’s Burlet’s Fault”—
Now they say that “someday” we can continue the class when they find another teacher. This disproves the “evidence-based” reasoning and clearly exposes it as a smokescreen. Once the “evidence-based” smoke-screen failed, Gladyse Taylor switched to an ever-vacillating excuse for cancelling the class, all of which boiled down to: “It’s Katrina Burlet’s fault.”
The problem with that is that Ms. Burlet did nothing wrong. Moreover, the “evidence-based” smokescreen and the fact that Gladyse Taylor wanted Burlet to teach in an adjacent facility clearly disproves the new constantly changing “It’s Burlet’s fault” smokescreen. Gladyse Taylor is simply using Ms. Burlet as a scapegoat to try to divert attention away from Tayor’s abusive power in cancelling our class and trying to keep us from addressing legislators in person and in an open forum.
How do we know? Because Gladyse Taylor admitted in front of all of us that Ms. Burlet did nothing wrong. On April 3, Taylor told Ms. Burlet that, while she didn’t like how she (Taylor) personally wasn’t apprised of the debate ahead of time, there was no written rule or procedure that required such, but that she (Taylor) was working on fixing that.
Taylor also admitted to our class that there was no formal written procedure to get approval for events, filming, photographs, etc. and they are working on formalizing the process. (This is a common complaint among volunteers. In fact, we are still awaiting the release of class photos taken nearly a year ago.) The real irony is that the IDOC has no qualms about video-taping every basketball tournament or concert, but when it comes to taping an event that clearly conveys the fact that people in prison can also be intellectuals or are rehabilitated, then they have a problem with it and it is usually verboten.
Nonetheless, Gladyse Taylor’s second claim as to why Ms. Burlet was permanently banned was that she allegedly went over someone’s head to get the WGN taping done. This is a complete farce. Ms. Burlet had completely abandoned trying to get the class or the debate filmed due to both the Kafkaesque system and the antagonism expressed by the woman in charge of approving such things, when WGN’s Ben Bradley asked to do a story on our class. Ms. Burlet informed him that she had exhausted her ability to accomplish any taping, but if he could get approval, we would welcome him to our class. A week later, he had approval and camera crew in tow. A month after that, WGN aired a story painting both Stateville and the IDOC in a positive light. Thus, it was Ben Bradley’s connections that got him in, not Ms. Burlet going over anyone’s head. Once this was pointed out, Taylor abandoned it for yet a third reason, and it continues to change.
–No Programs for “Lifers”–
During the April 3 Threat Session, Gladyse Taylor made it clear that she doesn’t believe any state resources should be wasted on people like us, who currently have no foreseeable outdate. Not only is this shortsighted, but it demonstrates her ignorance.
First, as noted above, there hasn’t been any state resources expended on our rehabilitation. Our rehabilitation came about through our own motivation, the resources and encouragement provided by friends and family, and through private citizens, colleges, and organizations investing their time and resources in us. We are now rehabilitated, not because of the IDOC, but in spite of all of the IDOC’s efforts to hinder such rehabilitation.
Second, Gladyse Taylor’s insinuation that we should be denied all educational programs because we are “lifers,” shows she has failed to learn any lessons from the last decade. We have seen dozens and dozens of our brothers and sisters who were likewise labelled as “lifers” go home after having their wrongful convictions over-turned or their sentences reduced because they were victims of over-sentencing. For decades, the IDOC inhumanely warehoused the majority of them and denied them educational programs. Now out on the streets, that warehousing/denial of education continues to have ill-effects on their lives, on their relationships with family, and on what they are able to contribute to society.
Anywhere from half to almost all of our class will, in all likelihood, have to be re-sentenced in the near future, due to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama and its progeny. Several of us are already scheduled for re-sentencing. Several of us will also, hopefully, finally be able to prove our innocence or at least get our convictions overturned soon. Moreover, if a parole system is brought back to Illinois, all of us will be prime candidates for release. So it’s illogical to conclude that none of us will ever be released based on our current, largely unconstitutional sentences. The IDOC should be concerned with rehabilitating all residents, and preparing them to return to useful citizenship as Article I, Section 11 of the Illinois Constitution states as a goal of sentencing.
–Infringing on Constitutional Rights—
As the United States Supreme Court has noted, when people are incarcerated, they don’t leave all of their constitutional rights at the front door of the prison. One of those rights that remains with them while in prison is the right to freedom of speech, guaranteed by both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as reiterated in Article I Section 4 of the Illinois Constitution.
While it is debatable that Gladyse Taylor’s machinations to prevent us from freely speaking at the December debate and any other debates after the March 21 debate would run afoul of the Constitution, her acts of retaliation against us for freely speaking at the debate surely do, and any further retaliatory acts would also be actionable in court.
Another right that Gladyse Taylor’s actions in denying a state representative entry into the facility and trying to prevent any other legislators from seeing our debate seems to infringe upon, is our right to make known our opinions to our representatives expressed in Article I Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution. Not only is she hindering our access to State Representatives and Senators, but she is equally denying them access to their constituents.
–What Katrina Burlet Did to Be so Thanklessly Banned from the IDOC–
Absolutely nothing. Her banning was completely unjustified and is nothing but a smokescreen put up by Gladyse Taylor to try and divert attention away from Taylor’s unjustified decision to terminate the debate class.
This is clearly evidenced by the fact that Gladyse Taylor cancelled the class under the guise that it wasn’t “evidence-based,” and Taylor told Ms. Burlet that she was valued and could teach at an adjacent facility. Then when Taylor started taking flack for cancelling the class, she claimed the class wasn’t cancelled (it was, we no longer meet), but we just need another teacher because Ms. Burlet was banned for allegedly breaking a rule.
Taylor’s claim as to what rule is ever vacillating, speaking toward its lack of credibility. First, Taylor claimed that Ms. Burlet didn’t tell the IDOC that she was planning a debate before legislators when she first requested to teach the course. As noted, she wasn’t planning one back then, it evolved organically and was approved at both the institutional level and in Springfield. If it was against the rules to do so, they could have simply denied her request for the event.
Then, she claimed that Ms. Burlet went over someone’s head to get the WGN taping accomplished. Not only is that not true—it was actually Ben Bradley who got clearing for the filming of the class—but it’s hardly a capital offense worthy of a permanent ban from all IDOC facilities. Now she claims Ms. Burlet failed to properly complete the paperwork to be a volunteer. This is also false. Not only did she follow all of the requirements, but she was allowed in to teach for over 6 months. Had her paperwork not been in order, she would never have been permitted inside the facility in the first place.
The only thing Ms. Burlet is guilty of is donating her personal time and money to provide a debate class for incarcerated men at Stateville. She is thus guilty of doing what the IDOC is supposed to do but largely refuses to do—provide resources toward rehabilitating people.
We refuse to allow Ms Burlet to become the scapegoat for Gladyse Taylor’s tyrannical actions without setting the record straight. Let’s be clear, Ms. Burlet did nothing wrong. She should be reinstated immediately. If anyone deserves to be permanently banned, it should be Gladyse Taylor, as she clearly has no problem abusing her authority and lacks the temperament, foresight, and professionalism needed to steer the IDOC back toward its rehabilitative goals.
–Why Volunteers Should Be Cherished–
Volunteers provide an essential service that the IDOC refuses to supply—post-secondary education. This not only contributes to institutional security (as clearly evidence by the reduction in violence at Stateville), but also public safety (in the form of reduced recidivisum). The IDOC claims both of these as institutional goals but nevertheless won’t allocate a penny toward post-secondary classes. Every single post-secondary class at Stateville is provided by volunteers and private funding.
Volunteers are selfless people who come in and contribute to society in countless ways. They should be cherished and encouraged. Instead, they are often harassed and taken for granted by the IDOC; or even worse, as is the case here, they are used as a scapegoat by a corrections official caught abusing her power. Society should be appalled by this.
If the IDOC truly believes in their mission statement of rehabilitation, you would think that they would be bending over backwards to accommodate volunteers, not harassing and banning them.
–What we Got–
Let us quickly juxtapose what we got from this class to what we got from Gladyse Taylor for our effort.
We got a tremendous amount from this class. Not only did we learn how to debate and improve upon a variety of other skills—writing, analytical, public speaking, communications, etc.—but several of us were able to use this class to fulfill requirements necessary to obtain our bachelors’ degrees.
The success of the debate boosted our confidence, made our friends and families proud, and inspired us to want to hold regular debates about how to address other social issues. It showed us that sometimes our voices do matter; that we can contribute to the dialogue, and may even be able to come up with some answers to solve societal ills. In short, it returned a modicum of humanity to us, as the debate not only gave us a platform to be seen as human, but we were then treated as such by powerful people immediately thereafter.
We also received a modicum of hope. Many of us assumed that debating parole would be good only for the learning process; that we would, as usual, be speaking into a vacuum. However, after all of our research, the success of the debate, and the legislators’ interest in working with us on a bill, it has given those of us sentenced to die here hope. In prison, hope is priceless. It can literally mean the difference between striving for a better future or suicide.
In contrast to all of that, what we received from Gladyse Taylor was threats, disrespect, worried friends and family members, our professional debate coach lessons cancelled, our teacher banned, our debate against Wiley College cancelled, and the infringement upon both our right to free speech, and our right to make our opinions known to our representatives.
This from someone who is allegedly “pro-programs” and allegedly believes in the IDOC’s goal of “rehabilitation.” We think not. In this case, her actions clearly do speak louder than her words.
–Conclusion—
It was a debate. The debate team was learning the format and structure of a formal debate. It snowballed into something much bigger than expected. Sadly, one successful debate got the class cancelled and got a phenomenal teacher banned from the IDOC. Why? Because a single IDOC official felt overshadowed and wants to not only silence our voices but control what issues the General Assembly considers.
The move by Gladyse Taylor to terminate our debate team was completely unprovoked. As the warden noted, we did nothing wrong. No one violated any rules, nor was any legitimate justification given.
The art of debate is a touchstone of American democracy. It was at the heart of the crafting of our nation’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, as well as our State Constitution. Every law and policy that we have came about through debate.
The skills we acquired through our participation on the debate team, which included public speaking, effective communication, and gaining control of our emotion and temperament in the midst of disagreements, are fundamental to being socially engaged. This is also critical to the IDOC’s alleged goal of reducing victimization and preventing crime. This class should be available to all IDOC residents. Instead, it is now available to none.
Prison debate teams are nothing new. They have bested debate teams from Harvard and Boston College and taken on teams from Oxford and MIT. They have existed for decades. What is new is a prison official like Gladyse Taylor engaging in mass retaliation and trying to silence a prison debate team for peacefully exercising their First Amendments rights, and then when there’s blowback for it, she tries to use a selfless volunteer teacher as scapegoat.
Finally, Gladyse Taylor’s antagonism towards legislators coming to hear incarcerated students flies in the face of the United Nations 2013 “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” which holds that government agencies or officials interested in the well-being of incarcerated people, “shall have all necessary access to the institution and to prisoners.”
For all of the above reasons, and in the interests of justice, we respectfully request that you personally get involved, and: a) reverse the IDOC’s banning of Katrina Burlet; b) reinstate our debate team with Ms. Burlet as its coach; and c) issue an executive order granting all Illinois legislators unfettered access to the States’ prisons.
We all thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
The Stateville Debate Team

Profiles of debate participants

Luigi
I am 36 years old, and am currently serving a 38-year sentence for 1st degree murder, of which I have already served about 10 years. I am originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The most important things in my life are my faith and my family. Before my incarceration in late December of 2007, I was president of a property management firm, as well as an owner/operator of various other small businesses all around Chicagoland. I am an avid reader, natural problem solver and critical thinker.

Since my conviction, I have become dedicated to self-betterment learning as much as I can about whatever subjects I can get my hands on. As of this writing, I have earned 317 certificates or diplomas from classes, courses, or seminars I have taken while incarcerated. I have also become a certified paralegal from the Black Stone Career Institute and have earned an associate’s degree in theology from Calvary Christian College in South Bend, IN, with a bachelor degree in the same forthcoming in January of 2018.

I am fairly conservative in my beliefs and opinions, and I try to view all issues through the lens of my faith in the Messiah Yeshua Ben Elohim.

Louie was incarcerated at age 26, though he was 19 years old when the crime was committed, and his release is set for 2045 at age 64.
~Luigi Adamo R74391

Richard*
I am Richard Morris, 43 years old. I’ve been incarcerated for 22 years.

I was wrongfully convicted of first degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated hijacking for which I was sentenced to death. That sentence was commuted by Governor George Ryan. In 2004, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned my conviction and granted me a new trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel.

Unfortunately, I was once again convicted and given a sentence which I am appealing.

I would like to be seen as someone worthy of the time and effort that goes into the type of assistance I am hoping for.

Raheem was incarcerated at age 21. He was originally on death row, but his release is now set for 2048 at age 75.
~Richard Morris B65709

Michael*
My name is Michael Sullivan, I’m 46 years old. I have been incarcerated since I was 21 years old. I am a father of 4 children and a grandfather of 7. My parents are still alive and have supported me throughout this ordeal. I also have a supportive fiance. I am an artistic painter and animator as well as a writer. I have illustrated a children’s book for my think tank class here at Stateville. I am also currently writing two books. The first is a children’s book titled “THE TOOLS OF CHESS: The Cognitive Development Process.” The second is “The Restoration of Justice.” It is similar to a dissertation and is based on a restorative justice class I attended here at Stateville.

Lastly, I want to state that I believe that Illinois should bring back the parole board because you’ll discover that a second chance for many will be morally right, and you’ll see that many of us, like myself, will be an asset to our society.

Tall Mike was incarcerated at age 22 in 1992 and he is ineligible for parole.
~Michael Sullivan B67920

Eugene*
Eugene is one of Illinois’ juvenile lifers. He has been incarcerated for the last 21 years.

Eugene was hand-selected by his peers – being one out of 1,300 others (for only 12 available seats) chosen to represent Stateville’s debate team; being one of the prison’s “best and brightest.” This is one of many accomplishments he has had while incarcerated. He has completed multiple classes and programs, contributed to children’s books, dedicated himself to mentoring youth, and spearheaded a “My Life Matters” letter writing campaign among fellow prisoners which resulted in an event at DePaul University and a national invitation to the restorative justice conference held in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The work was presented there to a national restorative justice and educational panel.

Eugene’s impeccable leadership and communication skills were on full display as he coached his team to a championship in comeback fashion in the prison’s inaugural March Madness basketball tournament.

In addition to these involvements, Eugene is a Muslim by faith and is very active in the prison’s Islamic community. He leads the weekly Friday prayer service, gives weekly lectures, and teaches both Islamic studies and Arabic. His nickname “Al Ameen” comes from Arabic and means “truthful and trustworthy.”

Eugene was incarcerated at age 20 in 1997 and he is ineligible for parole.
~Eugene Ross K73977

Raul*
Raul Dorado is an incarcerated student and author. He is serving a life without parole sentence under the legal theory of accountability. He is working towards a bachelor’s degree from the University Without Walls sponsored by Northeastern Illinois University. He has published poetry, essays, and articles, including, “In Mind’s Eye,” “The Skiff,” “The Presumption of Justice: Capitalism and Alchemists,” and “Plea Bargains: A Fair Deal or Fair Game.”

Raul was incarcerated at age 19 in 1998 and he is ineligible for parole.
~Raul Dorado K53842

Howard
Howard Keller was a former high school dropout and alcohol abuser who turned his life completely around. Today he is a GED and vocational tutor, published writer, poet, and advocate for higher education in prison. He is also a barber by trade. A staunch believer in the transformative power of education, Howard uses the barbering platform to engage others in critical dialogue about the importance of education, and to provide valued one-on-one tutoring to men with unique learning needs.

Howard is currently a visiting student of North Park Theological Seminary. His hope is to become a full-time student there, complete an M.A. in Christian Ministry, and one day work with organizations that provide counseling and assistance to young people with alcohol addictions.

Howard is a positive force both inside and outside of the prison system. His compassion and desire to serve others is what makes him a great leader.

Howard was incarcerated at age 21, and his release is set for 2055 at age 77.
~Howard Keller K67292

Mike*
My name is Michael Simmons. I have three siblings, two older brothers and a younger sister. My earliest memory as a child was being told that my dad had been shot and killed. I was 6 and a half years old. Unfortunately for me, my aunt did not possess any tact in informing me of the bad news. “That damn prostitute got yo daddy shot in the head,” she told me.

Growing up, we were often on the move as my mother struggled to keep a roof over our heads. At one point, we lived in the Henry Hornet projects on Chicago’s west side. The hornets was probably one of the worst places to live in the city. It was like a super overcrowded prison where there was constant battle between the mice and roaches for space and bread. It was in the hornets, while loading into my mother’s friend’s minivan, getting ready to go to church, that I first saw someone get shot multiple times at point-blank range.

Church was a regular in my family. After the passing of my grandfather in ‘86, my grandmother, Ollie Mae Simmons, became an ordained minister with her apartment serving as her church. My mom would take us to live with grandma when we couldn’t afford rent, which was quite often.

My brother Darryl got involved with the gang crowd in middle school. He would have his friends over while mom worked, which was basically all of the time. They would drink and smoke and listen to rap music. I was fascinated with the name brand clothes, gold chains, and Michael Jordan shoes. Oh yeah, and the cars they drove. I wanted to be just like them.

It wasn’t long before I started getting into trouble myself. I was in the sixth grade when I first joined the gang. I didn’t have to go through the so-called ritual of taking an oath like most gangs did. Because my brother was respected, I was welcomed right on in. I always knew that, deep inside, the person I knew I was on the inside never fit the gang-banging lifestyle that I was living, yet it was hard for me to remove the mask that allowed me to be accepted.

I can go forever long about the things I’ve experienced, things that have left me wondering how I am still alive today. Not only alive, but so much better and wiser than I knew I was capable of being. I’ve been in prison for nearly sixteen years, convicted of armed robbery, and murder under the accountability theory.

The son of the victim who, like myself, lost his dad to a senseless act at such a young age, and his mother, Mrs. McKinley, have all had the most profound impact on my life. Mrs. McKinley, in her victim statement, at what had to be one of the most difficult times in her life, stated that she hoped that I would someday make my life count for something. They, along with my family support, for which I am grateful, have been and continue to be the strength of my resolve to do everything in my power to honor the victim in my case and his family. I believe that the things that I’ve been through will somehow serve a greater cause and this allows me to remain hopeful and able to have a peace of mind and continue to push for greatness even when my circumstance begs otherwise.

Mike was incarcerated at age 24, and his release is set for 2052 at age 74.
~Michael Simmons K58311

Joe*
Joseph Dole has won numerous awards for his writing, including most recently a first place award in the 2017 Columbia Journal Writing Contest. He is the author of the books “A Costly American Hatred” and “Control Units and Supermaxes: A National Security Threat.” He has been published in a number of academic journals, including the Mississippi review, the Columbia Journal, The Journal of Ethical Urban Living, and the Journal Justice Power, and Resistance, as well as in numerous other print and media online. More of his work is available at his facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/JosephDoleIncarceratedWriter/. He is currently serving a life without parole sentence at Stateville Correctional Center. He spent nearly a decade of his life in isolation at the notorious Tamms Supermax Prison. Recently, he was granted a scholarship by the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund in recognition of his activism.

Joe was incarcerated at age 22 and is ineligible for parole.
~Joseph Dole K84446

Les
Born in 1980 in the ghettos of Chicago, Les grew up with five brothers. As his dad carried the burden of child support for his three half-sisters, their family always struggled financially, which contributed to his having moved five times, transferring schools eight times, dropping out of school and leaving home all by age 14. The gang he entered trained him to sell crack cocaine and heroin, and excessively abuse marijuana and alcohol.

Over the next two years, he had a number of encounters with Chicago police officers in which he was threatened, assaulted, and physically and emotionally abused. At age 16, he was arrested as a juvenile, and was subsequently incarcerated twice more for parole violations. He was on parole for 5 months before his fourth and final arrest, and has now been in prison continuously since age 19. Since his incarceration, he has committed himself to self-improvement through the rigorous pursuit of faith and education.
He wants to become the best man he possibly can for God and every person who is connected to his life.

Les was incarcerated at age 19, and his release is set for 2050 at age 70.
~Lester Dobbey R16237

Oscar*
Oscar Parham is also known as Smiley. He likes to be called Smiley because the name depicts his easy-going personality. Despite his circumstances, he has maintained a positive attitude.

Oscar was 18 years old when his crime occurred. He has served 28 years of a mandatory natural life sentence for guilt by association, under the theory of accountability. Since he has been incarcerated, he has striven to better himself even though the natural life sentence took away all incentive to do so. From the beginning, he has taken every class that has been available to him.

Oscar also became a man of faith while in Menard. His faith is a major part of who he is.

During a class that Oscar took with Professor Jennifer Lackey of Northwestern University on Mass Incarceration, he was one of five students chosen to have an article published by the New Yorker. During the mass incarceration class, Oscar also met U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times titled, “Natural Life for Young Offenders in Indefensible.” In this op-ed, Mrs. Schakowsky makes mention of the atrocity of Oscar being given a natural life sentence after being offered an unconditional eleven year plea. Had Smiley taken the eleven year plea, he would have served 50% of his time and been home in 1995.

Oscar was incarcerated at age 20 and is ineligible for parole.
~Oscar Parham N95863

Benard
Hello, my name is Benard McKinley. I’m 32 years old. I presently reside at Stateville Correctional Center. I was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. At the age of 16 I was charged with first degree murder. I was later convicted and sentenced to 100 years in the Department of Corrections. While incarcerated, I dedicated my time as a motivational speaker to the incarcerated youth. Since my incarceration, I have become a paralegal and a proud member of the National Lawyers Guild.

In January 2016, the Federal 7th Circuit Appellate Court ruled that my sentence was a de facto life sentence. Since that decision, I have been back in state court, and in the process of having my time vacated and resentenced in light of the US Supreme Court Miller case decision.

Since my incarceration, I have focused on bettering myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. I look forward to giving back to my community, and becoming a productive citizen, given this second chance at my physical freedom. Until that day I continue to evolve into a better man than I was yesterday.

Benard was incarcerated at age 16, and his release is set at 2101 at age 116.
~Benard McKinley R30033

Alfred*
Hello my name is Alfred Moore Bey. I am a flesh and blood human being. I am not a criminal, inmate, or offender, because these things are human deficiencies – an inherent mentality. Raised in poverty, I suffered from inadequacies and lived with deficiencies for most of my life. I am 49 years old, currently residing at Stateville Correctional Center, serving a 100 year life sentence under the Accountability theory, 20 years now.

I know man has the ability to change, because I did it. Given the right opportunity, tools, and guidance with the right attitude, I developed the right mentality.

Initiated into manhood at the late age of 33, I’ve learned it is not how much I can accumulate or accomplish that makes me a man, but understanding how to use my achievements to help others. For the last 20 years, I’ve worked to be a Sheik in the Moorish Science Temple of America (M.S.T. of A) motivational Speaker, mentor to our youth and young adults and athletic coordinator. However, these achievements are secondary. For me, learning how to be a father, son, brother, uncle and friend with hopes of becoming a husband, are my most proud achievements for me, family, community, state, country, and all humanity. I exhibit the attributes of a human being who has learned to heal my soul and ask you to help me, to help others to learn to exhibit the attributes of humanity (justice for all.) “Know thyself.”

Alfred was incarcerated at age 31 and his release is set for 2089 at age 120.
~Alfred Moore N80845

Carnell Fitzpatrick Sr.
My name is Carnell Fitzpatrick Sr. I am 47 years old. I have 4 kids and 5 grandchildren. My mother is my sole living parent. I have been incarcerated for 17 years. My first 10 years were spent at Menard where I worked in the kitchen for 7 years for $19.90/month. Obviously I wasn’t working for pay – more for recreation and movement. Unfortunately, Menard had no programs to offer other than GED, so other than working, I mainly worked on my case and studied business. During my 7 years here at Stateville, I have completed 2 college courses from DePaul, earning a B in Restorative Justice and an A in Masculinity and Social Justice. I am now waiting to attend DePaul’s final class. I have a huge passion for our youth and community. I coached basketball for 14-16 year old boys in 1996-1998, taking them from our area on the west side of Chicago to tournamentas all over the city. I felt the need to expose those teenagers to something positive in contrast to the negativity that surrounded us. Most of them had never been anywhere outside of our Austin Community. I want to continue working with our youth and someday open a boys and girls club in my area. I want to name it after my younger brother who was an excellent basketball player and was recently murdered.

I am 100% innocent of the charge for which I was convicted. My case is back in court and I should be proven innocent soon.

I was 31 years old when I was given a 45 year sentence. Some would call this a life sentence. I call it a death sentence.

Carnell was incarcerated at age 30. His release is set for 2046 at age 76.
~Carnell Fitzpatrick Dr. R11310

Contact
If you are interested in contacting any of the debate team members, you can do so via email at:
Full Name – IDOC Number
Stateville Correctional Center
P.O. Box 112
Joliet, IL 60434

Full names and IDOC numbers are listed at the bottom of each individual’s bio. When you contact them, please expect at least 40 days before receiving a response. The process of screening mail that comes in and out of the facility causes multiple weeks of delay.

Response by Alfred Moore

Madame Moderator, ladies and gentleman – as we can see, the resolution at hand is a matter of grave import with the potential to have a tremendous impact on not only the prison population, but our society as a whole.  In order to crystallize the various issues swirling around this topic, I think we must address three important questions.

 

  1. Which system is best for victims?
  2. Which system is best for our communities?
  3. And which system is best for people who are incarcerated?

 

First: which system is best for victims?

 

Our opponents say they want to treat all victims equally.  But I’ll remind you of what my teammate Luigi said when they made this same claim about incarcerated people.  The government team may treat all people equally, but it is equally like garbage.

 

They claim that because some people aren’t able to exercise their rights as victims, no one should be allowed to.  

 

I understand that the dividing line here is income, and that in itself is an unjust tragedy, but what if we sought to lift everybody up instead of shutting everybody down?  In the last speech, Raheem explained that victims’ rights have been developing across the last 40 years and he’s right. This is still something new we’re exploring. And just because we haven’t gotten it exactly right at this point doesn’t mean we should shut victims out of the justice system altogether.  We should continue recognizing the individual needs of victims and acknowledging each case as unique. We can find ways to overcome the structural barriers and reach for the point where we hear all victims who want to be heard. But we can’t reach for that under the government’s plan.

 

My teammate Raúl told you that prosecutors often represent the wishes of the victims as the most harsh punishment possible.  There are victims who want that. There are also victims whose wishes are squashed because they are merciful in nature or hold a hope of restoration.  One thing all of these victims have in common? They each have their own voice and they can speak for themselves. As each of you has done us the honor of coming to listen to our voices today, we beg you to do the same thing for victims.

 

Second: which system is best for our communities?

 

Frankly, this is a sweep.  The opposition team is the only one that has shown real concern for communities on the outside.  The government team is increasing public safety by over 200%. Great. They are sending people back into communities based off of statistical evaluations that also would have told you they were very unlikely to commit a crime in the first place.

We demand more.  Under our system, anyone who is released must demonstrate rehabilitation. No one will leave this system the same way they came into it.  Incarcerated people will have access to resources, training, classes, therapy, and anything else they need as an individual to prepare them to re-enter society.  

 

This one really is a no-brainer.  Either you’re sending the same people you took out of society right back into it, or you’re using the time while people are locked away to help reform them.  

 

In our constitution, we gave ourselves the mandate of restoring incarcerated people to useful citizenship.

 

Let’s do that.

 

Third and finally: which system is best for incarcerated people?

 

Now I know that a lot of people do not care about this. They say we had our chance and we surrendered ourselves to subhuman status when we broke the law.  We don’t deserve rights or to be treated like humans. I can comprehend that line of thinking, but I do not understand it. The fact is that we are human.  Like all humans, we are imperfect, and like all humans, we are also invaluable.  

 

We are complex, we are emotive, we have all been hurt, we have all hurt others.  None of us can be boiled down to a number whether that is the serial number we are assigned when we enter this system or a numerical estimation of our future risk to society.  

 

I’m not going to lie to you all.  Being locked up in prison is not a pleasant experience.  And yes, given that I live in here, of course I want more programs, more classes, more opportunities to grow and learn so that I can be of some benefit to society when I am released.  But I don’t just want this for myself. I want it for every man who is locked up with me today and for every person who will ever be locked up in this country. And this is not just because I can sympathize with what it is like to be in prison.  It is because I know what it is to be human and not recognized as such.

 

So please, please recognize that we all have a responsibility that goes much deeper than the constitution of the state of Illinois.  It is the primary demand of the entire human race. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

 

I really believe that if you were in my shoes, you would want to be treated as a human too.  

Response by Raheem (Richard Morris)

Good morning Madame Moderator, distinguished guests.

 

One of the sentiments we’ve heard from the opposition team is humanity.  Speaking from experience, once you’re convicted and sentenced to the IDOC, there is nothing remotely humane about any part of this process.  And voting for one system over the other is not going to change that fact.

 

In this speech, I’m going to provide some refutation to what Raúl just brought to us before summarizing why you’re going to vote for the government team today.

 

Refutation

 

On Victims.  Prior to 1975, the United States treated all victims equally.  The prevailing concept in our criminal justice system was that everyone in the community is the victim when an offender commits a violent crime.  Therefore, the party that prosecutes a criminal defendant is called the “state” or the “people” because when someone is murdered, raped, robbed, or assaulted, it is an offense against all of us.  Beginning in ’75, victims in different states started gaining different rights – some states gave victims the right to participate in the trial process, some to make victim impact statements, some to sit at the prosecutor’s table during trial.  The list of victims’ rights has grown in different ways in different states at different rates. As is true with nearly everything the opposition team has brought us today – increasing victim involvement in the criminal justice system is a great idea in theory, but it is actively detrimental in practice.  

This individualization and personalization of the system sounds so good, but it works out to be just another tool for the system to disfavor some people.  

 

A person’s socio-economic status is the essential factor in determining to what extent they can exercise their rights as victims.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime rates do not differ significantly by a victim’s sex or race, but those of younger age and lower income bracket – especially those in households earning less than $25,000/year – are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes. What this means for victims’ rights is that most victims don’t have a meaningful chance to exercise them.  Most victims face structural barriers to participation in the justice system: they are kept from attending trials due to lack of transportation, inadequate finances, or the inability to miss work. In 2016, only 1 in 10 victims received victim services after their victimization.

 

What the opposition team is advocating for is a system where some cases and victims are granted significantly more consideration than others.  Their stance ultimately suggests that a person’s worth is determined by their socio-economic status. I refuse to believe that’s true. On the government, we believe in the intrinsic, equal value of all people – regardless of socio-economic status – and so in regards to victims, as we have held with all parties in this debate, we believe we should treat them equally.

 

Let’s look at the rest of this debate.

 

At the end of the day, you have a choice between the opposition team’s proposal of idealism and our proposal of practicality.  Practicality stresses effectiveness as tested by actual experience or measured by a completely realistic approach. We on the government team stand for practicality.  The actuarial system is more practical, more plausible, and more importantly, more probable.

 

I admit, neither system is infallible.  But 100%, the actuarial system has outpaced the clinical system in predicting future risk.

 

Is this not the mandate from the public, to the parole board – to discriminate between those convicted persons who are more prone to commit crimes in the future from those who are not?

 

And what does the opposition team propose to ensure public safety?

 

An antiquated system that has proven to be inefficient.

 

So I ask you: when it comes to releasing individuals from prison; which does a better job of ensuring public safety; the system that can predict with some degree of scientific certainty who is more likely to relapse into criminal behavior based on a list of factors with a proven relationship to risk, or an archaic clinical system whose predictions have been well-established as woefully inaccurate?

 

Parole determinations are still made in IL today.  Even after the parole board was abolished, anyone sentenced prior to February 1, 1978 retained a right to parole consideration.  Over the last 40 years, the Prisoner Review Board has paroled 16,530 people who were sentenced prior to ’78, and today there are 122 people in the custody of the IDOC who maintain the right to parole consideration.

 

Thus the PRB still holds monthly meetings to make these parole determinations, which are made with a clinical model.

 

You should also know that the PRB has lots of other work to do: evaluate clemency petitions, review juvenile cases, revoke and restore good conduct credits, discharge people from IDOC, conduct mandatory supervised release reviews, and file rehearing and reconsideration requests. In the year 2015, the Prisoner Review Board made over 45,000 evaluations – of which only 58 of them were traditional parole considerations.

 

The opposition team is advocating for the model of the Hawaii paroling Authority, where the PRB would conduct a hearing within 6 months of the sentencing date to determine the minimum number of years a convicted person would have to serve before being eligible for parole.  The state of Hawaii, mind you, has a population of approximately 1.4 million people.

 

The city of Chicago alone has nearly 3 times the population.

 

The model Hawaii utilizes is one that is feasible for a state that has the 11th lowest incarceration rate in the nation.  But for IL, which has roughly 9 times that of Hawaii’s population, this is not even a plausible argument.

 

In the early 70’s, approximately 6,400 adults were in prison at any one time.  As we can see, that number has ballooned significantly since then.

 

The opposition team would have you believe that the method to solving overcrowding is by overwhelming the PRB.  It would actually be impossible to expand their proposed type of parole evaluation to all incarcerated people in the state of Illinois UNLESS (!) an entirely new board were created for the sole purpose of holding parole hearings.

 

Given that that is not about to happen, anyone in this room who actually wants parole HAS to vote for the government team.

 

The actuarial evaluation is the only comprehensive approach to re-introducing parole into the system in a way that is efficient enough to actually consider EVERYONE for parole.

 

Last year, on Mother’s day, my mother came to visit for the first time in almost 20 years.  She’s been back twice since then – once on thanksgiving and again 2 weeks ago on my 44th birthday.  On this last visit, she looks at me and says, “I’m proud of you.”

 

I must confess that I am my mama’s baby.  My brother James, who is 8 years older than I, can attest that I am the apple of her eye.

 

So when she said she was proud of my, my response was, “I know.  I’m your baby.”

 

And in this non-nonsense tone she replies, “Of course you’re my baby.  But I really am proud of you. If I were locked up for something I didn’t do, hell, I’d be angry, bitter, and everything else.  But here you are, positive and in good spirits. And you’ve taken it upon yourself to improve those aspects of your character that made it seem possible that you’d be involved in such a crime in the first place.”

 

Between me and you, I cried.

 

I share this story because under the opposition team’s proposal for clinical evaluations, an actually innocent person, like me, would be asked or expected to show remorse.

 

How could I answer that question without sounding disrespectful or appearing to express a total lack of remorse?

 

See, the PRB doesn’t know all of the circumstances of a case.  Nor is it their duty to know.

 

What they do know is 1) you have been convicted; 2) what the statement of facts state about the offense and your role in it; and 3) that you are before them seeking parole.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  A day is too long to be locked up for a crime you didn’t commit.  But at least under the actuarial system, risk would be the determining factor and not remorse.

 

We on the government team hold the position that if the state of Illinois is to implement a parole board that will give consideration to every convicted person within IDOC, then it is imperative that it use a comprehensible system that has the proper tools necessary to predict future risks, cut costs, and reduce the prison population by making the evaluation process more efficient so that those that are deserving can actually be granted parole.

 

So, in conclusion, government team – good, opposition team – bad, because their proposal is not practical, not plausible, forget probable, the opposition team’s proposal isn’t even possible!

 

Thank you.

Response by Raul Dorado

“The mission of the Department of Corrections is to protect the public from criminal offenders through a system of incarceration and supervision which securely segregates offenders from society, assures offenders of their constitutional rights and maintains programs to enhance the success of offenders’ reentry into society.”

 

The most obvious failure of IDOC is that most of us on the debate team will never re-enter society. There is no way to “enhance our success of reentry” if there is no re-entry.   Hopefully the parole board, no matter which system is established, will fix that.

 

However, if we get past that obstacle, we see the need for programs that enhance the success of reentry as a centerpiece of IDOC’s mission statement.  While the government team ignores this, the opposition team makes it a primary concern.

 

Sure, we currently have some programs that help some residents develop vocational skills that will hopefully benefit them upon their reentry.  But the plan that we are proposing on the opposition team would make self-improvement and the pursuit of rehabilitative and developmental programs the main focus of people’s time in prison as soon as they arrive.  

 

When a person sits down with the board, only six months into their sentence, and they are told, “this is exactly what you need to accomplish in order to earn parole”, so many people in here would work relentlessly to meet those goals.  People would pursue self-developmental and rehabilitative programing. They would work to earn parole. The fierce pursuit may even encourage IDOC to bring more effective and widely available programs in here.

 

And sure, maybe the idea of treating those of us in here like people is overly idealistic, but at least we’re bringing humanity to some part of this system.  All the government team is doing is feeding the narrative that we deserve no more consideration than the bare minimum for that which is necessary to determine how dangerous we are.  

 

Now, the government team, in their last speech, tried to tell you that there are certain groups of people who would be harmed by taking individual considerations into account when making parole decisions.  Let’s talk about victims.

 

Just as offenders are different from one another and judges are different and each one of you is different, victims are different from one another.  We think that one of the considerations that should be weighed in parole determinations is the thoughts and feelings of the victim of the crime.

 

Don’t buy the idea that the government’s plan is better because they communicate with victims.  They don’t actually communicate with victims. They tell victims what is going to happen. On the opposition, we actually communicate with victims.  We listen to them and take their thoughts into consideration when making decisions.  We give them a voice in the process. Whether they want mercy or justice to be demonstrated to an offender, their thoughts will have an impact – and they can be as involved or uninvolved as they wish.  It is the opposition team that best cares for victims.

 

Let me tell you a few more things about victims.  The Urban Institute ran an article stating that victims are unfairly left out of the legal process.  No one cares to ask them what course of action would best suit them. Instead, it is assumed that harsher punishment equates to more healing.  However, a survey revealed that many victims of serious crime expressed a desire for restorative justice. They favored shorter sentences that were coupled with an increased investment in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

 

Now victims are real people and they suffer real harm.  Still, there were three things mercifully expressed in that survey:  First, that while victims do want the people who hurt them to be punished, it is equally important to them that these very same people come to understand exactly how the victim has been harmed.  Second, they want to prevent others from experiencing the same kind of harm. Third, most victims don’t wish to permanently banish offenders. Instead, they want offenders to be restored through a rehabilitative process.

 

We can honor their wishes.  A clinical approach involving human interaction is the best indicator of genuine remorse and restoration, not a computer-generated algorithm.

 

There is a group of forgotten victims in this debate: our children.  This is a quote from Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”:

 

“Hundreds of thousands of black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of a lack of commitment or desire, but because they are warehoused in prisons, locked in cages.  They did not walk out on their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs.

 

“More African Americans are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began.  The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.  The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity or too much time watching sports center.  Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails.”

 

Todd R. Clear states in his book, “Imprisoning Communities”, that for children in poor neighborhoods, merely having a parent or brother who has gone to prison elevates the risk of doing the same.  In this way, incarceration serves as its own breeding ground. In places where a lot of men go to prison, there are diminished levels of informal social control. Child rearing is less likely to implant delinquency resistant self-controls, and the pro-social attitudes that usually insulate youths against breaking the law are less likely to develop.

 

Every friend and family member that lends a helping hand is victimized as well.  A glaring example of this is the way our loved ones are forced to purchase access to us: $5 collect calls, increased transportation costs when they move us to different facilities, the need to take time off of work and school to visit us during the week because they are almost never allowed to visit on weekends…

 

Victims want proportionate and restorative justice.  Victims also want their fathers and mothers back home, but while still incarcerated, they want access to their parents without having to purchase it.

 

Let’s consider a couple of other groups that can uniquely benefit from clinical rather than standardized decision making:  the elderly and the terminally ill.

 

Has anyone in here ever heard of a crime being committed by someone over the age of 65?  

 

Everyone standing on this stage was imprisoned between the ages of 16 and 26.  

 

There is a reason for this.  People simply age out of crime.  

 

This is so widely recognized that many parole boards build a special exception in for the elderly.  For example, in Virginia, the parole board considers for release anyone age 60 or older who has served 10 years of their sentence, regardless of any other factors. The parole board in Georgia has unrestricted authority to parole anyone age 62 or older.  These types of provisions make a lot of sense, not only because social scientists across disciplines agree that people this age do not pose a threat to society, but also because this age and beyond can become very costly from a medical perspective.

 

People with terminal illnesses are granted early releases in many states as well for the same two reasons: people on their death beds are not a threat to public safety, and if they remain in the custody of the state, they are quite costly.  

 

These are two – very costly and very tame – groups of people that the government team would keep locked up. Our system allows for the flexibility of considerations for factors like these.  Thus, against all odds, we may actually be the team that does a better job of decreasing the costs to the state, as the annual cost for incarcerating elderly and terminally ill inmates is significantly higher than caging your average 30-year-old.

 

Bottom line here: same-crime-same-time may be a catchy slogan, but a thoughtless, blanket policy like that ignores important factors that would make someone an exception to the rule, and it actively ignores the opinions of the victims of crimes.  Vote negative for the victims, the elderly, and those on their death beds.

Response by Mike Sullivan

We just all sat here and listened to the government team debate the implementation of a parole board based on the principles of economics and a fictitious actuarial system.

 

They claim that our plan is too costly, unrealistic and is nothing more than the rehashing of the old parole system that was abolished in the 1970’s.  To me, it looks like they are holding onto the heart of the system we have now with determinate sentences and fixed principles that landed us in situation that made this debate necessary.

 

First, let’s address this claim that the old parole system was biased.  Yes, we concede that when you look at the amount of time that people were sentenced to and the amount of time that people served, there were some pretty big differences in the fraction of the time that people served, and that was necessary – not because the parole board wanted to be biased, but because judges had nearly boundless discretion in sentencing.  Frankly, prior to and during the 1970’s, nearly every judge in the state of Illinois was white. If you were a black or latino person who was on trial, odds were that you were getting a longer sentence than your white counterparts. This was true to a degree in urban areas, a large degree in rural areas, and an extremely large degree if the victim of the crime was white.  People may have been sentenced to 20 – 500 years for nearly identical crimes. The state-wide parole board operated as a check against this unbalanced sentencing.

 

On this point, I think this proves that we need to have this state-wide board in play earlier on in the process.  If we take the government’s proposal and say everyone is eligible for parole after 1/3 of their sentence, then people still may face dramatically more or less time behind bars simply because of the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed, or the ever-present factor of which side of the bed their judge got up on that morning.  

 

When we allow the parole board to set the minimum sentence that must be served before everyone is eligible for parole, we guard against massive disparities in “just desserts” because every person who is serving time has their minimum time set by the same body.  That seems more standardized and just to me.

 

Let’s consider the central problem of the government’s plan.  In everything the government has brought to us today, I heard very little about human decency.  I heard very little about humanity. I heard nothing about our beloved constitution.

 

When a parole board is based on economics and fixed determinate sentences, the stage is set to dehumanize Illinois citizens.

 

As the opposition team, we did not come here to have a debate about economics.  We are here asking which system would be better when considering all related elements holistically.  This includes our growing knowledge about human brain development, societal concerns and evolution, and of course, our constitution.

 

Based on advancements in neurobiology and developmental psychology, our society has learned that the human brain does not finish developing until at least 25 years of age – even later for people who abuse drugs or alcohol.  

 

This means that the average prisoner in IL has a high capacity for reform and rehabilitation, which corresponds to the idea of a CLINICAL parole board.  

 

Furthermore, our society has evolved to the point where we recognize the racial and environmental aspects of incarceration and crime.  In the clinical board, we have the flexibility to take that knowledge into account.

 

All of this has a common thread with our constitutional mandate of Article 1 Section 11’s rehabilitation clause which states that

 

  1. There is a limitation of penalties after conviction, and
  2. All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense AND with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.

 

The plain language of the rehabilitation clause itself directs our determinations to be made with respect to the offender, rather than to a class of offenders, as the government’s plan would have us do.

 

The framers of the constitution were some very smart people because they designed the constitution to be in agreement with a clinical parole board.  For instance, delegate Leon Foster, the architect of the Amendment to Art 1 Sec. 11 explained the purpose behind the rehabilitation clause. He stated:

 

“In addition to looking at the acts that the person committed, we should also look at the person who committed the act and determine to what extent he can be restored to useful citizenship.”

 

Let me say that again.

 

“In addition to looking at the acts that the person committed, we should also look at the person who committed the act and determine to what extent he can be restored to useful citizenship.”

 

Powerful stuff.  And to think, that was written in 1970.

It is because of this constitutional principle – of looking at the person – that we ask for you to implement a clinical parole board that recognizes the merits of the individual.

 

Imagine this – a system where we comprehensively evaluate a person when they come into the system, outline the goals that they should have for rehabilitation, and connect them to the necessary resources to meet their goals during their incarceration.  Recognizing individuals and their needs is not just humanizing, it is the best way to restore offenders to useful citizenship.

 

I would like to demonstrate this with a quick story about myself.  I am currently serving a mandatory minimum sentence of LWOP for a gang-related case.  I was exactly 21 years and 11 days old when the alleged crime occurred. I was barely legal to buy alcoholic beverages.  I had only lived less than a third of a life span. I was still intellectually developing. Yet I was told by past legislators through a primitive statute that I have no redeemable qualities and that I can’t be rehabilitated.  But through hope, I have worked very hard to reach my full development as a human being. Now at 46 years old, I have obtained a post-secondary education and become and accomplished artist and writer.

 

In my 25 years in prison, I have no gang infraction nor have I ever tested positive for drugs, in spite of having a gang-related case and growing up in a drug-infested environment – nor do I have any violence whatsoever on my prison record.

 

All of this was done absent any “incentives.”

 

I am also a devoted father.  When my son was 17 years old, he came to visit me and on that visit he said to me… “Dad, I want to be just like you.  An artist. And therefore I will be attending college to become a 3D animator!”

 

I told you that story to show you what hop looks and feels like.  Hope is what makes men like me want to be better and do better, and that’s what you will be handing to every incarcerated person in Illinois when you implement a clinical parole system.

 

Simply put, having a clinical system would allow stories like mine to be a relevant factor in granting parole.

 

Public Safety

 

We as the opposition team believe that we are achieving public safety when the people we parole have worked at changing their lives during their incarceration.  With that being said, I want to give you a small piece of legislative history…

 

In 1979, HB 32 was passed.  It was meant to support public safety, support the abolishment of parole, and the abolishment of the death penalty.

 

HB 32 is a bill that punishes people who were convicted of multiple murders.  It would give them LWOP unless the death penalty was imposed.

 

One of the legislators who supported the bill said that it was a “good law” and went on to say that we have people like John Wayne Gacey and Richard Speck.  This would ensure that they’d spend the rest of their natural lives in the penitentiary if they haven’t been sentenced to the death penalty.

 

In formal logic, this kind of thinking is a logical fallacy called an “accident”.  This is when someone takes exceptional elements of a unique case to establish a general principle.  

 

An opposing legislator pointed this out, saying that this bill was directed at only one person, but is so broad that it will apply to many people who definitely do not need to be given life imprisonment – and for that reason voted no.

 

Think on this for just one minute.  This piece of legislation means that, according to past legislatures, every person who is sentenced to life in prison without parole is just like the monsters John Wayne Gacey and Richard Speck.

 

I think we all know that is not true, because if it was true, I wouldn’t be here in the same room with you unshackled and unrestrained.  

In fact, the mere fact that we’re debating this issue makes it evident that we are not those monsters the past legislators had in mind.

 

I have one final point.

 

Every person on this stage has some form of a life sentence without parole.  Some here have even had the death penalty. And yet they have all worked for their own rehabilitation absent the hope of parole.  

 

But can you imagine how different this entire facility would be if our state adhered to the constitution and instituted hope in the form of a clinical parole board?  It would communicate to those of us that are locked up in here that you know we are more and can be more than our crimes. It would help make more of us believe in ourselves and do better – fight for rehabilitation and personal transformation.  That would definitely have a better impact on public safety than statistically identifying which people who committed crimes in the past will not commit crimes in the future. It would also give everyone the power to contribute to society as productive citizens upon their release rather than just sending them back into communities exactly the same way they came in.

 

With that, I urge you all to recognize the power of hope, and the possibility for rehabilitation, and to vote for the opposition team.

Response by Michael Simmons

I’m actually inclined to agree with my opponents.  It would be great if our justice system openly acknowledged the humanity of those of us who are subjected to it – but the responsibility for that does not fall on a parole board.

 

The responsibility of a parole board is to parole people.  And what the opposition team offers is not only misguided in this way, but it also ignores the harms of the biased parole board that used to exist in Illinois – a parole board that offered no real safeguards to the public, resulted in wide variations of time served for the same crimes, and that tended to discriminate against minorities.

 

The opposition team seeks to keep open that door of discrimination in favor of a parole board replete with mental health professionals and corrections caseworkers that they want to task with the responsibility of announcing the humanity of everyone they evaluate?  It just doesn’t make sense. In fact, studies have shown that statistical methods out-perform both mental health professionals and correctional caseworkers in predicting recidivism (Holland Holt, Levi, and Beckett, 1983). Another study concluded that in virtually every decision-making situation for which the issue has been studied, it has been found that statistically developed predictive devices out-perform human judgment. (Gottfiedson and Gottfiedson, 1986).  And numbers tend not to lie – despite the witty and empty remarks my opponents may have about statistics.

 

Before I bring you a couple of new points to consider, let’s briefly review what both sides have brought to us so far.

 

It seems like we have two big points of contention in this debate.  Justice and public safety. Both sides seem to agree that these are the two purposes of the justice system.  We also both agree that there is some amount of time that should be served by people who commit crimes as punishment for their actions. Once that time has been served, the parole system should determine who is safe to re-enter society. On the government team, we think that people should be treated fairly and that we should not allow room for bias – everyone serves 1/3 of their sentence as punishment.  On the opposition team, they would allow each person special consideration, determining on a case-by-case basis exactly how long someone should spend in prison for justice to be served. I concede that this is a really great idea in theory, but in a society full of unchecked bias, and massive wealth disparities, and imperfect people, this is pushing open a really dangerous door. I’m not saying that political corruption or bribery have ever had a place in Illinois, but one could see how there might be space for it under the opposition team’s plan.  

 

A big part of the reason that the parole board was abolished and truth-in-sentencing laws were established in Illinois is something that no one has mentioned yet today.  Care for victims. To establish a system that was not perceived as deceitful. The criticism was that people who committed a crime against someone would be sentenced to 70 years, but then would be released after 35.  This disparity shocked and horrified some victims who thought that a 70-year sentence mean that all 70 years were served in prison.

 

Honestly, this seems like a problem that could have been solved quite easily through basic communication between the justice system and victims, but we also see the value for victims with the assurance of standard sentences, so we think we should give them both.

 

We all have a responsibility to the victims and their families, but the government team is the one that does the better job of caring for them.  With our parole system, we would communicate to the victims from the outside that the person who committed a crime against them will serve at least 1/3 and at most the totality of their sentence in prison.  When we keep a flat rate of everyone serving 1/3 of their time before becoming eligible for parole, justice will be equally maintained across the board, and no victim will be taken by surprise if they hear someone has earned parole before 100% of their sentence is served.

 

The other thing I want to bring up that has mysteriously evaded this debate thus far is people who are serving time in Illinois who are innocent, such as my teammate Raheem.  At this moment there are innocent people serving time in every prison in Illinois. Last year, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx spearheaded the first mass exoneration in Cook County’s history and is currently looking into multiple cases of abuse which are expected to lead to hundreds more exonerations. Hundreds more exonerations… Please, don’t be shocked by this.  But please do be horrified – even to the point of action.  These people are actually innocent and yet they have their autonomy and rights stripped away.  They are treated as less than human and labeled as unworthy and disgraceful for the rest of their lives.

 

But here’s the concern for this debate.  These people are uniquely harmed in the opposition’s proposed system.  As a clinical evaluation takes many subjective factors into account, one of the major ones is the demonstration of remorse for your crime.  People who are innocent don’t have anything to be remorseful about. They would be right in maintaining their innocence, and they would serve more time under the opposition’s system because of their “lack of repentance” for something they didn’t do.  This population of people are victims in their own rights and harms to them are maximized under the system proposed by my opponents.

 

Therefore, for the reasons my teammates have mentioned of efficiency, equal justice, and the best protection of public safety, as well as the reasons I have brought to the table of fair consideration for victims and protection for the wrongly incarcerated, I am proud to stand with the government team in the promotion of a same-crime-same-time principle for Illinois’ parole board.

 

Response by Howard Keller

My opponent began his last speech by diminishing the significance of the numbers that Al Ameen presented.  After hearing the rest of his speech, I understand why he tried to discredit the numbers – he didn’t have any to offer.  That’s obvious. What’s not so obvious is why the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars would be insignificant. What Luigi said about these numbers is both pessimistic and untrue.

 

First of all, a change as dramatic as cutting out up to 2/3 of people’s time served in prison would undoubtedly have an effect on the operating costs of Illinois’ prison system.  

 

The opposition team talked about the minute financial impact of paroling one person, but we’re not paroling one person.  Illinois upholds a standard of equal justice under law. Under our proposal, everyone has the chance to be considered.

 

At the implementation of this system, our prison population would quickly drop substantially.  The IDOC would be justified in cutting expenditures across the board – that includes those fixed costs as well.  If you have a fraction of the population, you’re going to spend a fraction of the money.

 

And this money does matter in Illinois.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that this parole system would end up saving the criminal justice system $500 million/year.  That’s a little less than 1/3 of current cost of running prisons in Illinois. It may not have quite that impact in its first year, but once the board is established and all of the people who are currently eligible for parole have been seen by the board, we think the idea that we could save 29% of our operating costs every year is actually a very conservative estimate.

 

And what can $500 million in savings do for Illinois?  We could fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and take care of some of those homeless people you talked about earlier ($72m additional needed), nearly double the capacity of the Illinois State Police Force ($318m – current budget $339m), and pay off all of the pensions and healthcare that we have backlogged ($110million). So, you see, those numbers really aren’t insignificant after all.  It’s a good thing Luigi is arguing for parole and not running for state comptroller.

 

Let’s talk about justice.

 

I understand what the opposition team is trying to do in granting the parole board authority to set different minimum sentences for different people, even if they committed the same crime.  We concede that there are good things that can come from taking individual considerations into account, but we don’t think that the handful of people that would benefit from this special consideration are worth the costs of muddling justice and opening the door for discrimination.

 

We should stick with the standard of having everyone serve 1/3 of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, because the idea that you could have two people who committed the same crime serve different sentences for it does not fit with the idea of just deserts. If the punishment you assign to people is based off of a bunch of factors that have nothing to do with a person’s culpability, then are you even enacting justice?

 

The second, and perhaps more important, failure of the opposition’s proposal pertaining to minimum sentence determinations is this: they are doing nothing more than re-establishing the failed system of the 1970’s.  

 

What we are proposing on the government team is that we take the principles that were established in those laws and tone them down a bit.  The ideas underneath determinate sentencing provides a positive, proactive response to the bias and discrimination that were present in the old Illinois parole system.  The problem with this law is not the principle it was grounded on, but just the fact that its application was a little extreme. The severity of this law resulted in our prison population jumping from 10,000 inmates at the time the parole board was abolished to 49,000 inmates in 2015. So yes, the overeager nature of these laws has had harmful consequences, but we are confident that if the application of these principles is tempered, they will swiftly and fairly uphold justice.  The principles of equality and non-discrimination are good ones. We should want them in our justice system.

 

Moving on to public safety.

 

In the system we have today, we have a Prisoner Review Board that is costing the state $4.3 million in 2018.  The opposition’s system, is more complex, multi-faceted, subjective and it will cost countless additional hours to complete the same number of evaluations. It may even require bringing on all sorts of professionals who will likely need to be paid more than our current members in light of their expertise.  We now understand why our opponents didn’t have any numbers to offer. And get this – all of that would still result in less accurate determinations.

 

Let’s keep in mind that once someone is eligible for parole, justice has been served and is no longer a concern.  Public safety is now the pertinent consideration. Remember that under our proposal, we are increasing public safety by 258%.

 

And that estimation only applies if we look at our parole system in a vacuum.  If we actually used our savings to do what we suggested earlier – double funding for Illinois state police force and maybe cut taxes to benefit the overall economy, we would easily have a more positive impact on the crime rate than the opposition team.  Pew Research and the Bureau of Justice Statistics came together to do research on what most impacts our crime rate, and they found that 75% of our nation’s decrease in crime is attributed predominantly to better policing and favorable economic trends. If we take this into account, and used our savings wisely, we more effectively fight crime on the front end and have less people entering prison in the first place.  

 

Sure, the opposition team’s nebulous idea about sending the message that people who commit crimes are still people first is a great one.  I would love nothing more than for people to know me for the funny, witty, strikingly handsome, talented guy that I am… that also loves grilled cheese sandwiches and baby penguins, but it is too far down the path of idealistic thinking to imagine that the nuanced operations of one of 49 parole boards in the United States would have any impact on broader society’s perception of the caged animals they have stashed in the back of their minds.

 

Not only that, but putting the burden of such careful and subjective determinations while adding literally tens of thousands of cases to the board’s load would keep the board from being able to make decisions about paroling people who deserve a chance to be seen by the board.  Your system will necessarily cost so much time and money, that you won’t only cost taxpayers more money, but you will also withhold justice and the chance for parole from the very people you are most concerned about helping. Folks, what the opposition team is proposing is not a plan.  It’s a plot.