Lead opposition argument for parole based on clinical evaluation, by Luigi Adamo

I thank my opponent for his speech but respectfully disagree.  There are some things that just should not be dictated by their price tags and the administration of justice has got to be at the very top of that list.  It’s just got to be. Besides, since when is the fastest, cheapest way the better way?

 

To start this speech, I am going to provide some points of rebuttal to what Al Ameen brought us.  Then I am going to tell you all how my team plans on achieving the goals set forth in the resolution while at the same time serving the interests of both justice and public safety.  

 

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First off, let’s talk about money.  I know that the government said that public safety is their primary concern, but it’s not.  It’s money. It’s always the money. They do their best to hypnotize you with large numbers, making the amount of money they save seem like an amount you can’t refuse.  But you can. Let me explain. The operating costs of the IDOC are largely fixed. When you parole someone, the actual savings to the department are limited to the food/water/power costs that the parolee would have accrued up until the next poor schmuck fills his bunk.  

The government team will say it’s cheaper to put someone on parole than it is to keep them incarcerated.  And that’s true! On paper, having someone on parole costs 1/10 of what it does to keep them in prison. BUT as the government’s plan does nothing to address the causes of incarceration, the people they send out of the system are likely to end up right back in it. This means that all the government team is really doing is making bed space for new – and repeat – offenders to fill just as soon as the old ones are paroled.  There will be no savings.

 

I have other objections with my opponent’s proposal, but for brevity’s sake, I will address these as I offer our own solutions.

 

Justice

 

There is a problem with our current criminal justice system.  Not only does this system ignore the humanity of those subjugated to its authority, it strips their humanity intentionally. The stated goal of our penal system is to restore offenders back to useful citizenship.  To restore. Not to degrade or to warehouse.

 

But when someone is thrown into prison, there are a number of degrading things done to them.  Their civil rights and personal liberties as they once knew them are gone, most, gone forever.  Their very personhood is diminished to almost nothing as they are assigned a serial number like trade goods or chattel property, all the better for warehousing, I guess.  When I first entered the system I was given the designation R-74391. I asked the officer at the terminal if I could change it to R2D2, but I was informed that this is what I will be referred to until the time of my death. They gave me a number and took away my name.  I like my name. Do you have any idea what I had to go through maintaining a name like “Luigi” during the era of Nintendo? It was rough, I’ll tell you that.

 

Our current system, and the system proposed by my opponents, restores no one. Even after those convicted completely serve our their sentence, their debt to society is never marked paid in full.  A red mark stains their name forever. They will never regain all the freedoms and opportunities they enjoyed before their conviction. They will remain degraded, devalued and dehumanized for the rest of their lives.  This isn’t just true for people who have spent time incarcerated. Approximately 1/3 of American adults have some sort of a criminal record. We all carry the same stain. By revoking our rights, liberties and humanity, the system is praised for its equal treatment of all. But to be treated equally like garbage?  Is this what we mean by ensuring equality? At least some garbage gets recycled. Can we do no less for people? Really?

 

No one should ever be identified solely as the worst thing they have ever done in their lives while ignoring everything else.  We are not our crimes! We are human beings. Each and every one of us has a unique story and a unique set of circumstances that led to us being incarcerated.  No two cases are ever truly the same.

 

The government team is advocating for another blanket of standardized treatment to throw over all the incarcerated.  Their plan solves none of the problems it is meant to, but further propagates the mindset of marginalization and dehumanization that has allowed the criminal justice system to keep 2.3 million people behind bars.

 

This is not OK.

 

When my cellmate and friend Ryan Miller overturned his sentence of natural life for being unconstitutional, he naturally had to go back before the court for a resentencing hearing.  In the decade it took him to overturn his original sentence, my friend not only kept his nose clean and out of trouble, he took full advantage of every opportunity to better himself.  He presented all sorts of evidence to the court that proved unequivocally that he was a truly rehabilitated man. The court heard all of this evidence, and even agreed that his efforts at rehabilitation were genuine and successful, but then dismissed their importance and showed them no consideration as it sentenced him to the maximum allowable sentence of 60 years to be served at 100%.  The judge said this,

 

“You’re rehabilitated and would probably never commit another crime.  I won’t argue that.  But I don’t care about your faith or the man you’ve become.  All I care about is what you did.  You took a life and that is unforgivable…  20 years, 60 years – they’re all life sentences, so it doesn’t really matter if I sentence you to the max, either way you will die in prison.”

 

We, as the opposition team, want to encourage people like Ryan in their rehabilitative efforts.  We want to recognize and support those efforts, so we propose a parole system which emulates the state of Hawaii’s in many respects.

 

The Plan

 

The process begins within 6 months of sentencing.  The paroling body will look at the totality of a person’s situation and the details of their case to determine what it would take to restore that person back to useful citizenship.  Both the time at which they will become eligible for parole and the things they need to do to earn parole will be determined and laid out clearly at that time.

 

During this process the prosecutor and victims, families, and community will be as involved as they wish to be.  They may present oral or written statements about the impact of the crime on the community or their lives. They may also speak into what rehabilitative milestones they would like to see for the defendant.  

 

Impacts

 

The impacts of this plan are these:

 

  1. The safety and security of all institutions right off the bat.  Our system gives incarcerated people something positive to focus their efforts on, something that not only helps them to succeed in the real world but is also a means of shortening their stay in prison. Knowing ahead of time what is expected of you, and knowing that your behavior will directly impact how much time you spend in prison will cause an immediate, permanent, and positive effect on institutional safety and well-being.
  2. Recidivism and crime rates will fall as our plan actually puts corrections back into the department of corrections by identifying and addressing the causes of incarceration.  It begins preparing people for release as soon as they enter prison, giving them the tools needed to guide the youth of their community away from criminal activities – actually fighting crime from the inside out.
  3. It restores the moral integrity of our justice system.  As it stands now, people are receiving equal sentences for the same types of crimes, despite their circumstances or involvement. Equal treatment of someone who shot and killed a person with a gun versus someone who knew about the gun but wasn’t at the scene makes justice seem more braindead than blind.  It’s just plain lazy and it perverts our entire system of justice on the most basic level.

 

Now let’s talk public safety.

 

My opponent suggests that we can boil a living, breathing person’s whole life down to an easy set of stats that will tell you everything that is worth knowing about them.

 

Boy oh boy do we disagree.  As someone a lot smarter than me once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Statistics never tell the whole story and can be easily made to tell a false one.

 

Clinical Analysis Plan

We propose the parole board take a look at whatever actuarial tables it can, but only as a tool.  The actual parole determination should be based on using a clinical analysis that takes a holistic view of the individual.  Taking things like disciplinary infractions, participation in positive programs and activities. Employment history, education and occupational skills, vocational training, military service, the evaluation of psychological professionals, the attitude of the inmate, the level of maturity, community support and remorse.  Look at everything they can about a person, and treat them like one.

 

Impacts

Making parole determinations in this way gives far more of an accurate picture of who a person is and whether or not they will reoffend than relying on some stats.  It also actively makes them less likely to reoffend. Our opponent’s plan claims to use unbiased science, but do they really? Where does the homeless Mexican national fall on their actuarial tables?  Or the under-educated, single, black male? I’d bet that those same scientific tables would ensure bias instead of prevent it.

 

Our proposal is actually tougher on crime, as it allows for the varied treatment of individuals and puts the onus on the prisoner to better themselves.  We are both humane and demanding of those convicted. No one is guaranteed release at the start of their parole eligibility based on factors that were predetermined before their incarceration.  For example, no one would enter prison knowing that they will only have to serve 1/3 of their sentence because they happen to be middle-aged and married. The prisoner is forced to put in the hard work it takes to better themselves, becoming a useful citizen or else face serving out the entirety of their sentence.

 

At last I reach my final point.  

 

Who would you rather see return to the community – someone who, as soon as they entered the system, worked hard to become a restored, useful citizen and was only released after they had successfully done so?  Or someone who took a knee and did nothing at all to better themselves, running out the clock on their 1/3 of a sentence, because some chart allows them early release no matter what. A person like that might come out of prison more angry and mal-adjusted than they went in.  If public safety is paramount, what seems like the safer choice to you?

 

Lead argument for parole based on statistical evaluation, by Al Ameen (Eugene Ross)

It is the stance of the government team that the primary concerns in deciding how to implement a parole system in Illinois are 1) upholding justice, 2) public safety, and 3) minimizing the cost to taxpayers.

 

Upholding justice is the primary concern of the justice system.  When someone commits a crime, there ought to be punishment, and we believe that the punishment should remain equal among equivalent crimes.  What this means for this debate, is that we think anyone in Illinois who commits the same crime should have to serve the same amount of time before becoming eligible for parole. This is the most just way for the system to operate.

 

And we are not alone in thinking this.  In the status quo, Illinois operates on a same-crime-same-time principle.  The problem with Illinois’ current application of this principle is that it is substantially more severe than is necessary or practical.

 

Current sentencing laws in Illinois require that non-violent offenders serve 50% of their sentence in prison, violent offenders serve 85% in prison, and those convicted of murder serve 100%.  

 

For fiscal year 2014, the state appropriated and spent almost $1.3 billion on the prison budget. Off budget items, including pension contributions and group health benefits for state corrections employees, were an additional $600 million spent on the adult corrections system.

 

The total cost of Illinois’s prisons—to incarcerate an average daily population of 45,551—was therefore more than $1.9 billion, of which 32.5 percent were costs outside the corrections budget. (2010) In total, this makes the average annual cost per inmate $38,268.

 

Many states, including Maryland and Texas require ½ of a court-imposed sentence to be served in prison, whereas there are states like Montana that require ¼ of a person’s sentence to be served in prison.  We propose a middle ground. We will adopt the standard of the state of New Jersey – requiring people to serve 1/3 of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

 

This is also the standard sentence that the federal parole board had when it was in operation, AND the standard that Illinois had for a few brief years prior to abolishing parole back in 1978.

 

The first thing this will do is uphold justice.  One quarter to one third of a sentence is a standard amount of time to serve before becoming eligible for parole.  People who have broken the law in Illinois will continue to serve time for their crimes, and now it will be at a rate that is considered reasonably standard across the United States.

 

We believe that granting parole consideration is in itself is an act of justice.  Along with our neighbors in Wisconsin, we on the government team believe that being released on parole is not an entitlement, but being considered for parole is.  

 

This also upholds justice in that it maintains a fair and equal requirement for equal offenses.  The primary criticism about Illinois’ old parole board that led to its abolishment in 1977 was that it was biased.  We do not want to repeat that mistake, and we believe the first step to achieving that is establishing a policy that doesn’t allow for discrimination.

 

Now, we understand that not every person is going to be released after serving 1/3 of their time.  We think that’s a good thing. We think there are definitely legitimate reasons to deny people parole.  But we think, by and large, most of the people serving time in Illinois will serve significantly less.

 

In the 70’s, our nation put a lot of energy behind being tough on crime.  Illinois isn’t the only state that abolished parole and increased sentencing in that decade.  Across the subsequent 40 years, most states responded to the over burgeoning prison population, massive costs to tax payers, and harms to public safety that resulted from the over-incarceration to which this period led. Most states have reinstated their parole systems and cut back sentencing.  Mississippi made perhaps the most remarkable change, reducing in 2008 the percentage of sentences that nonviolent offenders must serve from 85 percent to 25 percent.

 

The impact of this in Illinois would be massive, and we have a few estimates about the amount of money it would save the state.    

 

For every one year that a person does not serve in prison, the state saves roughly $40,000.  I am currently serving LWOP which means I have not and will not have hope for release during any part of my incarceration.  But LWOP is a whole other topic, so, for argument’s sake – let’s say I had been given the standard sentence for my crimes. I would be serving 69 years.  That would put me up for parole in 2022, after serving 23 years. Given that the parole board did not deem me a danger to society, my release would save the state $1.84 million.  

 

And even that is assuming that the cost of incarcerating me remains equal every year of my sentence.  In reality, I cost much less to incarcerate now than I will 40 years from now. The reason for this is two-fold.  

  1. The cost of incarcerating people in Illinois is rapidly escalating.  Whereas today it costs nearly $40,000 to incarcerate someone, only 8 years ago, in 2009, the IDOC reported that it cost less than $25,000 to incarcerate someone for a year.
  2. Elderly inmates cost up to 3x as much to incarcerate per year.

 

So, if we adjust our estimation for increasing costs of incarceration both across the state and across an inmate’s lifetime, paroling me in 5 years would actually save the state $14.5 million.

 

In fact, we did the math.  If each of the 13 men on our team were released after serving 1/3 of his time, the state would have saved $68.4 million.  That’s 13 of us. There are tens of thousands of people serving time in the state of Illinois as we speak.

 

When we discuss releasing people from prison, alongside justice, the other primary consideration is public safety.  The main concern here is this: how will the board determine which people would threaten public safety if released?

 

On the government team, we advocate for an actuarial system.

 

In 1970, when the IDOC was created, Governor Ogilvie said that, “In Illinois we keep our adult felons incarcerated for periods longer than 45 other states.”  Across the last 50 years, we have adopted every national trend that made us “tougher on crime” and frankly, only a handful of minor policies that make us “smarter on crime.”  We now keep people incarcerated for periods longer than any other state.

 

This has obviously proven to be problematic and unmanageably expensive.  However, we do not want to open up the doors to early release only to see an increase in crime rates, so we must have a board that implements a method that is effective in determining the dangerousness of potential parolees.

 

We propose the adoption of an actuarial evaluation system similar to the one utilized by the state of Virginia.

 

In place since 1997, the Virginia Risk Assessment Instrument is a single sheet of paper that measures an offender’s likelihood of recidivism based off of 11 factors with a proven relationship to future risk.  The evaluation measures some demographic information, information pertaining to the current offense, and any previous offenses. The factors are assigned various quantities based on their predictive power. If a person’s score comes out below 35 points on the 71-point scale, then their sentence is diverted from prison time to probation.  

 

The only tweak that we propose to the system is that, while Virginia has been using it to determine who to put on probation, we propose using it to determine who to put on parole.

 

The ultimate impact of utilizing this kind of system is three-fold: it is efficient, it is cheap, and it is just.

Its efficiency is truly unparalleled.  Through the development and refinement of this system, social scientists have been able to hand a judge one sheet of paper, wait mere moments while they answer the questions, tally the answers, and predict with over 85% accuracy whether or not the person standing before them will reoffend.

Considering that currently 2/3 of prisoners released across the US return to prison within 3 years, this would lead to at least a 258% improvement in our protection of public safety.

 

We can easily cut the time the board members spend evaluating a given case down to a fraction of what they would have spent otherwise and with next to no effort save the state over $14 million with a single evaluation-  if you’re paroling me, of course.

 

At the end of the day, it seems clear to me that this is the best way for Illinois to move forward.  Illinois needs to cut spending, and we are confident that we can do it in a way that upholds justice and maintains public safety.  Let’s cut the unnecessary 2/3.

 

Pre-debate speech, Bernard’s Story, by Bernard McKinley

Benard’s Story

 

Hello my name is Benard and I would like to share a little bit about myself.

 

I am now 32 years old.  I was born and raised on the West side of Chicago. I was brought up by both my grandparents.  In 2001, at the age of 16 years old, I was charged with first degree murder. A murder that resulted from my own impetuous behavior, which I take responsibility for.

 

In 2004, after a jury trial, I was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 100 years in prison.  I was then transferred to Menard Correctional center where I remained until 2016, when I was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center.

 

During my 12 years at Menard, it took time for me to adjust to this adult environment, given I was only 19 years old at that time – still in disbelief that I had 100 years to do in prison.

 

In 2005-6 , given that Menard had no rehabilitative programs, I self-enrolled in a correspondence program called Criminon Illinois.  This was a way to happiness program that helped me better to have insight into my own behavior and way of thinking. I realized how my behavior so affected those I loved.  I finally began to mature as a young man.

 

From the time I was transferred to Menard, I stayed in the law library trying to learn all I could about the law.  In 2009, I enrolled myself into a career institute and obtained my paralegal diploma.

 

In 2011-12 I became a motivational speaker for at-risk youth in a program called “Incarcerated Voices”.  There I was able to share my life experiences in hopes that I could prevent at least one child from making the same mistakes I did as a child.  I needed to give back to my community – a community I took so much from as a child.

 

As I thought that I was about to be done with my appeals and left to do a 100-year sentence, the federal seventh circuit appeal court ruled that I had a de facto life sentence in McKinley v. Butler, and remanded my case back to the district court while I was ordered to seek resentencing in the state court in light of Miller v. Alabama.  

 

In February 2017, my trial judge ruled that he failed to take into consideration my youth at the time of sentencing and therefore allowed me to file my successive post-conviction petition.  In November 2017, the State’s Attorney agreed that I was entitled to a resentencing hearing. I am now in the process of being resentenced.

 

I had no idea that a Miller case would be decided in 2012 that would eventually lead to me giving back a 100-year sentence.  With that being said, since my time in the Illinois Department of Corrections, I continue to better myself in an environment that initially lacked any type of rehabilitative programs or help.  If not for me being 16 years old at the time I was charged, I would still have a de facto life sentence, ignoring all my rehabilitation that I have achieved over my years in prison.

 

In 2016, I became a proud member of the National Lawyers Guild.  I have become heavily invested in fighting for human rights within prisons, society, and abroad – a dedication I look forward to continuing upon my release from prison.

 

I share this story because there are many more stories, if not the same, better than mine, within these prison walls who also deserve a chance at coming home based upon their maturity and rehabilitation.  The creation of a sound parole board in Illinois for everyone no matter what age or when you caught your case, should be created.

 

Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy this debate.

 

Press Conference about cancellation of the Stateville debate class

Press Announcement

 

Press conference Wednesday, May 30, 11am, James R Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph, Chicago.

 

Concerned citizens will present a letter written by the Stateville Debate Team to Governor Bruce Rauner.  The class was summarily and unjustifiably cancelled and teacher Katrina Burlet banned as a volunteer.

 

The class was conducted at absolutely no cost to Stateville.

 

Education is key to rehabilitation.

 

The Debate Team requests reinstatement of Katrina Burlet.

 

Contact

Bill Ryan (708)574-8046

Katrina Burlet (630)209-4132

Statement from the Stateville Debate Team about the unjustified cancellation of their class

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

Pre-debate speech on the need for parole legislation not to be influenced by prosecutors, by Joseph Dole

SPEECH GIVEN BY JOSEPH DOLE

AT STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER

ON MARCH 21, 2018

REGARDING PROSECUTORIAL OBJECTION

TO BRINGING A PAROLE SYSTEM TO ILLINOIS.

 

 

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Joseph Dole. I am a writer, artist, and activist. First, thank you all for attending. Before I begin, I would just like to mention the fact that there are currently over 5,000 people in the Illinois Department of Corrections who will die here after many decades in prison if something isn’t done. That’s one out of every nine people currently in IDOC custody, and damn-near every one of us on this stage.

It’s also worth mentioning that every one of the accomplishments listed in my bio in that program you’re holding occurred while in prison. Prior to prison my only educational achievement was a high school diploma from night school. I say that to say this–people do change and grow, even in the darkest places.

With that, I would like to explain why legislators should take prosecutorial opposition to bringing parole back with a grain of salt.

By far, the greatest obstacle to bringing an effective parole system to Illinois, especially one applied to people currently in prison, is state prosecutors. Professor John Pfaff writes in his book Locked In that:

 

Prosecutors have been and remain the engines driving mass incarceration. Acting with wide discretion and little oversight, they are largely responsible for the staggering rise in admissions since the early 1990’s. Any attempts to fight mass incarceration, then, must involve thinking anew about the prosecutors’ incentives[1]

 

They “are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it,”[2] and the fact that they are “leading opponents of sentencing and other penal reforms”[3] is well-documented.

Moreover, prosecutor associations have undue influence over most victims’ rights groups. This is because, as Professor Marie Gottschalk noted in her book Caught, “they helped create a conservative victims’ rights movement premised on a zero-sum vision of justice that pitted victims against offenders.”[4] This explains why there are very few non-revenge based victims’ rights groups out there, and why prosecutors marginalize them. Prosecutors only acknowledge those that demand ever-harsher sentences for crimes – which increases prosecutorial power. When actual crime survivors are surveyed, however, a majority state that they “are in favor of shorter prison sentences and increased investment in crime prevention and rehabilitation.”[5]

With the epidemic of wrongful convictions, especially here in Illinois, sociologists, psychologists, and legal analysts have been examining one of the main culprits – prosecutorial misconduct. As a result, evidence continues to accumulate showing that many prosecutors become severely biased and unable to objectively consider new information that doesn’t support their theory of the crime or person they think is responsible.

It begins with the dehumanization of the defendant.[6] Prosecutors are trained to “depersonalize” by only referring to the person as either “defendant” or some derogatory term like “animal” or “monster”.[7] Writing in the Georgia Law Review, Mary Bowman explains how “this dehumanization can have subconscious, neurological effects in that people may fail to activate the part of the brain typically involved in social perception when viewing members of highly stigmatized groups.”[8]This is just one type of the moral disengagement prosecutors practice to make it easier for juries to convict, but which also affect prosecutors themselves.

In the context of parole, dehumanization prevents prosecutors from being able to view people convicted of crimes as human, capable of change, and deserving of a second chance.

There is a long list of cognitive biases and tunnel vision that prosecutors pick up on the job. Not only do they obtain case files from police who may have had tunnel vision throughout the investigation and zeroed in on an innocent person as the culprit,[9] but prosecutors may have confirmation bias where they seek out information that supports their theory and discard evidence that disputes it.[10]

Then, if the person is convicted, it seems to confirm they were right, making the prosecutor more resistant to accepting that they were wrong. This is known as status-quo bias.[11] Similarly, prosecutors are affected by both hindsight bias[12] and outcome bias[13] which are closely related and basically mean that people erroneously judge a decision by whether it resulted in a satisfactory outcome.

All of theses biases, in conjunction with both institutional pressures to win at all costs, also known as a conviction psychology,[14] and what is known as “group think”[15] – where people within an organization basically go along to get along – have led to many innocent people being imprisoned and prosecutors obstinately refusing to accept that fact.

In terms of parole, all of these same biases make prosecutors extremely reluctant to believe that the life sentence they fought so hard to obtain was not really necessary to keep the public safe.

Prosecutors are often racially biased as well. A study released by the Women Donors Network showed that in 2014, 95% of prosecutors were white and 79% were white men.[16] The director of their Reflective Democracy Campaign, noted that “[t]he tremendous power and discretion of those positions among one demographic group virtually guarantees inequality in our criminal justice system.”[17]

Gottschalk explains that in the federal court system, “research suggests that federal prosecutors, not federal judges, are the most persistent source of racial disparities in sentencing,” and that “they were nearly twice as likely to charge African American men with an offense carrying a mandatory minimum sentence compared to white men.”[18] Due to the fact that federal and state prosecutors have the same biases, it is highly likely that racial disparities in sentencing of people in state court are similarly attributable to state prosecutors. As Gottschalk also noted, “[t]he findings of two centuries of research on mandatory sentences are compelling: they…contribute to wide unwarranted disparities in punishment, especially racial disparities.”[19]

One small, but powerful, example of open racism at play in the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office which was clearly in line with the process of dehumanization and other moral disengagement tactics, aw well as indicative of a conviction psychology, was the “Two-Ton Contest,” which had prosecutors angling “for assignments to cases involving the heaviest criminal defendants”.[20] “The first prosecutor to convict four thousand pounds of flesh won.”[21] Around the office, this was also known as “Niggers By The Pound.”[22] Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, who studied the culture of the Cook County Courthouse and worked in the prosecutors office herself, also noted that “[p]rosecutors are the driving force behind the Supreme Court’s approval of racial profiling…and pretextual steps.”[23]

Nor is it always conscious racism. In Locked In, Pfaff writes that implicit racial bias may cause prosecutors to “view crimes committed by black people as more serious than the same offenses committed by otherwise identical white people.”[24]

There’s one other probable component of the effects of racial bias of prosecutors, and that’s its effect on victims’ rights groups. As noted earlier, prosecutors had a heavy hand in creating the current conservative victims’ rights groups. Moreover, just as prosecutors are overwhelmingly white and the suburbs which are also overwhelmingly white and “still exert undue influence on who is elected to prosecute disproportionately urban crime;”[25] prosecutors also influence who is considered a victim, what rights they have, and more. Van Cleve found that among prosecutors in Cook County “there is no recognition that people of color and victims are often one and the same.”[26] Thus, it is highly likely that most of today’s victims’ rights groups aren’t truly representative of the majority of victims and thus may be racially biased themselves.

Besides the fact that many prosecutors are biased, unethical, and incapable of being objective in reviewing a person’s sentence; the main reason prosecutors should be excluded from the conversation about reinstating a parole system in Illinois is because parole should be about two inextricably linked questions which most prosecutors have absolutely no knowledge or experience that would assist them in answering: First, is the person coming up for parole still a threat to society?; and second, can the person be returned to useful citizenship as our state constitution seems to require?[27]

The first question is the one prosecutors erroneously feel they possess knowledge that can help them answer. They feel that knowing the intricate details of the individual crime gives them some type of insider knowledge into whether that person is a threat to society. However, prosecutors: A) refuse to consider that people become less dangerous as they grow older[28]; B) are often wrong about the facts or have hidden exonerating evidence[29] that they don’t want to come to light; C) have political motivations for maintaining the status quo in both the conviction and sentence;[30] and D) ignore the fact that it “is well established in the criminology literature that ‘the current offense that one commits is a very poor predictor of the next offense.’”[31]

Regarding the second question, prosecutors don’t follow defendants’ growth and maturation throughout their prison sentences. Instead, they hold a static, biased view of each person, believing he or she remains the evil monster that the crime, in the prosecutor’s mind, proves the defendant to forever be. Prosecutors possess no information about who the person is now, and as we’ve seen with the clemency process where they receive this information in the petition but still have a blanket policy of objecting to every petition, it would make little difference if they did.

The bottom line is that, just as the Urban Institute recently recommended,[32] a parole system should be concerned with who the individual is now and not what crime he or she may or may not have committed decades ago. This information is more the domain of the Illinois Department of Corrections and qualified experts on any newly established parole board.

For all of the reasons I’ve described, any parole board should be free of any prosecutors or ex-prosecutors as members. Their biases and lack of relevant expertise will only hinder the process.

In conclusion, as others have noted, “public officials seeking to meaningfully reform the criminal justice system will be stymied if they give prosecutors a veto or a significant voice over a final proposal.”[33] Here in Illinois it has gotten so bad that criminal justice reformers are actually writing legislation based on what prosecutors are willing to accept. The needs to stop immediately. Enough is enough. We can’t achieve reforms, true reforms, by appeasing the people who oppose them the most.

Thank you for your time.

 

Joseph Dole K84446

Stateville Correctional Center

P.O. Box 112

Joliet, IL 60434

https://www.facebook.com/JosephDoleIncerateratedWriter/

http://www.realcostofprisons.org/writing/

 

[1]  John Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes Of Mass Incarceration And How to Achieve Real Reform            (Basic Books, New York, NY) 2017 p. 206.

[2]  Adam Gopnik, “How We Understand Mass Incarceration: A new book argues that, in the effort to fix the

prison epidemic, we are addressing the wrong things and missing the true problem.” The New Yorker, April 10, 2017; reviewing Pfaff supra note 1.

[3]  Marie Gottschalk, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey) 2015, p.266-267 citing several sources including “In the case of penal reform in Illinois see Steve Bogira, ‘Pat Quinn, Political Prisoner: A Case Study in How Electoral Politics Stymies Real Reform’, Chicago Reader, October 28, 2010.’” See also Pfaff supra note 1, at p.132; and Jessica Pishko Twitter, “Prosecutors Are Banding Together to Prevent Criminal-Justice Reform: A new investigation shows that DA associations are thwarting changes to the death penalty, sentencing, and more,” The Nation, October 18, 2017.

[4]  Gottschalk, supra note 3, at p.267 citing Marie Gottschalk, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge University Press, New York) 2006, chs. 4-6.

[5]  “A Matter Of Time: The Causes And Consequences of Rising Time Served in America’s Prisons”. Urban Institute, July 2007, p.42.

[6]  Mary Bowman, “Mitigating Foul Blows”, 49 Ga.L. Rev. 309,330 (2015).

[7]  See e.g., Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, Crook County: Racism And Injustices In America’s Largest Criminal Court (Stanford University Press, Stanford, California) 2016, p.71.

[8]  Bowman supra note 6, at p. 368; citing Phillip Atiba Goff, et al. Not Yet Human; Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequence, 94 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 292, 293 (2008).

[9]  Bowman supra note 6, at p.329; Daniel S. Medwed, Prosecution Complex: America’s Race to Convict And Its Impact On the Innocent (New York University Press, New York) 2012, p.22.

[10]  Bowman supra note 6, at p.329; Medwed supra note 9, at p.22-24,and 127.

[11] Medwed supra note 9, at p.127; citing Daniel S. Medweed, “The prosecutor as Minister of Justice; Preaching to the Unconverted From the Post-Conviction Pulpit,” 84 Wash.L. Rev. 35, 51-53 (2009), and Alafair S. Burke, “Improving Prosecutorial Decision Making: Some Lessons of Cognitive Science,” 47 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1587, 1612 (2006).

[12] Bowman supra note 6, at p.359.

[13] Bowman supra note 6, at p.359-360.

[14] Heather Schoenfeld, “Violated Trust: Conceptualizing Prosecutorial Misconduct,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol.21, No.3 p.250-271 (August 2005), at p.252; Bowman supra note 6 at p.329-330.

[15]  Medwed supra note 9, at p.210, note 26, citing Aviva Orenstein,”Facing the Unfaceable: Dealing with Prosecutorial Denial in Postconviction Cases of Actual Innocence,” 48 San Diego L. Rev. 401,427 (2011); Barbara O’Brien, ”A Recipe for Bias: An Empirical Look at the Interplay Between Institutional Incentives and Bounded Rationality in Prosecutorial Decision Making.” 74 Mo. L. Rev. 999, 1044 (2009).

[16]  Joe Watson, “Study:95 Percent of Elected Prosecutors are White,” Prison Legal News, February 2017, p.44.

[17]  Id.

[18]  Gottschalk supra note 3, at p.267, citing Sonja B. Starr and M. Marit Rehavi, “Mandatory Sentencing and Racial Disparity: Assessing the Role of Prosecutors and the  Effects of Booker,” Yale Law Journal 123.1 (2018), 28.

[19]  Gottschalk supra note 3, at p.262, citing Michael Tonry, “The Mostly Unintended Effects of Mandatory Penalties: Two Centuries of Consistent Findings” in Michael Tonry, ed. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, v.38 (Chicago University Press, Chicago) 2009, p.65-114; Traci Schlesinger, “The Failure of Race Neutral Policies: How Mandatory Terms and Sentencing Enhancements Contribute to Mass Racialized Incarceration,” Crime & Delinquency 57.1 (2011); p.56-81.

[20]  Medwed supra note 9, at p.80.

[21]  Id.

[22]  Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302: A Year Behind The Scenes In An American Criminal Courthouse (Vintage Books, New York) 2005, p.69; Van Cleve supra note 7, at p.54.

[23]  Van Cleve supra note 7, at p.145.

[24]  Pfaff supra note 1, at p.146.

[25]  Pfaff supra note 1, at p.171.

[26]  Van Cleve supra note 7, at p.171.

[27]  Illinois Constitution of 1970, Article 1, Section 11.

[28]  Pfaff supra note 1, at p.190-192; Robert Weisberg, Debbie A. Mukumal, and Jordan D. Segall, “Life In Limbo: An Examination of Parole Release for Prisoners Serving Life Sentences with the Possibility of Parole in California,” Stanford Law School, Stanford Criminal Justice Center (Sept.2011),p.17; Gottschalk supra note 3, at p.189.

[29]  Margaret Z.  Johns, “Reconsidering Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity,”2005 BYU L. Rev. 53, 62-63 (2005); Radley Balko, “The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them,” The Huffington Post (US Edition) Aug. 1, 2013, Updated Aug. 5, 2013.

[30]  See notes 1-3 above.

[31]  Gottschalk supra note 3, at p.168; quoting Robert J. Sampson, “The Incarceration Ledger: Toward a New Era in Assessing Societal Consequences,” Criminology & Public Policy 10.3 (2011), 823.

[32]  “A Matter of Time” supra note 5, at p.50.

[33]  Bert “Criminal Justice Reform Will Never Happen If We Defer to Prosecutors, Experts Say.” The Open File: Prosecutorial Misconduct and Accountability, Jan. 29, 2018. www.prosecutorialaccountability.com;     citing Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler, “Designed to Fail: The President’s Deference To The Department Of Justice In Advancing Criminal Justice Reform.” William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 59, No. 2, p. 387-474 (2017).

Pre-debate speech on the misuse of natural life sentences, by Oscar Parham

Are Natural Life Sentences Being Applied In The Way They Were Meant to Be?

By Oscar Parham ~ a.k.a Smiley

 

Here is a fun fact that society may not know: the state of Illinois claims to focus its system on rehabilitation rather than retribution.  However, the rampant over-sentencing and gross misuse of life sentences tell a very different story.

 

The overuse of life sentences in the state of Illinois is a sad reality that needs to be addressed.  But many politicians are reluctant to address it for fear of the dreaded label “soft on crime.” But is showing mercy being soft on crime?

 

An 18-year-old kid is convicted under the theory of accountability.  Accountability means to aid, abet, or facilitate the commission of a crime.  It says that the person who is the look-out man is just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger, even if the lookout man didn’t know if the person was going to pull the trigger.  

 

But concerning this 18-year-old kid: he had no gun.  He wasn’t present during the shootings, and he had a minimal criminal record with no history of violence.  This 18-year-old kid was sentenced to a mandatory natural life sentence – the same amount of time that would have been given to a serial killer if he were sentenced under the present Illinois sentence statute.

 

With this in mind, I would like to ask the question: “Are natural life sentences being applied the way they were meant to be?”  In order to answer this question, we have to consider for whom natural life sentences were meant. For an observation of this question, consider words of former democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

 

During a democratic town hall meeting in Ohio, an African American man who had been wrongfully imprisoned and released after 38 years on death row, asked Clinton if she would continue in her stance for the death penalty, seeing that it is a flawed system.  While he answer was mostly vague, the good that came from her response was a clear definition of the type of people she had in mind when she voted for the death penalty bill.

 

According to Clinton, the death penalty was meant for the worst of the worst: John Wayne Gacy or the Oklahoma City Bomber.  These are the types of people that Clinton considered a serious threat to society.

 

The late Barton Leisure, professor emeritus of philosophy at Pace University, wrote a paper on the death penalty called “The Death Penalty is Permissible.”  In his paper, he quotes Justice Potter Steward in his majority opinion in Gregg v. Georgia saying: Capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases as the community’s belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous that the only adequate response is the death penalty.

 

Maybe this is what Clinton had in mind when she voted for the death penalty bill, or maybe she had in mind what Lord Justice Denning told the British Commission from the same paper; “some crimes are so outrageous that society insists on capital punishment because the wrongdoer deserves it irrespective of whether it is a deterrent or not.”

 

In either case, from these quotes, we have an understanding that the death penalty was meant not only for the most outrageous crimes, but also for those people who are considered the worst of the worst.

 

Mainly due to incidents like the Ohio incident mentioned earlier, in 2003, Governor Ryan commuted all death row prisoners to natural life sentences.  It was officially abolished through legislation in 2011. With the abolition of the death penalty, the harshest form of punishment in Illinois became mandatory natural life sentences.  

 

Since we now know that the death penalty was meant for the worst of the worst, and natural life sentences are an alternative to the death penalty; how is it that natural life sentences have become commonly applied to accountability cases, juveniles, and young adults (those ages 18-25 who recent brain science shows have the greatest capacity for rehabilitation).

 

If a study were done, I would estimate that at least 60% of the people who have life sentences in Illinois would not be considered the worst of the worst.  Many were convicted under the theory of accountability. Some just simply made mistakes. And others were young and convicted under the theory of accountability.

 

For example, take my situation: I am the 18-year-old kid convicted under the theory of accountability that I mentioned earlier. With that being said, there is no question about the seriousness of my case.  But the argument made by the Supreme Court in Miller V. Alabama can also be made in my case. In Miller, the court stated: “we agree with defendant that a mandatory sentence of natural life with no possibility of parole grossly distorts that factual realities of the case and does not represent defendant’s culpability such that it shocks the moral sense of community.”

 

I was offered an eleven-year plea agreement at 50% without having to testify for the state against any of my co-defendants.  Based on my level of involvement in the case and because I was an 18-year-old kid with no history of violence, the state felt that eleven years was a sufficient sentence.  This says that I was not considered by the state to be beyond rehabilitation, irredeemable, nor the worst of the worst.  In fact, they felt that in 5 ½ years, I would be fit to rejoin society. When I didn’t take the deal and was eventually found guilty, I was sentenced to mandatory natural life in prison.

 

What changed?  How was this leap from 5 ½ years to forever justified and rationalized?  OR as a wise man once asked, how is it that I was considered rehabilitatable after 5 ½ years, but when I don’t take the deal, now I’m beyond rehabilitation.  Moreover, Is as just a kid who needed time to grow up and reflect as the eleven-year plea suggested? Or was I a monster who threatened the very fabric of society like the natural life sentence suggests?  According to the state, one day I was the former, the next day I was the latter. If I had taken the plea agreement, I would have been home in 1995.

 

In the 28 years of my incarceration, I have had minimal record of infractions with no history of violence, much like my pre-prison record.  So which is the better indicator of who I am: the conviction under accountability theory, or the 48 years of minimal trouble with non-violence? Do I sound like somebody who should be labeled as the worst of the worst?

 

Sadly, natural life sentences are not being applied the way they were meant to be applied, but with a new approach, an openness to change and a bit of creativity, things can be different.

 

In closing, making sure that natural life sentences are applied correctly does not mean just letting all prisoners go free and ignoring responsibility for crime.  It’s about cutting in place a fair system so that true justice can prevail. Just as prisoners must change and reform, so must the system.

 

Pre-debate speech on rehabilitation, by Lester Dobbey

REHABILITATION FIRST

By Lester Dobbey

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, state representatives, PRB, IDOC officials, members of the community.  And to all of my fellow brothers and Professor Burlet, I greet you by saying, “peace be upon you.”

 

Today, I stand before you all as a prisoner equipped and ready to present a question of great importance:

 

If I rehabilitate myself with no official incentives, who shall be a witness to record the methods and progress of my rehabilitation within a maximum IDOC facility?

 

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that “true rehabilitation” under the Illinois State Constitution, article 1 Section 11 shall mean: “to restore to useful citizenship.”

To Stateville’s Debate team, it shall mean, “to transform the mind, nature, and character of a person’s former capacity in destructive activity and behavior.”

 

“Inauthentic rehabilitation” shall mean: “The inability to transform a complacent reality; a rehabilitation that is deprived of its dimensions in action; idle chatter; an indifferent ‘Blah!’; empty words and activity that has made a commitment to impossible transformation; and, silent conditions, nourished by falsity.”

 

These definitions are crucial as I tell you a short story of my life while free, and my life while in prison.  The story contains important insights designed to raise awareness about the struggle for rehabilitation while in a maximum IDOC facility.  The contents are based upon true events.

 

When I was a child in pre and middle school, to about 3rd grade, I was considered to be a smart child who made all A’s and B’s.  Entering the 4th grade, I made all F’s.  I was passed to the next grade, making all F’s in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade.  I didn’t even commit the times table to memory until 8th grade, where my grades elevated to B’s and C’s.  Now, going to Carver High School, it was a living nightmare.  Every day there were multiple gang fights, inside and outside the school, that were severely dangerous.  There was no place to feel save, not even in my own neighborhood. I dropped out after failing freshman year and joined a Chicago street gang and the violence thereof.  

 

Juvenile detention and Illinois Youth Centers became my safe summer homes as I tried, but still did not accomplish much in school.  After a final release from IYC at age 19, I would be arrested, charged, and convicted of murder and attempted murder five months later.  During pre-trial custody, I passed the G.E.D., guessing half of the answers. At age 21, I was sentenced to 51 years of imprisonment and sent to Menard Correctional Center.

 

Menard is a maximum-security facility, that operated with prisoners being locked-down 23 hours a day.  I quickly learned solitude within the 4 walls and slipped into a silent, untreated, depression. The following 2 years I learned that I had forgotten how to learn.  IDOC provided no obligations besides, “Don’t violate our rules.” There were no schooling or programs offered to those prisoners with a high school or better education.  Although there was a vocational program that only allowed 15 students out of 3,000, and provided 350 jobs to the same 3,000.

 

By age 23, I began to teach myself how to read and write all over again.  I studied criminal law and the obligations bound to IDOC and the state of Illinois under statutory and constitutional mandates to rehabilitate prisoners to useful citizenship.  Now learning law, I became zealous for change but was dissatisfied with IDOC’s inauthentic rehabilitation. I filed an internal grievance against Menard’s lack of rehabilitative programming.  I complained that I was:

 

  1. Enduring oppressive treatment;
  2. Being denied employment;
  3. Denied training and skills; and,
  4. Denied a teacher of: humane virtues, honesty, self-control, respect, integrity, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, consideration and love.

 

At the conclusion of the grievance, I sought relief in the form of training programs that would restore my person to society civilized.  The counselor, grievance office and warden of Menard denied my request because a job and education were based upon institutional need, and because prisoners were responsible for their own rehabilitation and needed to take an active role.  Basically, I had to rehabilitate myself.

 

I filed a mandamus against the warden, asking the court to compel IDOC to rehabilitate me.  My pleadings were inartful, but well-understood. However, I lost the case, but appealed.

 

On appeal, the warden argued that my contentions of him owning a legal duty to develop programs of rehabilitation and to restrain from oppressive treatment, “were too vague,” because they could not be enforced without immersing the court in the day-to-day management of Menard to determine whether the offered education and training programs are adequate, or the treatment of inmates, “oppressive.”  The warden furthered his argument by stating that I “had no legal right to participate in education and training programs and that IDOC was under ‘no clear duty’ to provide specific educational programs.” The appellate court agreed and affirmed the appeal. I lost.

 

Over ten years later, the IDOC has not obligated me or enforced any plan for rehabilitation for any prisoner within a maximum security facility.  This is vital while considering legislation for parole boards and parole plans, because whenever IDOC has “no clear duty,” to rehabilitate persons within their care, custody, and control, the actual threat of public safety is ever so near, and the expectancy of recidivism has found its road map.  

 

So, I ask you again…  If I rehabilitate myself with no incentives, who shall be a witness to record the methods and progress of my rehabilitation?

 

As this debate team stands here before you today, let this day be recorded in your minds that:

 

WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF PROGRESS… AS WE ADVANCE OUR MINDS FOR A GRADUAL BETTERMENT OF SOCIETY;

 

WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF RENEWED CHARACTER… CHARACTER TO WHICH APPLIES THE TOTAL SUM OF OUR MORAL QUALITIES THAT SHOULD BE JUDGED APART FROM OUR INTELLIGENCE, COMPETANCE OR SPECIAL TALENTS;

 

WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF PERSONALITY… PERSONALITY WHICH DISTINGUISHES EACH OF US AS INDIVIDUAL PERSONS;

 

AND AT LAST, WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF TEMPERMENT… A RESILIENT TEMPERMENT THAT IS ACQUIRED THROUGH EXPERIENCE AND EVIDENCED BY HOW WE MEET THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE AND HANDLE SENSITIVE SITUTATIONS.

 

So think about it, rehabilitation first.  

 

Thank you, that’s my time.

 

Government Argument by Howard

Deputy Prime Minister – Howard

 

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.

 

Opposition argument by Luigi

Leader of Opposition – Luigi

 

I thank my opponent for his speech but respectfully disagree.  There are some things that just should not be dictated by their price tags and the administration of justice has got to be at the very top of that list.  It’s just got to be. Besides, since when is the fastest, cheapest way the better way?

 

To start this speech, I am going to provide some points of rebuttal to what Al Ameen brought us.  Then I am going to tell you all how my team plans on achieving the goals set forth in the resolution while at the same time serving the interests of both justice and public safety.  

 

$

 

First off, let’s talk about money.  I know that the government said that public safety is their primary concern, but it’s not.  It’s money. It’s always the money. They do their best to hypnotize you with large numbers, making the amount of money they save seem like an amount you can’t refuse.  But you can. Let me explain. The operating costs of the IDOC are largely fixed. When you parole someone, the actual savings to the department are limited to the food/water/power costs that the parolee would have accrued up until the next poor schmuck fills his bunk.  

The government team will say it’s cheaper to put someone on parole than it is to keep them incarcerated.  And that’s true! On paper, having someone on parole costs 1/10 of what it does to keep them in prison. BUT as the government’s plan does nothing to address the causes of incarceration, the people they send out of the system are likely to end up right back in it. This means that all the government team is really doing is making bed space for new – and repeat – offenders to fill just as soon as the old ones are paroled.  There will be no savings.

 

I have other objections with my opponent’s proposal, but for brevity’s sake, I will address these as I offer our own solutions.

 

Justice

 

There is a problem with our current criminal justice system.  Not only does this system ignore the humanity of those subjugated to its authority, it strips their humanity intentionally. The stated goal of our penal system is to restore offenders back to useful citizenship.  To restore. Not to degrade or to warehouse.

 

But when someone is thrown into prison, there are a number of degrading things done to them.  Their civil rights and personal liberties as they once knew them are gone, most, gone forever.  Their very personhood is diminished to almost nothing as they are assigned a serial number like trade goods or chattel property, all the better for warehousing, I guess.  When I first entered the system I was given the designation R-74391. I asked the officer at the terminal if I could change it to R2D2, but I was informed that this is what I will be referred to until the time of my death. They gave me a number and took away my name.  I like my name. Do you have any idea what I had to go through maintaining a name like “Luigi” during the era of Nintendo? It was rough, I’ll tell you that.

 

Our current system, and the system proposed by my opponents, restores no one. Even after those convicted completely serve our their sentence, their debt to society is never marked paid in full.  A red mark stains their name forever. They will never regain all the freedoms and opportunities they enjoyed before their conviction. They will remain degraded, devalued and dehumanized for the rest of their lives.  This isn’t just true for people who have spent time incarcerated. Approximately 1/3 of American adults have some sort of a criminal record. We all carry the same stain. By revoking our rights, liberties and humanity, the system is praised for its equal treatment of all. But to be treated equally like garbage?  Is this what we mean by ensuring equality? At least some garbage gets recycled. Can we do no less for people? Really?

 

No one should ever be identified solely as the worst thing they have ever done in their lives while ignoring everything else.  We are not our crimes! We are human beings. Each and every one of us has a unique story and a unique set of circumstances that led to us being incarcerated.  No two cases are ever truly the same.

 

The government team is advocating for another blanket of standardized treatment to throw over all the incarcerated.  Their plan solves none of the problems it is meant to, but further propagates the mindset of marginalization and dehumanization that has allowed the criminal justice system to keep 2.3 million people behind bars.

 

This is not OK.

 

When my cellmate and friend Ryan Miller overturned his sentence of natural life for being unconstitutional, he naturally had to go back before the court for a resentencing hearing.  In the decade it took him to overturn his original sentence, my friend not only kept his nose clean and out of trouble, he took full advantage of every opportunity to better himself.  He presented all sorts of evidence to the court that proved unequivocally that he was a truly rehabilitated man. The court heard all of this evidence, and even agreed that his efforts at rehabilitation were genuine and successful, but then dismissed their importance and showed them no consideration as it sentenced him to the maximum allowable sentence of 60 years to be served at 100%.  The judge said this,

 

“You’re rehabilitated and would probably never commit another crime.  I won’t argue that.  But I don’t care about your faith or the man you’ve become.  All I care about is what you did.  You took a life and that is unforgivable…  20 years, 60 years – they’re all life sentences, so it doesn’t really matter if I sentence you to the max, either way you will die in prison.”

 

We, as the opposition team, want to encourage people like Ryan in their rehabilitative efforts.  We want to recognize and support those efforts, so we propose a parole system which emulates the state of Hawaii’s in many respects.

 

The Plan

 

The process begins within 6 months of sentencing.  The paroling body will look at the totality of a person’s situation and the details of their case to determine what it would take to restore that person back to useful citizenship.  Both the time at which they will become eligible for parole and the things they need to do to earn parole will be determined and laid out clearly at that time.

 

During this process the prosecutor and victims, families, and community will be as involved as they wish to be.  They may present oral or written statements about the impact of the crime on the community or their lives. They may also speak into what rehabilitative milestones they would like to see for the defendant.  

 

Impacts

 

The impacts of this plan are these:

 

  1. The safety and security of all institutions right off the bat.  Our system gives incarcerated people something positive to focus their efforts on, something that not only helps them to succeed in the real world but is also a means of shortening their stay in prison. Knowing ahead of time what is expected of you, and knowing that your behavior will directly impact how much time you spend in prison will cause an immediate, permanent, and positive effect on institutional safety and well-being.
  2. Recidivism and crime rates will fall as our plan actually puts corrections back into the department of corrections by identifying and addressing the causes of incarceration.  It begins preparing people for release as soon as they enter prison, giving them the tools needed to guide the youth of their community away from criminal activities – actually fighting crime from the inside out.
  3. It restores the moral integrity of our justice system.  As it stands now, people are receiving equal sentences for the same types of crimes, despite their circumstances or involvement. Equal treatment of someone who shot and killed a person with a gun versus someone who knew about the gun but wasn’t at the scene makes justice seem more braindead than blind.  It’s just plain lazy and it perverts our entire system of justice on the most basic level.

 

Now let’s talk public safety.

 

My opponent suggests that we can boil a living, breathing person’s whole life down to an easy set of stats that will tell you everything that is worth knowing about them.

 

Boy oh boy do we disagree.  As someone a lot smarter than me once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Statistics never tell the whole story and can be easily made to tell a false one.

 

Clinical Analysis Plan

We propose the parole board take a look at whatever actuarial tables it can, but only as a tool.  The actual parole determination should be based on using a clinical analysis that takes a holistic view of the individual.  Taking things like disciplinary infractions, participation in positive programs and activities. Employment history, education and occupational skills, vocational training, military service, the evaluation of psychological professionals, the attitude of the inmate, the level of maturity, community support and remorse.  Look at everything they can about a person, and treat them like one.

 

Impacts

Making parole determinations in this way gives far more of an accurate picture of who a person is and whether or not they will reoffend than relying on some stats.  It also actively makes them less likely to reoffend. Our opponent’s plan claims to use unbiased science, but do they really? Where does the homeless Mexican national fall on their actuarial tables?  Or the under-educated, single, black male? I’d bet that those same scientific tables would ensure bias instead of prevent it.

 

Our proposal is actually tougher on crime, as it allows for the varied treatment of individuals and puts the onus on the prisoner to better themselves.  We are both humane and demanding of those convicted. No one is guaranteed release at the start of their parole eligibility based on factors that were predetermined before their incarceration.  For example, no one would enter prison knowing that they will only have to serve 1/3 of their sentence because they happen to be middle-aged and married. The prisoner is forced to put in the hard work it takes to better themselves, becoming a useful citizen or else face serving out the entirety of their sentence.

 

At last I reach my final point.  

 

Who would you rather see return to the community – someone who, as soon as they entered the system, worked hard to become a restored, useful citizen and was only released after they had successfully done so?  Or someone who took a knee and did nothing at all to better themselves, running out the clock on their 1/3 of a sentence, because some chart allows them early release no matter what. A person like that might come out of prison more angry and mal-adjusted than they went in.  If public safety is paramount, what seems like the safer choice to you?