Madame Moderator, ladies and gentleman – as we can see, the resolution at hand is a matter of grave import with the potential to have a tremendous impact on not only the prison population, but our society as a whole. In order to crystallize the various issues swirling around this topic, I think we must address three important questions.
- Which system is best for victims?
- Which system is best for our communities?
- And which system is best for people who are incarcerated?
First: which system is best for victims?
Our opponents say they want to treat all victims equally. But I’ll remind you of what my teammate Luigi said when they made this same claim about incarcerated people. The government team may treat all people equally, but it is equally like garbage.
They claim that because some people aren’t able to exercise their rights as victims, no one should be allowed to.
I understand that the dividing line here is income, and that in itself is an unjust tragedy, but what if we sought to lift everybody up instead of shutting everybody down? In the last speech, Raheem explained that victims’ rights have been developing across the last 40 years and he’s right. This is still something new we’re exploring. And just because we haven’t gotten it exactly right at this point doesn’t mean we should shut victims out of the justice system altogether. We should continue recognizing the individual needs of victims and acknowledging each case as unique. We can find ways to overcome the structural barriers and reach for the point where we hear all victims who want to be heard. But we can’t reach for that under the government’s plan.
My teammate Raúl told you that prosecutors often represent the wishes of the victims as the most harsh punishment possible. There are victims who want that. There are also victims whose wishes are squashed because they are merciful in nature or hold a hope of restoration. One thing all of these victims have in common? They each have their own voice and they can speak for themselves. As each of you has done us the honor of coming to listen to our voices today, we beg you to do the same thing for victims.
Second: which system is best for our communities?
Frankly, this is a sweep. The opposition team is the only one that has shown real concern for communities on the outside. The government team is increasing public safety by over 200%. Great. They are sending people back into communities based off of statistical evaluations that also would have told you they were very unlikely to commit a crime in the first place.
We demand more. Under our system, anyone who is released must demonstrate rehabilitation. No one will leave this system the same way they came into it. Incarcerated people will have access to resources, training, classes, therapy, and anything else they need as an individual to prepare them to re-enter society.
This one really is a no-brainer. Either you’re sending the same people you took out of society right back into it, or you’re using the time while people are locked away to help reform them.
In our constitution, we gave ourselves the mandate of restoring incarcerated people to useful citizenship.
Let’s do that.
Third and finally: which system is best for incarcerated people?
Now I know that a lot of people do not care about this. They say we had our chance and we surrendered ourselves to subhuman status when we broke the law. We don’t deserve rights or to be treated like humans. I can comprehend that line of thinking, but I do not understand it. The fact is that we are human. Like all humans, we are imperfect, and like all humans, we are also invaluable.
We are complex, we are emotive, we have all been hurt, we have all hurt others. None of us can be boiled down to a number whether that is the serial number we are assigned when we enter this system or a numerical estimation of our future risk to society.
I’m not going to lie to you all. Being locked up in prison is not a pleasant experience. And yes, given that I live in here, of course I want more programs, more classes, more opportunities to grow and learn so that I can be of some benefit to society when I am released. But I don’t just want this for myself. I want it for every man who is locked up with me today and for every person who will ever be locked up in this country. And this is not just because I can sympathize with what it is like to be in prison. It is because I know what it is to be human and not recognized as such.
So please, please recognize that we all have a responsibility that goes much deeper than the constitution of the state of Illinois. It is the primary demand of the entire human race. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
I really believe that if you were in my shoes, you would want to be treated as a human too.