Response by Alfred Moore

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

 

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

 

First: which system is best for victims?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Second: which system is best for our communities?

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let’s do that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Response by Raheem (Richard Morris)

Good morning Madame Moderator, distinguished guests.

 

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

 

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

 

Refutation

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let’s look at the rest of this debate.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

An antiquated system that has proven to be inefficient.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Between me and you, I cried.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you.

Response by Raul Dorado

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Response by Mike Sullivan

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let me say that again.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

All of this was done absent any “incentives.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Public Safety

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

I have one final point.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Response by Michael Simmons

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Response by Howard Keller

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let’s talk about justice.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Moving on to public safety.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.