Good afternoon, my name is Joseph Dole. I am one of the cofounders of Parole Illinois and am currently the Policy Director.
Every year people die in IDOC custody, the vast majority due in part to over-sentencing. COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions, much of that time unnecessarily. They die lonely deaths for no other reason than incarceration politics, and in a vain attempt to satiate the insatiable appetite some people have for revenge.
For the past few decades, the State has grudgingly acknowledged that hundreds of innocent people are being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. It is now time to acknowledge that there are also thousands of guilty people who are wrongfully imprisoned as well, due to the fact that their prison sentences are longer than necessary for public safety.
The experts agree, mass incarceration’s main driver is excessive sentences for serious and violent crimes. Thus, we cannot address mass incarceration without reducing such sentences.
The Governor and others have recently voiced support for early releases of “non-violent offenders,” and insinuate that this shows they still consider public safety as the main priority. Not only is this insufficient to address mass incarceration, but if public safety is the main priority, then they should have no problem releasing “violent offenders.” That’s because people convicted of violent offenses are actually safer to release than those in prison for non-violent offenses. In other words, they have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.
The thousands of people currently serving excessively long sentences are doing so due to racism, fear-mongering, dehumanization, political exploitation, and the false promise that harsher sentences are needed to deter crime.
Politicians of both parties have used tough-on-crime rhetoric to get elected for decades, telling the public over and over again that even longer and harsher sentences are the only way to deter people from committing crimes. In Illinois, this facilitated the abolishment of parole, the passage of accountability and felony murder laws, Truth-In-Sentencing, the Habitual Criminal Act, gun add-ons, life-without-parole and de facto life sentences, and increased sentencing ranges for nearly every crime imaginable.
It seems logical, threaten someone with a severe enough consequence and you would think they would refrain from committing a crime. Unfortunately, this type of punitive deterrence is a myth, as has been shown by nearly every reputable study of deterrence conducted.
For punitive deterrence to work there are several prerequisites necessary. The person has to know the consequence, believe he or she will be caught and face that consequence, and have the ability to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of committing a crime versus not committing it.
Punitive deterrence doesn’t work, because, not only do people not know what sentencing laws stipulate, but people don’t believe they will be caught, let alone charged and convicted. Moreover, people who commit crimes are almost never rational actors. Not only are 40% of people who commit crimes juveniles or young adults with immature prefrontal lobes, but most are either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are mentally ill, or act in the heat of the moment while in anger without thinking clearly.
Craig Findley, the chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, who has interviewed over 25,000 incarcerated Illinoisans, told a subject matter only hearing on parole, that he likewise concludes that “long sentences are not a deterrent to crime.” Nonetheless, every day men and women are receiving excessively long and inhumane prison sentences under the guise that they will deter people from committing crimes.
What is never mentioned when arguing for more severe sentences to deter crime is the inhumanity of the practice itself. You are inflicting more punishment than someone deserves or that is penologically justifiable. Each person who has their prison sentence increased (and their life, as well as the lives of his or her family, increasingly destroyed) to allegedly deter others, is irrationally being held accountable for whether others will or won’t commit a crime. For the State to increase the pain and suffering of one individual to coerce the behavior of another is morally repugnant.
We currently have thousands of people sentenced to die in prison in a vain attempt to coerce others to follow the law. Let me show you how incarceration politics has affected three of my friends’ lives. All three were sentenced to death by incarceration.
My fellow NEIU graduate, Darrell Fair, was coerced at gunpoint into a false confession by one of Jon Burge’s underlings. He was then wrongfully convicted and sentenced to spend 100% of a 50-year sentence in prison thanks to the Truth-In-Sentencing law. His liberty was violently stolen by a corrupt legal system, and his release has been continuously denied due to incarceration politics. First, via over-sentencing where he cannot be paroled; then when the Torture Inquiry Relief Commission refused to examine non-Burge claims; then when the TIRC opened up to include non-Burge claims but was insufficiently funded; then when the prosecutor, for months, neglected to divulge the fact the Detective McDermott refused to testify under oath that he did not assault and threaten Darrell; and now for several more months as the court is shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Darrell is a 52-year-old asthmatic with a college degree and enormous community support. His innocence should have set him free decades ago. Even if he were guilty, he should not be in prison today as he has served sufficient time by historical standards and poses no threat to society.
On Friday, 13 March, a site director from the Bard Prison Initiative told me and other inmates that professors wouldn’t be coming to teach classes for the foreseeable future. The director explained that this was a precautionary measure to avoid accidentally exposing students to Covid-19.
This was the first sign that a lot of things around the prison were going to change.
Given the extensive media coverage of the virus, I expected that Bard would tell professors to take such precautions. But I didn’t account for how dramatically Covid-19 would alter my life as an inmate.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait long to find out. The very next day an announcement was made informing inmates that “out of concern for the safety and wellbeing of staff, all visits from the outside to inmates” – ie family and friends – would be “suspended until April 11, 2020, with the exception of legal visits.”
In order to compensate for the visits being taken away, the prison would provide inmates with five free letters via postal mail, two free electronic email stamps via JPay, and one free phone call via Securus a week until the crisis resolved itself.
The mood within the prison immediately became grim.
Why Illinois Needs to Bring Back Parole for Determinate Sentences
The U.S. is the nation that incarcerates more of its population than any other nation, not because we have more criminals or higher morals, but because incarcerating people is a business. Americans are becoming more aware of this fact, but most don’t know what to do about it.
America is ranked with third world communist countries in incarderating its citizens and some say Illinois is one of the worst states to be incarcerated, ranking just above Alabama, not something Illinois should be proud of. One of the reasons that Illinois ranks so poorly is that it lacks a parole system.
Illinois, one of only two states that lack a parole system for those with determinate sentences, causes inmates to serve their entire sentence prior to being seen by the Prisoner Review Board, which then only determines their conditions of Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR). Illinois has thoroughly confused its citizens about (MSR), mistakenly calling it parole. MSR, an esoteric term is not the same as parole. Parole is defined in Webster’s as “the release of a prisoner whose sentence has not expired on condition of future good behavior”. MSR is an additional supervisory punishment set by the judge tacked on to a full prison term and has nothing to do with good behavior.
There is no incentive for positive change within the prisoner or IDOC, currently. Rehabilitated inmates become hopeless serving long sentences with no recognition of their accomplishments. Aggressive and unstable inmates act out in suicide attempts and aggression towards officers as they see that even being a model prison makes little difference. The staff, in turn, see the community could care less about inmates so staff sexual misconduct incidents rise and unprofessional behavior becomes the norm. This behavior becomes so egregious outside attorneys file lawsuits costing a near bankrupt state millions.
IDOC continues to thwart reform and not follow Illinois law. In 2007, the Illinois Legislature passed the Crime Reduction Act (CRA). CRA caused the establishment of the Risk, Assets, Needs assessment Taskforce (RANA). RANA called in the Vera Institute and Orbis to make a computer program called SPIn costing $900,000 to assess each prisoner on what they need to do to rehabilitate and function in society. I have been incarcerated for a decade with others who have been incarcerated decades more and none of us have been assessed using SPIn. Currently, Logan Correctional Center releases inmates without SPIn assessments. IDOC states it is too understaffed to assess inmates in a timely manner, making excuses for breaking the law for the last nine years. Instead of working smarter, using technology and resources on hand, not harder, they continue to make excuses making the IDOC Mission Statement a farce. A community that cares and victims that want restorative justice instead of vengeance will critically review the Stateville Team proposal and support legislation to bring back a true Parole Board system to Illinois making IDOC and the justice system accountable and Illinois safer for all.
Justice or Vengeance?
In 1978, Illinois abolished parole. As a result, any person convicted of a felony offense within the last 20 years lacks any process to evaluate the progression of their rehabilitation. Legal and moral arguments can be made to illustrate how Illinois’ legislation is archaic and counter productive.
First, Article 1 Section II of the Illinois Constitution states, “All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship”. Nevertheless, the absence of adequate reformative programming and services within the Illinois Department of Corrections and excessively lengthy sentences which detain offenders far beyond the point of verifiable rehabilitation are evidence of a dire direct violation and failure to comply with the requirement of restoration. Therefore, the Illinois Criminal Justice System is currently in breach of the dua purposes of penalty and restoration set forth by the Illinois State Constitution.
Next, the first purpose of the Illinois Code of Corrections permits the recognition of differences in rehabilitation possibilities among individual offenders. However, according to existing legislation, regardless of the most earnest efforts to be authentically improved, to maintain a clean disciplinary record, to acquire higher education or to gather vocational skills, offenders are statutorily prohibited the benefit of earned release.
Then, Illinois’ enactment of Truth-in- Sentencing laws, which require offenders to serve 100% or 85% of their sentences, have doubled the projected time to be served. In concert, the rules that apply to judges when deciding sentencing constrains them to impose consecutive sentences where concurrent sentences and a shorter prison stay would suffice to meet the obligation of penalty and maintaining public safety. This is in spite of increasing belief, both nationwide and in Illinois, that high levels of incarceration are unduly punitive, economically crippling, and adverse to the goal of preserving public safety.
Finally, it is a common euphemism that time served is an offender “paying a debt to society.” However, in literal terms, the exact opposite is true. Illinois taxpayers are spending $1.3 – $1.5 billion on the Illinois Department of Corrections budget. Funding being exhausted by a fractured criminal justice system has contributed exponentially to the state’s systemic, economic crisis.
In conclusion, beyond the pragmatism of why Illinois must support substantial criminal justice and sentencing reform is the humanity of it. Tough-on crime rhetoric may appease a small but vigorously influential group of voters but the long-term effects are detrimental to us all. Unforgiving viewpoints and legislation cause legal and ethical lines between justice and vengeance to be crossed and obscured.
We, as felons, accept that there is a stigma associated with our convictions. And also a dubious sentiment attached when contemplating the sincerity of our reformation. But ultimately, law-abiding citizens and legislators in positions to effect change must look within and acknowledge that a human being is much more than thuuue worst act they’ve ever committed. Offenders are redeemable and our lives can still be worthwhile contributions to our families, our communities, and to society as a whole.
Why Illinois Must Bring Back the Parole System
This past September, makes nineteen years I have been incarcerated. This is my first adult offense and I was given thirty years at seventeen years of age with no consideration to rehabilitate myself from a system that uses the foundation of its existence upon it. I have now been in prison longer than I have been free.
I came into the system as a kid. I was confused, lost, scared, angry, imbalanced and mindless. When I was convicted of the crime I was charged with I was sent to Stateville C.C.
I received my calculation sheet no more than 2 weeks after going through orientation. When I stared at the sheet the first thing I seen was a giant 100% sign on the top of it. Confused about what it meant, I asked a worker on the gallery.
The worker stated the 100% sign meant that I had to do 100% of my time and then is when I learned about the Truth In-Sentencing statute.
I couldn’t fathom doing 30 straight years in a box, so I decided with the help and guidance from the men around me to educate myself. I learned how to read and write in prison.
I entered a creative writing class that made me a better writer. I entered school and received my GED. Afterwards, I took up Barbers college and learned my first trade. During the following years of my incarceration I earned my associate’s degree, a certificate in custodial maintenance, along with certificates of high academic achievement; not to include all the other certificates I earned from the countless programs I participated in, but it felt like it didn’t mean nothing.
Even though I chose “Rehabilitation” for myself, there was nothing within the IDOC to recognize or even acknowledge the rehabilitation that took place within me.
Within every rule book, it states that the department’s vision and goals is to provide services geared towards offender rehabilitation. Bringing back the parole system would be the epitome of the visions and goals of the IDOC.
It will give prisoners an incentive to change. Failure to bring the parole system back will bring the wrong message, and has sent the wrong message that it is not about “rehabilitation”, and words like “Correctional Center” are only euphemistic titles to hide the concept of “lock’em up and throw away the key”. To keep us in prison as long as possible, which does not necessarily mean we will come back into society mentally equipped to adjust.
Bringing back the parole system to Illinois will not only have a positive effect on prisoners, but will benefit society socially and economically for all the reasons that have already been argued and proven.
Why Should Illinois Establish a Parole System for Everyone?
First and foremost apologies be extended to society and all families who have suffered as a result of violence, and those who have suffered lost due to such violence, I am sorry! It is understandable why your heart cries out for justice, why there is a high demand placed on politician to be tough on crime. For God demand justice, but with the motive to correct the human heart, intending on salvaging the erroneous soul. On this principle was the penitentiary established.
Illinois, an extraordinary and beautiful state, the land of Lincoln. Yet bruised by the blows of injustice, racism and poverty. Which has led to its penitentiaries being filled with minorities, convicted of all kinds of crimes, rather justly or unjustly. For our system has been flawed, by abusive detectives and prosecutors of misconduct who have failed us in the pursuit of justice. So the only means for hope in the penitentiary is an appeal or parole. When all is denied you have a hopeless, hurt and potentially bitter human being. Who is not only dangerous to himself but also to other inmates and staff.
Our institutions on which this nation was built was on, reverence for the creator of all things and love for our fellow man or neighbor; justice and equality for all.
When the penitentiary was built it was built on the principle of penitent, from which we get the word penitentiary. Penitent derived from the Latin word penitens Paenitere – to repent. Meaning to feel or exhibit remorse for one’s sins or misdeeds. As time would have it we would exchange the name penitentiary for correctional facilities or centers. Yet the word correctional bears the same meaning, in that it is to punish with the intent to rehabilitate or improve the human being. We have professed this title, yet strayed away from rehabilitating or improving the human soul that has errored in life. Settling for short gains and costly repercussions from locking people up and throwing away the key; no parole. Our objective is to salvage the human soul and contribute back to society a better mature human being. Not someone who have been warehoused in a hostile and bitter environment.
Who lost all sense of what it is to be human, due to being handled like a beast or animal. We have to rethink and evaluate our current costly system and make adjustments. Illinois current Governor Rauner has tried to reshape our system but let’s face it, he’s a servant of the people. We the people have to change our perspective and support that change.
A dog that is damaged psychologically due to its training or abuse is salvaged through love and incentives called “treats”; to reward good behaviour – thus inspiring new behavior, ultimately a new pet. As it is with a dog, the same principle stands for the human being. In that, ever human being is inspired by hope. Hope to be free. For it never feels good to see a comrade go home on parole due to good behaviour! You can’t. This has a psychological scar that would either provoke jealousy to good behavior, or anger and bitterness due to inability to acquire such, due to no parole. It should be the intent of the system to punish with intentions of improving the human being, taking advantage of vulnerable moments such as mentions above. This is why I believe Illinois should extend parole to everyone. It will inspire a better environment in the prisons and ultimately society. Thank you!