The Importance of a Second Chance, by Marni Yang. Parole Illinois Essay-Contest First-Place Winner

The Importance of a Second Chance

Marni Young

It has been said that a society can be measured by the manner in which it treats the least of its citizens. With that in mind, the most marginalized portion of any society is arguably the prison inmate. No other demographic is afforded less consideration in terms of basic human rights, and less ability and resources to assert the few legal rights they retain. Illinois has one of the most archaic systems of corrections in the entire nation, with an abysmal track record in terms of treatment of its prisoners. The state has been referred to by many as nothing more than a “warehouse for human bodies”.

Former I.D.O.C. Director John Stalworthy in a 2016 conversation with the father of an offender at Logan Correctional Center, called the system “medieval”. Considering Stralworthy’s impressive resume, which includes the development and administration of corrections in Iraq, as well as an authoritative book on the subject, this is a powerful statement. In an even more significant context, he declared the Illinois prison system “unfixable”, and resigned from the position less than three months after being appointed.

The Mission Statement for the Illinois Department of Corrections states, “We will reduce recidivism by offering seamless, efficient services that are geared toward offender rehabilitation.” However, this statement is, in reality, nothing more than a transparent, thinly-veiled public relations stunt containing no veracity whatsoever. In true hypocritical fashion, I.D.OC. does the polar opposite. No other state suffers from such a dearth of programs and opportunities for its offenders. Two of I.D.O.C.’s main objectives in its efforts toward rehabilitation is the education of its offenders both in an academic capacity as well as in the development of a sense of responsibility. Yet I.D.O.C. fails miserably at both. The school system within I.D.O.C. is a colossal embarrassment which comes nowhere near meeting a minimum Illinois Board of Education standards. Further, those with long sentences are not eligible for educational programs. Of the nearly 2000 women incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center , only 200 (approximately) attend school. Of those enrolled in school, less than ten are long-timers or lifers.

Steady employment is a major factor in instilling a sense of responsibility in an offender, yet there are not nearly enough job opportunities for inmates within the individual facilities. With so few jobs available, the majority of the population sits around all day, everyday, rotting away with nothing to do. Not only does this situation run counter to I.D.O.C.’s mission statement, it serves to increase disciplining incidents, thereby increasing safety and security risks for both staff and other inmates. In other words, there are too many people sitting around with entirely too much time on their hands. This is inconsistent with I.D.O.C.’s promise to “value the well being of I.D.O.C. staff and offenders…”

Those hit the hardest by these dismal prospects are those with very long life sentences. For those of us who fall into this category, the situation becomes both a mental health and a human rights issue. The United States has been labeled the “incarceration nation”, locking up more of its citizens than any other country in the world. According to USA Today, the global average is .5%, while the U.S. incarcerates almost 1% of its people – double the world average. In most European countries, a “life sentence” means a maximum of 25 years. In other words, Europe recognizes that no one is irredeemable. In the U.S., however, there exists an inability to distinguish between probation and punitive sentencing for offenders, or to determine who presents a “danger to society” and who does not. Older inmates, and those who have been imprisoned for violent crimes and/or long periods of time do not become repeat offenders. Recidivism rates in Illinois are staggering 67%. However, the rate for those convicted of violent crimes, over the age of 50, who have served long sentences drops to just 2% for men and 1% for women.

Consider this logic. If someone commits a crime, that person is said to “owe a debt to society” and sent to prison, where the state and the taxpayers must then bear the burden of feeding, clothing, sheltering, and providing medical care for that offender – the cost of which increases exponentially as the offender ages. Does this not increase one’s “debt owed to society” rather than decrease it. If I.D.O.C. intended on keeping the resolutions in its Mission Statement, then it would be providing every opportunity for an offender to decrease that debt, and this goal can best be served by allowing the individual to achieve a meaningful purpose…to become a contributing member of society in some capacity which ameliorates the wrongdoing committed.

Statistics show that extremely long sentences and life terms do not lower violent crime rates, but a true commitment to rehabilitation does. I.D.O.C.’s counselors, who are often responsible for assisting with rehabilitation goals, are notoriously loathe to perform any useful function, and are generally uncooperative and even hostile toward inmates. Each offender, (according to the Mission Statement once again) should be individually assessed, a goal plan formulated, and every effort made to support and assist the offender in reaching those goals. (Currently, I.D.O.C. seems to take great satisfaction in doing just the opposite.) Part of this effort must include a complete revision of a system broken beyond repair, and part of that overhaul includes assessing terms of incarceration – who we keep locked up and for how long. Illinois is one of only two states in the entire country without a parole system. This is a direct result of the erroneous logic that only those convicted of nonviolent offenses can be rehabilitated. Time and time again, this fallacy in reasoning has been proven wrong. In fact, much of the time, it is the nonviolent offenders who carry the highest recidivism rates.

A Parole system in Illinois is necessary because parole is often the last remaining hope and opportunity for those who have exhausted all available remedies to prove that they have become worthy of release and can be an asset to their community.

If I.D.O.C.’s mission is truly offender rehabilitation, then this is a direct challenge to live up to that statement. When will Illinois stop the hypocrisy, and start putting its money where its mouth is?

Essay on Parole and Artwork by Miguel Morales

First and foremost, I appreciate you taking the time out to stop and read through some of these postings. I’m writing you this in search for understanding and support on an important issue that we’re up against behind these walls.

The muzzle has been put on us (prisoners) for far too long now. We’ve always been made to feel like we’re simply stuck and can’t do anything to change the way we’re being treated back here because of stigmas made against us, lifestyles we were living, choices made when we were younger, and because it works, so much better for them and their agenda and pockets if we just keep our mouths closed and not say anything. But one truth is that the “system” has led some of the public to believe that the solution is to just lock us all away with extreme sentences and throw away the key, as if that’s what’s going to fix society’s problems. And clearly that hasn’t worked then and it definitely isn’t working today.

I’ve already been in prison for 17 years on a gang-related murder that happened in 2001, and I’m still facing 19 more years that are left to serve on my sentence. Because of sentencing laws in Illinois, I’ll have to serve all (100%) of those 19 years that remain without the possibility of ever earning any good time, no matter what type of program I complete or positive behavior that I show. So the question has to be asked- what incentive is there then to even “do good”? Why don’t we even have a parole board anymore? Where we can go in front of and show the positive that we’ve been doing (on our own), the changes we’ve made, the benefits we’ve made both for ourselves and those around us? We haven’t had a parole board in Illinois since 1978 and the sentencing just gets harsher and harsher. Why? Is prison without a parole board working? Are harsher sentences since 1978 working? With the crime-wave happening in Chicago today, I think we all know the answer to that question.

A fair and just parole board here in Illinois, will give us the opportunity to show and prove our ability to do differently. To change our ways and change our thinking, and take us from the mentality of not having anything to lose to having everything to gain back. It would bring a sense of hope knowing that there’s that possibility of being free again one day. And will very possibly be your next door neighbor, living next to you and your children, living on your block, in your neighborhood. So you have to ask yourself, what type of “neighbor” would you want him or her to be? Rehabilitated and helped in his growth with a different mindset and outlook on life? Or the same individual they were when they first came through these walls and learned nothing more but to become a better criminal while here?

To me it absolutely matters what’s offered to us in prison because what is or isn’t offered to us, reflects directly on how we will succeed or not succeed when we make it back to society. Programming in our prisons, smart sentencing, and having a parole board available to us absolutely matters. But today our fight is with us finally setting a fair parole board established for us here in Illinois We’re hoping to get the proper legislation proposed on this and if you’re with us in this struggle and chose to support us, all of the needed info is here.

We might need your support again in the future so I’m hoping this isn’t a one-time deal for you! I’m also an artist who does oil paintings. Mostly for fun, some for family and loved ones and some on commission. There’s a boatload of talent trapped behind these walls. Mine’s is just one of the many. Enjoy what you see and always feel free to write directly.

Thank you for stopping. Thank you for reading and thank you for any and all support!

Always in strength,
Miguel



Thoughts from Steven Scotti on why Illinois needs a parole system

If you were to walk into any prison cell in the state you would quickly notice one thing. Although there are two inmates in this room, it was clearly only DESIGNED for one: there is only ONE desk, or only ONE chair, to maybe only ONE shelf to put your stuff. Every cell in the Illinois Department of Corrections is holding ONE more inmate than it was designed to hold. [Note from Parole Illinois: Some Illinois prison cells have two persons but no chair, no desk, and no shelf.]

If you speak with the staff, they will TELL you they are under staffed. If you talk with the inmates, they will TELL you there are too many inmates. Depending on which side of the fence you are on, you could either see this from the perspective of being understaffed, or the perspective of being over populated!!

The Illinois Department of Corrections currently holds double the capacity of inmates than it was DESIGNED to hold. With the recidivism rate well over 50%,

Is it really hard to understand how we got here? Not at all…

I think what you would find in most Illinois prisons is the same thing. On one hand, we DO see inmates being released. But if they ARE being released, WHY then, are the numbers of incarcerated men and women in Illinois still increasing?

I think it has to do with people we are CHOOSING to release. For the large majority of the people in the Department of corrections, their TYPE of sentence is what is referred to as DETERMINATE SENTENCING. After a convicted person is sentenced, he or she is sentenced to serve a predetermined amount of time in prison. After completion of that DETERMINATE sentence he or she is AUTOMATICALLY released into society.

The problem we are experiencing is this. For every person we release in this manner, one is re-entering the system. WHY?? Why for every one person we release, is one re-offending and coming back into the system that was designed and responsible to correct them?

The problem with determinate sentencing is this. It determines that a person will be RELEASED…. It does NOT determine if they are REHABILITATED…. it doesn’t determine if they did anything measurable within their incarceration to CHANGE!! When you doing NOTHING MORE than DETERMINE that a person will leave the system, you are doing nothing more than randomly releasing inmates!! If you are still asking WHY our system is broken, why recidivism is over 50%, THIS is the reason why.

Parole is NOT a system of early release. It is a system of RESPONSIBLE RELEASE!! It is a system that EVERY SINGLE INMATE gets a independent evaluation before he or she is released from prison. And if they have not USED their incarceration to meet the goals of society, of the system… then THEY DO NOT LEAVE PRISON!! Parole is a system that SOCIETY, THE TAX PAYERS OF THE STATE, THE SYSTEM ITSELF, DETERMINES if the goals have been met… NOT some predetermined number that was determined by a court that has not has any post contact with a criminal defendant in years or possibly decades!!

How do we release inmates and determine if the goals of the system has been met, if we have not even checked in with the inmate to SEE HOW they have spent their incarceration they were given??

When society sentences someone to prison, we send them there with a penological goal in mind. There is nothing about determinate sentencing that allows us to measure what, if anything, that person has done to meet that goal.

When we recognize as a society, as a system, that something is not working, we need to abandon it. We owe ourselves, as a society, as tax payers, as inmates, not, only the chance, but the obligation to be and do something better.

Parole is not what we we’re doing…. it is what we SHOULD be doing. It is what WORKS. We have already DETERMINED what doesn’t!! We pay over a BILLION DOLLARS a year to fund failure. We are going to release inmates…. let’s own our RESONSIBILITY and DUTY to release them responsibly.

Letter from insiders to friends and family

Dear Friends and Family,

We are sending this letter to all of you who have stuck by us throughout this difficult incarceration. We understand that we are not the only ones doing time; that our friends and family are suffering both visible and hidden costs due to my incarceration; and that our family is being harmed emotionally, physically, and financially.

Which makes it all that much harder to ask anything more of you all and we truly regret that we have to. However, without your help, we will die in here. It’s as simple as that. We know you wish that we could come home immediately. So do we. But we need you to do more than wish for it: and so do we. We need you to help us fight to come home. Even if it is just a commitment to spend half of an hour of each week fighting to reinstate parole in Illinois.

In exchange for that half hour of your week, we will make this promise to you – we will spend time every day in that same fight. Plus, we will simultaneously work towards my own rehabilitation, so that, in the event that we are successful and parole returns to Illinois, we will be prepared to make the best case possible for my release.

We will fight to return to our family and community; to be there for both upon release. Will you fight with us?

Here are a few simple things you can do to get started.

  • Get involved in the campaign to bring an unbiased, retroactive parole system to Illinois by:
  1. “liking” the Parole Illinois Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/ParoleIllinois/
  2. signing the petition in support of Parole Illinois’ proposed legislation for parole at https://paroleillinois.org/support-us/ (This also puts you on the Parole Illinois email list.)
  3. responding to campaign activities sent to you through the Parole Illinois email list. (If you’d also like to help us coordinate campaign events, you can contact us at: paroleillinois@gmail.com )

and

  • Identify your district’s Illinois Senator and Representative by going to https://www.illinoispolicy.org/maps/ , typing in your address, and writing down their contact information. Be prepared to contact them when Parole Illinois organizes phone blitzes and lobbying events.

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

The 6,226 Illinoisans sentenced to die in prison