I thank my opponent for his speech but respectfully disagree. There are some things that just should not be dictated by their price tags and the administration of justice has got to be at the very top of that list. It’s just got to be. Besides, since when is the fastest, cheapest way the better way?
To start this speech, I am going to provide some points of rebuttal to what Al Ameen brought us. Then I am going to tell you all how my team plans on achieving the goals set forth in the resolution while at the same time serving the interests of both justice and public safety.
First off, let’s talk about money. I know that the government said that public safety is their primary concern, but it’s not. It’s money. It’s always the money. They do their best to hypnotize you with large numbers, making the amount of money they save seem like an amount you can’t refuse. But you can. Let me explain. The operating costs of the IDOC are largely fixed. When you parole someone, the actual savings to the department are limited to the food/water/power costs that the parolee would have accrued up until the next poor schmuck fills his bunk.
The government team will say it’s cheaper to put someone on parole than it is to keep them incarcerated. And that’s true! On paper, having someone on parole costs 1/10 of what it does to keep them in prison. BUT as the government’s plan does nothing to address the causes of incarceration, the people they send out of the system are likely to end up right back in it. This means that all the government team is really doing is making bed space for new – and repeat – offenders to fill just as soon as the old ones are paroled. There will be no savings.
I have other objections with my opponent’s proposal, but for brevity’s sake, I will address these as I offer our own solutions.
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 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.
The impacts of this plan are these:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?