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.