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.