Response by Mike Sullivan

We just all sat here and listened to the government team debate the implementation of a parole board based on the principles of economics and a fictitious actuarial system.


They claim that our plan is too costly, unrealistic and is nothing more than the rehashing of the old parole system that was abolished in the 1970’s.  To me, it looks like they are holding onto the heart of the system we have now with determinate sentences and fixed principles that landed us in situation that made this debate necessary.


First, let’s address this claim that the old parole system was biased.  Yes, we concede that when you look at the amount of time that people were sentenced to and the amount of time that people served, there were some pretty big differences in the fraction of the time that people served, and that was necessary – not because the parole board wanted to be biased, but because judges had nearly boundless discretion in sentencing.  Frankly, prior to and during the 1970’s, nearly every judge in the state of Illinois was white. If you were a black or latino person who was on trial, odds were that you were getting a longer sentence than your white counterparts. This was true to a degree in urban areas, a large degree in rural areas, and an extremely large degree if the victim of the crime was white.  People may have been sentenced to 20 – 500 years for nearly identical crimes. The state-wide parole board operated as a check against this unbalanced sentencing.


On this point, I think this proves that we need to have this state-wide board in play earlier on in the process.  If we take the government’s proposal and say everyone is eligible for parole after 1/3 of their sentence, then people still may face dramatically more or less time behind bars simply because of the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed, or the ever-present factor of which side of the bed their judge got up on that morning.  


When we allow the parole board to set the minimum sentence that must be served before everyone is eligible for parole, we guard against massive disparities in “just desserts” because every person who is serving time has their minimum time set by the same body.  That seems more standardized and just to me.


Let’s consider the central problem of the government’s plan.  In everything the government has brought to us today, I heard very little about human decency.  I heard very little about humanity. I heard nothing about our beloved constitution.


When a parole board is based on economics and fixed determinate sentences, the stage is set to dehumanize Illinois citizens.


As the opposition team, we did not come here to have a debate about economics.  We are here asking which system would be better when considering all related elements holistically.  This includes our growing knowledge about human brain development, societal concerns and evolution, and of course, our constitution.


Based on advancements in neurobiology and developmental psychology, our society has learned that the human brain does not finish developing until at least 25 years of age – even later for people who abuse drugs or alcohol.  


This means that the average prisoner in IL has a high capacity for reform and rehabilitation, which corresponds to the idea of a CLINICAL parole board.  


Furthermore, our society has evolved to the point where we recognize the racial and environmental aspects of incarceration and crime.  In the clinical board, we have the flexibility to take that knowledge into account.


All of this has a common thread with our constitutional mandate of Article 1 Section 11’s rehabilitation clause which states that


  1. There is a limitation of penalties after conviction, and
  2. All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense AND with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.


The plain language of the rehabilitation clause itself directs our determinations to be made with respect to the offender, rather than to a class of offenders, as the government’s plan would have us do.


The framers of the constitution were some very smart people because they designed the constitution to be in agreement with a clinical parole board.  For instance, delegate Leon Foster, the architect of the Amendment to Art 1 Sec. 11 explained the purpose behind the rehabilitation clause. He stated:


“In addition to looking at the acts that the person committed, we should also look at the person who committed the act and determine to what extent he can be restored to useful citizenship.”


Let me say that again.


“In addition to looking at the acts that the person committed, we should also look at the person who committed the act and determine to what extent he can be restored to useful citizenship.”


Powerful stuff.  And to think, that was written in 1970.

It is because of this constitutional principle – of looking at the person – that we ask for you to implement a clinical parole board that recognizes the merits of the individual.


Imagine this – a system where we comprehensively evaluate a person when they come into the system, outline the goals that they should have for rehabilitation, and connect them to the necessary resources to meet their goals during their incarceration.  Recognizing individuals and their needs is not just humanizing, it is the best way to restore offenders to useful citizenship.


I would like to demonstrate this with a quick story about myself.  I am currently serving a mandatory minimum sentence of LWOP for a gang-related case.  I was exactly 21 years and 11 days old when the alleged crime occurred. I was barely legal to buy alcoholic beverages.  I had only lived less than a third of a life span. I was still intellectually developing. Yet I was told by past legislators through a primitive statute that I have no redeemable qualities and that I can’t be rehabilitated.  But through hope, I have worked very hard to reach my full development as a human being. Now at 46 years old, I have obtained a post-secondary education and become and accomplished artist and writer.


In my 25 years in prison, I have no gang infraction nor have I ever tested positive for drugs, in spite of having a gang-related case and growing up in a drug-infested environment – nor do I have any violence whatsoever on my prison record.


All of this was done absent any “incentives.”


I am also a devoted father.  When my son was 17 years old, he came to visit me and on that visit he said to me… “Dad, I want to be just like you.  An artist. And therefore I will be attending college to become a 3D animator!”


I told you that story to show you what hop looks and feels like.  Hope is what makes men like me want to be better and do better, and that’s what you will be handing to every incarcerated person in Illinois when you implement a clinical parole system.


Simply put, having a clinical system would allow stories like mine to be a relevant factor in granting parole.


Public Safety


We as the opposition team believe that we are achieving public safety when the people we parole have worked at changing their lives during their incarceration.  With that being said, I want to give you a small piece of legislative history…


In 1979, HB 32 was passed.  It was meant to support public safety, support the abolishment of parole, and the abolishment of the death penalty.


HB 32 is a bill that punishes people who were convicted of multiple murders.  It would give them LWOP unless the death penalty was imposed.


One of the legislators who supported the bill said that it was a “good law” and went on to say that we have people like John Wayne Gacey and Richard Speck.  This would ensure that they’d spend the rest of their natural lives in the penitentiary if they haven’t been sentenced to the death penalty.


In formal logic, this kind of thinking is a logical fallacy called an “accident”.  This is when someone takes exceptional elements of a unique case to establish a general principle.  


An opposing legislator pointed this out, saying that this bill was directed at only one person, but is so broad that it will apply to many people who definitely do not need to be given life imprisonment – and for that reason voted no.


Think on this for just one minute.  This piece of legislation means that, according to past legislatures, every person who is sentenced to life in prison without parole is just like the monsters John Wayne Gacey and Richard Speck.


I think we all know that is not true, because if it was true, I wouldn’t be here in the same room with you unshackled and unrestrained.  

In fact, the mere fact that we’re debating this issue makes it evident that we are not those monsters the past legislators had in mind.


I have one final point.


Every person on this stage has some form of a life sentence without parole.  Some here have even had the death penalty. And yet they have all worked for their own rehabilitation absent the hope of parole.  


But can you imagine how different this entire facility would be if our state adhered to the constitution and instituted hope in the form of a clinical parole board?  It would communicate to those of us that are locked up in here that you know we are more and can be more than our crimes. It would help make more of us believe in ourselves and do better – fight for rehabilitation and personal transformation.  That would definitely have a better impact on public safety than statistically identifying which people who committed crimes in the past will not commit crimes in the future. It would also give everyone the power to contribute to society as productive citizens upon their release rather than just sending them back into communities exactly the same way they came in.


With that, I urge you all to recognize the power of hope, and the possibility for rehabilitation, and to vote for the opposition team.