Good morning Madame Moderator, distinguished guests.
One of the sentiments we’ve heard from the opposition team is humanity. Speaking from experience, once you’re convicted and sentenced to the IDOC, there is nothing remotely humane about any part of this process. And voting for one system over the other is not going to change that fact.
In this speech, I’m going to provide some refutation to what Raúl just brought to us before summarizing why you’re going to vote for the government team today.
On Victims. Prior to 1975, the United States treated all victims equally. The prevailing concept in our criminal justice system was that everyone in the community is the victim when an offender commits a violent crime. Therefore, the party that prosecutes a criminal defendant is called the “state” or the “people” because when someone is murdered, raped, robbed, or assaulted, it is an offense against all of us. Beginning in ’75, victims in different states started gaining different rights – some states gave victims the right to participate in the trial process, some to make victim impact statements, some to sit at the prosecutor’s table during trial. The list of victims’ rights has grown in different ways in different states at different rates. As is true with nearly everything the opposition team has brought us today – increasing victim involvement in the criminal justice system is a great idea in theory, but it is actively detrimental in practice.
This individualization and personalization of the system sounds so good, but it works out to be just another tool for the system to disfavor some people.
A person’s socio-economic status is the essential factor in determining to what extent they can exercise their rights as victims. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime rates do not differ significantly by a victim’s sex or race, but those of younger age and lower income bracket – especially those in households earning less than $25,000/year – are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes. What this means for victims’ rights is that most victims don’t have a meaningful chance to exercise them. Most victims face structural barriers to participation in the justice system: they are kept from attending trials due to lack of transportation, inadequate finances, or the inability to miss work. In 2016, only 1 in 10 victims received victim services after their victimization.
What the opposition team is advocating for is a system where some cases and victims are granted significantly more consideration than others. Their stance ultimately suggests that a person’s worth is determined by their socio-economic status. I refuse to believe that’s true. On the government, we believe in the intrinsic, equal value of all people – regardless of socio-economic status – and so in regards to victims, as we have held with all parties in this debate, we believe we should treat them equally.
Let’s look at the rest of this debate.
At the end of the day, you have a choice between the opposition team’s proposal of idealism and our proposal of practicality. Practicality stresses effectiveness as tested by actual experience or measured by a completely realistic approach. We on the government team stand for practicality. The actuarial system is more practical, more plausible, and more importantly, more probable.
I admit, neither system is infallible. But 100%, the actuarial system has outpaced the clinical system in predicting future risk.
Is this not the mandate from the public, to the parole board – to discriminate between those convicted persons who are more prone to commit crimes in the future from those who are not?
And what does the opposition team propose to ensure public safety?
An antiquated system that has proven to be inefficient.
So I ask you: when it comes to releasing individuals from prison; which does a better job of ensuring public safety; the system that can predict with some degree of scientific certainty who is more likely to relapse into criminal behavior based on a list of factors with a proven relationship to risk, or an archaic clinical system whose predictions have been well-established as woefully inaccurate?
Parole determinations are still made in IL today. Even after the parole board was abolished, anyone sentenced prior to February 1, 1978 retained a right to parole consideration. Over the last 40 years, the Prisoner Review Board has paroled 16,530 people who were sentenced prior to ’78, and today there are 122 people in the custody of the IDOC who maintain the right to parole consideration.
Thus the PRB still holds monthly meetings to make these parole determinations, which are made with a clinical model.
You should also know that the PRB has lots of other work to do: evaluate clemency petitions, review juvenile cases, revoke and restore good conduct credits, discharge people from IDOC, conduct mandatory supervised release reviews, and file rehearing and reconsideration requests. In the year 2015, the Prisoner Review Board made over 45,000 evaluations – of which only 58 of them were traditional parole considerations.
The opposition team is advocating for the model of the Hawaii paroling Authority, where the PRB would conduct a hearing within 6 months of the sentencing date to determine the minimum number of years a convicted person would have to serve before being eligible for parole. The state of Hawaii, mind you, has a population of approximately 1.4 million people.
The city of Chicago alone has nearly 3 times the population.
The model Hawaii utilizes is one that is feasible for a state that has the 11th lowest incarceration rate in the nation. But for IL, which has roughly 9 times that of Hawaii’s population, this is not even a plausible argument.
In the early 70’s, approximately 6,400 adults were in prison at any one time. As we can see, that number has ballooned significantly since then.
The opposition team would have you believe that the method to solving overcrowding is by overwhelming the PRB. It would actually be impossible to expand their proposed type of parole evaluation to all incarcerated people in the state of Illinois UNLESS (!) an entirely new board were created for the sole purpose of holding parole hearings.
Given that that is not about to happen, anyone in this room who actually wants parole HAS to vote for the government team.
The actuarial evaluation is the only comprehensive approach to re-introducing parole into the system in a way that is efficient enough to actually consider EVERYONE for parole.
Last year, on Mother’s day, my mother came to visit for the first time in almost 20 years. She’s been back twice since then – once on thanksgiving and again 2 weeks ago on my 44th birthday. On this last visit, she looks at me and says, “I’m proud of you.”
I must confess that I am my mama’s baby. My brother James, who is 8 years older than I, can attest that I am the apple of her eye.
So when she said she was proud of my, my response was, “I know. I’m your baby.”
And in this non-nonsense tone she replies, “Of course you’re my baby. But I really am proud of you. If I were locked up for something I didn’t do, hell, I’d be angry, bitter, and everything else. But here you are, positive and in good spirits. And you’ve taken it upon yourself to improve those aspects of your character that made it seem possible that you’d be involved in such a crime in the first place.”
Between me and you, I cried.
I share this story because under the opposition team’s proposal for clinical evaluations, an actually innocent person, like me, would be asked or expected to show remorse.
How could I answer that question without sounding disrespectful or appearing to express a total lack of remorse?
See, the PRB doesn’t know all of the circumstances of a case. Nor is it their duty to know.
What they do know is 1) you have been convicted; 2) what the statement of facts state about the offense and your role in it; and 3) that you are before them seeking parole.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A day is too long to be locked up for a crime you didn’t commit. But at least under the actuarial system, risk would be the determining factor and not remorse.
We on the government team hold the position that if the state of Illinois is to implement a parole board that will give consideration to every convicted person within IDOC, then it is imperative that it use a comprehensible system that has the proper tools necessary to predict future risks, cut costs, and reduce the prison population by making the evaluation process more efficient so that those that are deserving can actually be granted parole.
So, in conclusion, government team – good, opposition team – bad, because their proposal is not practical, not plausible, forget probable, the opposition team’s proposal isn’t even possible!