Response by Raul Dorado

“The mission of the Department of Corrections is to protect the public from criminal offenders through a system of incarceration and supervision which securely segregates offenders from society, assures offenders of their constitutional rights and maintains programs to enhance the success of offenders’ reentry into society.”

 

The most obvious failure of IDOC is that most of us on the debate team will never re-enter society. There is no way to “enhance our success of reentry” if there is no re-entry.   Hopefully the parole board, no matter which system is established, will fix that.

 

However, if we get past that obstacle, we see the need for programs that enhance the success of reentry as a centerpiece of IDOC’s mission statement.  While the government team ignores this, the opposition team makes it a primary concern.

 

Sure, we currently have some programs that help some residents develop vocational skills that will hopefully benefit them upon their reentry.  But the plan that we are proposing on the opposition team would make self-improvement and the pursuit of rehabilitative and developmental programs the main focus of people’s time in prison as soon as they arrive.  

 

When a person sits down with the board, only six months into their sentence, and they are told, “this is exactly what you need to accomplish in order to earn parole”, so many people in here would work relentlessly to meet those goals.  People would pursue self-developmental and rehabilitative programing. They would work to earn parole. The fierce pursuit may even encourage IDOC to bring more effective and widely available programs in here.

 

And sure, maybe the idea of treating those of us in here like people is overly idealistic, but at least we’re bringing humanity to some part of this system.  All the government team is doing is feeding the narrative that we deserve no more consideration than the bare minimum for that which is necessary to determine how dangerous we are.  

 

Now, the government team, in their last speech, tried to tell you that there are certain groups of people who would be harmed by taking individual considerations into account when making parole decisions.  Let’s talk about victims.

 

Just as offenders are different from one another and judges are different and each one of you is different, victims are different from one another.  We think that one of the considerations that should be weighed in parole determinations is the thoughts and feelings of the victim of the crime.

 

Don’t buy the idea that the government’s plan is better because they communicate with victims.  They don’t actually communicate with victims. They tell victims what is going to happen. On the opposition, we actually communicate with victims.  We listen to them and take their thoughts into consideration when making decisions.  We give them a voice in the process. Whether they want mercy or justice to be demonstrated to an offender, their thoughts will have an impact – and they can be as involved or uninvolved as they wish.  It is the opposition team that best cares for victims.

 

Let me tell you a few more things about victims.  The Urban Institute ran an article stating that victims are unfairly left out of the legal process.  No one cares to ask them what course of action would best suit them. Instead, it is assumed that harsher punishment equates to more healing.  However, a survey revealed that many victims of serious crime expressed a desire for restorative justice. They favored shorter sentences that were coupled with an increased investment in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

 

Now victims are real people and they suffer real harm.  Still, there were three things mercifully expressed in that survey:  First, that while victims do want the people who hurt them to be punished, it is equally important to them that these very same people come to understand exactly how the victim has been harmed.  Second, they want to prevent others from experiencing the same kind of harm. Third, most victims don’t wish to permanently banish offenders. Instead, they want offenders to be restored through a rehabilitative process.

 

We can honor their wishes.  A clinical approach involving human interaction is the best indicator of genuine remorse and restoration, not a computer-generated algorithm.

 

There is a group of forgotten victims in this debate: our children.  This is a quote from Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”:

 

“Hundreds of thousands of black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of a lack of commitment or desire, but because they are warehoused in prisons, locked in cages.  They did not walk out on their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs.

 

“More African Americans are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began.  The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.  The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity or too much time watching sports center.  Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails.”

 

Todd R. Clear states in his book, “Imprisoning Communities”, that for children in poor neighborhoods, merely having a parent or brother who has gone to prison elevates the risk of doing the same.  In this way, incarceration serves as its own breeding ground. In places where a lot of men go to prison, there are diminished levels of informal social control. Child rearing is less likely to implant delinquency resistant self-controls, and the pro-social attitudes that usually insulate youths against breaking the law are less likely to develop.

 

Every friend and family member that lends a helping hand is victimized as well.  A glaring example of this is the way our loved ones are forced to purchase access to us: $5 collect calls, increased transportation costs when they move us to different facilities, the need to take time off of work and school to visit us during the week because they are almost never allowed to visit on weekends…

 

Victims want proportionate and restorative justice.  Victims also want their fathers and mothers back home, but while still incarcerated, they want access to their parents without having to purchase it.

 

Let’s consider a couple of other groups that can uniquely benefit from clinical rather than standardized decision making:  the elderly and the terminally ill.

 

Has anyone in here ever heard of a crime being committed by someone over the age of 65?  

 

Everyone standing on this stage was imprisoned between the ages of 16 and 26.  

 

There is a reason for this.  People simply age out of crime.  

 

This is so widely recognized that many parole boards build a special exception in for the elderly.  For example, in Virginia, the parole board considers for release anyone age 60 or older who has served 10 years of their sentence, regardless of any other factors. The parole board in Georgia has unrestricted authority to parole anyone age 62 or older.  These types of provisions make a lot of sense, not only because social scientists across disciplines agree that people this age do not pose a threat to society, but also because this age and beyond can become very costly from a medical perspective.

 

People with terminal illnesses are granted early releases in many states as well for the same two reasons: people on their death beds are not a threat to public safety, and if they remain in the custody of the state, they are quite costly.  

 

These are two – very costly and very tame – groups of people that the government team would keep locked up. Our system allows for the flexibility of considerations for factors like these.  Thus, against all odds, we may actually be the team that does a better job of decreasing the costs to the state, as the annual cost for incarcerating elderly and terminally ill inmates is significantly higher than caging your average 30-year-old.

 

Bottom line here: same-crime-same-time may be a catchy slogan, but a thoughtless, blanket policy like that ignores important factors that would make someone an exception to the rule, and it actively ignores the opinions of the victims of crimes.  Vote negative for the victims, the elderly, and those on their death beds.