Counting All Political Prisoners

When we think of “political prisoner,” we usually have in mind someone imprisoned either for their political beliefs or their anti-government activity.

In the United States today, very few people are recognized as being political prisoners. In reality, there are tens of thousands who should be recognized as such; not because of their political beliefs or actions, but because their continued incarceration is due to being exploited for political gain by politicians, prosecutors, and judges.

They may not start out as political prisoners, but they become political prisoners when they continue to be incarcerated beyond any justification and are refused release simply due to political calculations.

Tough-On-Crime rhetoric and false claims about the deterrent power of harsher sentences have been used by politicians for over four decades to get elected.

Joseph Dole Is An Incarcerated Writer, Co-Founder & Policy Director Of Parole Illinois

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Candidate Survey: Action Needed

Elections matter when it comes to reforming our criminal legal system.

Restore Justice Illinois sent out its first candidate survey for all Illinois General Assembly and state’s attorney offices.

Do you want to find out how people running feel about important issues? Issues related to the criminal legal system? Including sentencing? And prison condition issues?

If so, we need your help to make sure candidates actually fill it out…

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Senate Bill 3233

Synopsis:

Amends the Unified Code of Corrections.  Provides that notwithstanding to the contrary any provision of the Code, the Post-Conviction Hearing Article of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963, the Habeas Corpus Article of the Code of Civil Procedure, or the relief from judgments provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, a person serving a term of imprisonment in a Department of Corrections institution or facility is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release and a parole hearing after serving a term of imprisonment of 20 years. Provides that a person serving a term of natural life imprisonment is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release and a parole hearing after serving a term of imprisonment of 20 years. Deletes provision that no person serving a term of natural life imprisonment may be paroled or released except through executive clemency.  Contains a severability provision. Provides that this statute is to apply retroactively to every person currently serving a term of imprisonment in a Department of Corrections institution or facility, which is necessary in order to serve important public purposes, including, but not limited to, providing a means for incarcerated individuals to become contributing members of society and decreasing the rising costs of funding the Department of Corrections institution and facilities.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: 

Section 5. The Unified Code of Corrections is amended by changing Sections 3-3-3 and 3-5-1 and by adding Section 3-3-3.1 as follows: 

(730 ILCS 5/3-3-3) 

(from Ch. 38, par. 1003-3-3)Sec. 3-3-3. Eligibility for parole or release. 

(a) Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1 and exceptExcept for those offenders who accept the fixed release date established by the Prisoner Review Board under Section 3-3-2.1, every person serving a term of imprisonment under the law in effect prior to the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1977 shall be eligible for parole when he or she has served: 

  1. the minimum term of an indeterminate sentence less time credit for good behavior, or 20 years less time credit for good behavior, whichever is less; or 
  2. 20 years of a life sentence less time credit for good behavior; or 
  3. 20 years or one-third of a determinate sentence, whichever is less, less time credit for good behavior. 

(b)Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1, no Noperson sentenced under this amendatory Act of 1977 or who accepts a release date under Section 3-3-2.1 shall be eligible for parole. 

(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1 and exceptExcept for those sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment, every person sentenced to imprisonment under this amendatory Act of 1977 or given a release date under Section 3-3-2.1 of this Act shall serve the full term of a determinate sentence less time credit for good behavior and shall then be released under the mandatory supervised release provisions of paragraph (d) of Section 5-8-1 of this Code. 

(d) No person serving a term of natural life imprisonment may be paroled or released except through executive clemency. 

(e) Every person committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 and confined in the State correctional institutions or facilities if such juvenile has not been tried as an adult shall be eligible for aftercare release under Section 3-2.5-85 of this Code. However, if a juvenile has been tried as an adult he or she shall only be eligible for parole or mandatory supervised release as an adult under this Section. 

(Source: P.A. 98-558, eff. 1-1-14; 99-628, eff. 1-1-17.) 

(730 ILCS 5/3-3-3.1 new)Sec. 3-3-3.1. Earned Discretionary Release; parole hearings; sentences of 20 years or longer; life imprisonment; early release. 

(a) Notwithstanding to the contrary any provision of this Code, Article 122 of the Code of Criminal 

Procedure of 1963, Article X of the Code of Civil Procedure, or Section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a person serving a term of imprisonment in a Department of Corrections institution or facility is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release (EDR) and a parole (EDR) hearings under this Article if he or she has served the a term of imprisonment of at least 20 years.

A person serving a term of natural life imprisonment is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release and EDR hearings under this Article after serving a term of imprisonment of at least 20 years. A person seeking early release under this Section may petition the Prisoner Review Board in the same manner as a person eligible for parole under Section 3-3-2.1 of this Code and the EDR hearing(s) shall be conducted as otherwise provided in this Article and the Open Parole Hearings Act unless otherwise provided in this Section. 

 (b) On the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly, prior evidence of the petitioner’s participation in rehabilitative programs shall be added to the petitioner’s master record file under Section 3-5-1 and shall be considered at the petitioner’s EDR hearing(s). 

 (c) A committed person described in this Section may not be barred from rehabilitative programming because his or her anticipated release is not in the near future.  

(d) Every committed person described in this Section shall have the right to legal representation at his or her EDR hearing(s). If the committed person cannot afford legal counsel, free legal service representatives may be utilized.   

(e) Every committed person described in this Section may attend and testify at his or he EDR hearing(s).    

(f) Every committed person described in this Section, shall be provided full and complete access to his or her master record file at least 60 days prior to any EDR hearing(s). The committed person has a right to challenge any false, misleading, or otherwise inaccurate information contained therein. The Department of Corrections shall establish an expedited process for committed persons to challenge such false, misleading, or otherwise inaccurate information so that it can be removed prior to any EDR hearing(s). Every committed person described in this section may have counsel assist them in challenging inaccurate information. 

(g) Nothing in this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly guarantees release. It only guarantees the opportunity of the committed person to present evidence at his or her EDR hearing(s) to demonstrate his or her rehabilitation before the Prisoner Review Board and to seek Earned Discretionary Release. 

(h) If any committed person is released on Earned Discretionary release, his or her sentence will be considered complete after the term of Mandatory Supervised Release. 

(i) When a petitioner’s request for EDR under this Section is denied, the petitioner is eligible to reapply for EDR no later than 2 years after the denial.

(j) This section applies retroactively to every person currently serving a term of imprisonment in a Department of Corrections institution or facility, which is necessary in order to serve important public purposes, including, but not limited to, providing a means for incarcerated individuals to become contributing members of society and decreasing the rising costs of funding the Department of Corrections institutions and facilities. 

(730 ILCS 5/3-5-1) 

(from Ch. 38, par. 1003-5-1)Sec. 3-5-1. Master Record File. 

(a) The Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice shall maintain a master record file on each person committed to it, which shall contain the following information: 

  1. all information from the committing court; 

(1.5) ethnic and racial background data collected in accordance with Section 4.5 of the Criminal 

Identification Act; 

  1. reception summary; 
  2. evaluation and assignment reports and recommendations; 
  3. reports as to program assignment and progress; 
  4. reports of disciplinary infractions and disposition, including tickets and Administrative Review Board action; 
  5. any parole or aftercare release plan; 
  6. any parole or aftercare release reports; 
  7. the date and circumstances of final discharge; 
  8. criminal history; 
  9. current and past gang affiliations and ranks; 
  10. information regarding associations and family relationships; 
  11. any grievances filed and responses to those grievances; and 
  12. other information that the respective Department determines is relevant to the secure confinement and rehabilitation of the committed person. 

(b) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (n) of Section 3-3-3.l, allAll files shall be confidential and access shall be limited to authorized personnel of the respective Department. Personnel of other correctional, welfare or law enforcement agencies may have access to files under rules and regulations of the respective Department. The respective Department shall keep a record of all outside personnel who have access to files, the files reviewed, any file material copied, and the purpose of access. If the respective Department or the Prisoner Review Board makes a determination under this Code which affects the length of the period of confinement or commitment, the committed person and his counsel shall be advised of factual information relied upon by the respective Department or Board to make the determination, provided that the Department or Board shall not be required to advise a person committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice any such information which in the opinion of the Department of Juvenile Justice or Board would be detrimental to his treatment or rehabilitation. 

(c) The master file shall be maintained at a place convenient to its use by personnel of the respective Department in charge of the person. When custody of a person is transferred from the Department to another department or agency, a summary of the file shall be forwarded to the receiving agency with such other information required by law or requested by the agency under rules and regulations of the respective Department. 

(d) The master file of a person no longer in the custody of the respective Department shall be placed on inactive status and its use shall be restricted subject to rules and regulations of the Department. 

(e) All public agencies may make available to the respective Department on request any factual data not otherwise privileged as a matter of law in their possession in respect to individuals committed to the respective Department. 

(Source: P.A. 97-696, eff. 6-22-12; 98-528, eff. 1-1-15; 98-558, eff. 1-1-14; 98-756, eff. 7-16-14.) 

Section 97. Severability. The provisions of this Act are severable under Section 1.31 of the Statute on Statutes. 

Compassionate Release

In compassionate release cases, judges have to decide if an inmate’s situation presents “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to reduce their prison sentence.

In some cases reviewed, judges found that an inmate’s medical conditions met the standard given the pandemic.

Judges are making medical assessments about how much of a threat COVID-19 poses to an individual inmate and then deciding how to balance that against the public safety risk of sending that person back into the community; inmates are usually released to home confinement or under the supervision of a probation officer.

And judges are reaching different conclusions about how to measure an inmate’s risk of exposure in state and federal prisons, which have seen some of the worst clusters of COVID-19 cases nationwide.

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Keeda Haynes For Congress

Former public defender Keeda Haynes, who was also formerly incarcerated, is running for Congress in Tennessee, challenging a nearly two-decade Democratic incumbent and hoping to become the first Black woman the state sends to Congress.

After her release, Haynes completed her law degree and practiced as a public defender in Nashville for over six years. Haynes thinks her time in prison — and her experience defending others caught up in the country’s racist criminal justice system — are precisely what would make her a great congresswoman.

“I am running because looking around I can see that people that look like me, that have the same issues I have, we were not being represented in this district.”

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Hunger Strike At Vienna Prison

1. Release on medical furlough anyone with physical conditions making them vulnerable to death by COVID until such time as authorities deem the threat from the virus is over. Illinois abolished the death penalty: no one should be given a death sentence by Covid-19.

2.  Restore the 180 days earned discretionary credits of Good Time where eligible.

3. Release anyone over 55 with less than a year on their sentence.

4. Release anyone within three months of their sentence completion.

5. All releases should have the least restrictive conditions possible, so as to allow those released to be able to seek medical attention and contribute to family finances.

6. Provide testing for all prisoners who want to be tested, and regularly test all staff. Combine this with robust contact tracing, when anyone tests positive. Make the test results public, including number of tests, number  of positive/negative/pending, and deaths.

7. Stop quarantining sick people in solitary confinement cells, and house them in a setting such as the health care unit where they can be observed and receive any needed medical  treatment on a timely basis.

8. Close down prisons, like Vienna, that can no longer be run as a safe institution.

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We Join The Chorus Urging Governor Pritzker To Ease Housing Based Restrictions

A coalition of 50 local and national criminal justice reform organizations, led by the Chicago 400 Alliance, is calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to ease conviction-based housing restrictions for the duration of the pandemic.

The move would allow people who have completed their sentences to finally leave prison.

“We’ve been working on this issue for years,” said alliance coordinator Laurie Jo Reynolds, “but now it’s a matter of life and death.”

Criminal justice reform organizations are calling on Gov. Pritzker to ease conviction-based housing restrictions so hundreds of people can finally be released.

She is hoping the governor will issue an executive order.

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Prison Reform Sparked By A Mixtape

When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic in March, the world went into frenzies and lockdowns.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 began to ravage through California’s San Quentin State Prison.

Then in May, San Quentin Mixtapes, Vol. 1 dropped: a 17-track album that was written, recorded and produced within the prison’s walls.

David Jassy is at the heart of the Youthful Offender Program Mixtape Project. In 2010, the Grammy-nominated producer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced 15 years to life.

Jassy kept music with him as much as he could throughout transfers between prisons. Once he got his hands on a keyboard in San Quentin, he started making beats.

His music was contagious there.

“Regardless of what set or gang they belong to, I just seen how fascinated they were about music and how they all lit up,” Jassy said. “People started smiling. If they heard somebody that was a dope rapper, they just all started smiling and nodding along and encouraging each other. And, it was different. I just knew this was a different energy from everything else that was going on in prison.”

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