A MESSAGE FROM JOSEPH DOLE

Good afternoon, my name is Joseph Dole. I am one of the cofounders of Parole Illinois and am currently the Policy Director.

Every year people die in IDOC custody, the vast majority due in part to over-sentencing. COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions, much of that time unnecessarily. They die lonely deaths for no other reason than incarceration politics, and in a vain attempt to satiate the insatiable appetite some people have for revenge.

For the past few decades, the State has grudgingly acknowledged that hundreds of innocent people are being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. It is now time to acknowledge that there are also thousands of guilty people who are wrongfully imprisoned as well, due to the fact that their prison sentences are longer than necessary for public safety.

The experts agree, mass incarceration’s main driver is excessive sentences for serious and violent crimes. Thus, we cannot address mass incarceration without reducing such sentences.

The Governor and others have recently voiced support for early releases of “non-violent offenders,” and insinuate that this shows they still consider public safety as the main priority. Not only is this insufficient to address mass incarceration, but if public safety is the main priority, then they should have no problem releasing “violent offenders.” That’s because people convicted of violent offenses are actually safer to release than those in prison for non-violent offenses. In other words, they have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.

The thousands of people currently serving excessively long sentences are doing so due to racism, fear-mongering, dehumanization, political exploitation, and the false promise that harsher sentences are needed to deter crime.

Politicians of both parties have used tough-on-crime rhetoric to get elected for decades, telling the public over and over again that even longer and harsher sentences are the only way to deter people from committing crimes. In Illinois, this facilitated the abolishment of parole, the passage of accountability and felony murder laws, Truth-In-Sentencing, the Habitual Criminal Act, gun add-ons, life-without-parole and de facto life sentences, and increased sentencing ranges for nearly every crime imaginable.

It seems logical, threaten someone with a severe enough consequence and you would think they would refrain from committing a crime. Unfortunately, this type of punitive deterrence is a myth, as has been shown by nearly every reputable study of deterrence conducted.

For punitive deterrence to work there are several prerequisites necessary. The person has to know the consequence, believe he or she will be caught and face that consequence, and have the ability to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of committing a crime versus not committing it.

Punitive deterrence doesn’t work, because, not only do people not know what sentencing laws stipulate, but people don’t believe they will be caught, let alone charged and convicted. Moreover, people who commit crimes are almost never rational actors. Not only are 40% of people who commit crimes juveniles or young adults with immature prefrontal lobes, but most are either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are mentally ill, or act in the heat of the moment while in anger without thinking clearly.

Craig Findley, the chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, who has interviewed over 25,000 incarcerated Illinoisans, told a subject matter only hearing on parole, that he likewise concludes that “long sentences are not a deterrent to crime.” Nonetheless, every day men and women are receiving excessively long and inhumane prison sentences under the guise that they will deter people from committing crimes.

What is never mentioned when arguing for more severe sentences to deter crime is the inhumanity of the practice itself. You are inflicting more punishment than someone deserves or that is penologically justifiable. Each person who has their prison sentence increased (and their life, as well as the lives of his or her family, increasingly destroyed) to allegedly deter others, is irrationally being held accountable for whether others will or won’t commit a crime. For the State to increase the pain and suffering of one individual to coerce the behavior of another is morally repugnant.

We currently have thousands of people sentenced to die in prison in a vain attempt to coerce others to follow the law. Let me show you how incarceration politics has affected three of my friends’ lives. All three were sentenced to death by incarceration.

My fellow NEIU graduate, Darrell Fair, was coerced at gunpoint into a false confession by one of Jon Burge’s underlings. He was then wrongfully convicted and sentenced to spend 100% of a 50-year sentence in prison thanks to the Truth-In-Sentencing law. His liberty was violently stolen by a corrupt legal system, and his release has been continuously denied due to incarceration politics. First, via over-sentencing where he cannot be paroled; then when the Torture Inquiry Relief Commission refused to examine non-Burge claims; then when the TIRC opened up to include non-Burge claims but was insufficiently funded; then when the prosecutor, for months, neglected to divulge the fact the Detective McDermott refused to testify under oath that he did not assault and threaten Darrell; and now for several more months as the court is shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Darrell is a 52-year-old asthmatic with a college degree and enormous community support. His innocence should have set him free decades ago. Even if he were guilty, he should not be in prison today as he has served sufficient time by historical standards and poses no threat to society.

GIVE IT UP FOR ARCHIE WILLIAMS!!!

Williams was released last year from a Louisiana prison after serving nearly 40 years for a rape and attempted murder he did not commit.

A fingerprint database showed prints at the crime scene matched another man, The New York Times reported, and the district attorney apologized.

“I went to prison but I never let my mind go to prison,” Williams said, adding that he prayed and sang.

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SIGN THE PETITION: PLEASE & THANK YOU

The COVID-19 crisis in U.S. prisons has shone a light on the horrific conditions and overcrowding that have turned many prisons into death traps.

But it is only a reminder of the fate of many people incarcerated in Illinois who face death-by-incarceration every year, due to decades of extreme and inhumane sentencing policies.

Victims of crime, convicted people, and their loved ones all suffer when people are locked up for years beyond the needs of public safety. Nearly every other state has mechanisms to release long-term incarcerated individuals who are ready to rejoin society. Illinois does not.

If nothing changes, over 5,000 Illinoisans will be required to grow old and die in prison.

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MEANINGFUL PAROLE

Maryland’s parole process for people serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, like Eraina Pretty, is long and arduous.

In 2008, parole commissioners first recommended her for parole after she completed a required risk assessment and psychological evaluation. She waited three years for the governor’s decision; in 2011, then-Governor Martin O’Malley denied her parole. In 2015, the commission once again recommended her for parole; this time, she waited four years before receiving a denial from Governor Larry Hogan

In February, legislators introduced House Bill 1219, which would have precluded the governor from making parole decisions for those serving life sentences.

The bill had been introduced during the past 10 legislative sessions. This year, it passed with a veto-proof majority in the House and, according to Lila Meadows, an attorney at the University of Maryland Law School’s Gender Violence Clinic, would have had enough votes to pass in the Senate. Then COVID-19 prematurely stopped the legislative session.

“If a sentence with parole is meaningful in any way, it has to be that when you have held up your end of the bargain and did all the things the system has asked you to do … you get returned to society. If that doesn’t happen, parole sentences are completely meaningless.”

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MALCOLM X

Malcolm X rose to prominence as a member of the Nation Of Islam, which he joined while serving a prison sentence for burglary charges.

Malcolm X would have been 95.

The revered activist and orator became the face of resistance against an oppressive system that did not view Black People as equals.

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COWARD’S POSE: Inslee Vetoes Clean Slate Bill

Governor Jay Inslee vetoed House Bill 2793. It would have initiated the process of automatically expunging criminal records in nearly 2 million eligible cases.

Advocates have pushed for this type of reform, dubbed “Clean Slate.”

Although expunged records yield major benefits, the vast majority of people who are eligible to get an expungement—over 90 percent of them, according to a University of Michigan study published in 2019—don’t even apply, for a host of reasons ranging from cost and time to legal complexity and a lack of information.

Clean Slate bills propose to remedy these obstacles by requiring states to automatically expunge people’s records for eligible offenses. Though specifications vary, these bills typically involve clearing cases promptly if they did not result in a conviction, and clearing convictions after some waiting period.

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WONDERFUL BREAKING NEWS: Willie Mae Harris Is Going Home!

Clemency is one of several mechanisms to relieve overcrowded prisons and reward prisoners for their behavior while incarcerated.

Since taking office four years ago, Hutchinson has granted clemency to roughly 500 people. Just one person who received clemency, Shirley Danner, was convicted of first-degree murder.

In the early 1970s, Danner was working as a sex worker when she shot a man who attemped to date underage girls. In 1975, Danner was sentenced to life in prison.

The parole board recommended her for release at least 17 times before Hutchinson approved her clemency petition in April 2019.

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JUVENILE INJUSTICE

The order came from a 15-year-old on a bicycle near a Chicago park in 2001: “Shoot him, shoot him.”

Benard McKinley, 16, obliged. And Abdo Serna-Ibarra, 23, never made his way to the soccer field.

McKinley was later arrested and charged as an adult with first degree murder for the killing of Serna-Ibarra. In 2004, Cook County jurors found him guilty.

The sentencing judge, Kenneth J. Wadas, went on to make an example of McKinley and his murder, condemning the young man to 100 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections — 50 years for the murder, and a consecutive 50 years for the fatal use of a firearm. The sentence was necessary to deter other criminals, Wadas said in court, and would enable others to play soccer with “one less Benard McKinley out there with a handgun blowing them away.”

With no chance of parole or early release, McKinley was doomed to either live to celebrate and surpass his 116th birthday, or grow old and die within the fortress of the state’s prison system.

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MORE STORIES LIKE THIS. PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

A University of Illinois college-in-prison program created a reentry guide for those released from prison and jail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every year, the Education Justice Project updates one reentry guide to reflect the latest information about resources available to those released from prison and returning to Illinois communities, as well as another guide for those being deported to Central American countries following their release.

This year, however, Rebecca Ginsburg, EJP’s director, says it became clear the group needed to create a reentry guide specific to release during the coronavirus pandemic.

The group who worked on the document “interviewed people who had been released during (the COVID-19 pandemic) to understand what the particular challenges were, and they worked very hard to get the guide produced in one month,” Ginsburg says.

She says one challenge newly released people face is a lack of information about the virus.

“And the guide seeks to provide that,” Ginsburg says. “So they know, for example, why it’s so important to wash your hands regularly.”

The guide advises people released from incarceration to quarantine for 14 days before interacting with their family, and it also provides guidance for what to do if they fall ill.

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JULIUS JONES: Widespread Support For Clemency

Last year, Jones’s current legal defense discovered that at least one juror — in a nearly all-white jury — was influenced by racial prejudice.

In an application for post-conviction relief, they state that a member of the jury told the judge that another juror said the trial was a waste of time and that “they should just take the [N-word] out and shoot him behind the jail.” That juror was never removed.

Jones also wrote about racism during the trial in his application.

“Prosecutors took every opportunity to racialize me by appealing to the deeply entrenched and stereotypical association between blackness and dangerousness,” he wrote. “In urging jurors to sentence me to death, prosecutors argued that I was a ‘continuing threat’ because I was ‘out prowling the streets’ engaging in criminality. … At the time of my trial I had no prior violent felony convictions. I had gotten into some trouble previously, but none of it was violent.”

Jones’s clemency application has received support from several local and national leaders who have urged the Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Kevin Stitt to commute his sentence, including county commissioner Carrie Blumert, Oklahoma NAACP, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), various national evangelical leaders and even Kim Kardashian West, who has been using her platform to advocate for criminal justice reform.

Julius Jones, an Oklahoma man on death row, filed an application for clemency.

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