Parole Boards Approved Fewer Releases In 2020 Than In 2019, Despite The Raging Pandemic

Prisons have had 10 months to take measures to reduce their populations and save lives amidst the ongoing pandemic.

Yet our comparison of 13 states’ parole grant rates from 2019 and 2020 reveals that many have failed to utilize parole as a mechanism for releasing more people to the safety of their homes.

In over half of the states we studied—Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – between 2019 and 2020, there was either no change or a decrease in parole grant rates.

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‘The Criminal Justice System Is A Big Waste Of Money,’ Says REFORM CEO Van Jones

Many people are sent to jail for an extra year due to technical violations like being late to a probation meeting.

“There must be other ways to impose consequences on people when they’re under supervision than sending so many people back to prison for technical violations. If we can have people come home more successfully, that stops the revolving door of people going back in,” Van Jones said, adding that people need to have the ability to vote, rent housing and get an education so that felony convictions from decades ago don’t impact their ability to participate in society later in life.

“You know, any system that had this kind of failure rate — would have been rethought a long time ago.”

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What Happens To The Federal Death Penalty In A Biden Administration?

Joe Biden is the first president in U.S. history to openly campaign on abolishing the death penalty and win. Now that he’s in the White House, pressure is already mounting from activists and lawmakers for him to fulfill that promise.

Pointing to the more than 160 Americans who’ve been exonerated from death sentences since 1973, Biden pledged on the campaign trail to work to pass legislation eliminating the federal death penalty.

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Howard Keller

Parole Illinois is pushing for policy changes that help reverse cycles of violence and incarceration and give people like Howard fair chances to be reviewed for release. 

With your help, we can bring the story of Howard and others like him to a wider audience and gain support for a system of Earned Discretionary Reentry that provides our loved ones opportunities to finally come home.

Make a gift to Parole Illinois this season so we have the resources to pass Earned Discretionary Reentry in Illinois. You can donate here…

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#SupportParoleIllinois

 

Mass Incarceration Has Been a Driving Force of Economic Inequality

As people struggle with the economic fallout of Covid-19, there’s a growing sense that the economy wasn’t working well for many even before the lockdowns.

In late 2019, in the middle of a theoretically strong economy, income inequality hit a record high, and a cavernous wealth gap continues to separate too many white and Black families. Those inequalities are seen, more than anywhere else, in the criminal justice system — and more specifically in what the system does to families.

We know that people who have been convicted of a crime or imprisoned are more likely to face poverty and other serious challenges.

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7 Guiding Principles

J.B. Pritzker announced 7 guiding principles to build a more equitable criminal justice system.

“We cannot truly have justice without equity and opportunity. These principles will guide us on a path of repairing the historic harm caused by our justice system, especially in Black and Brown communities. Comprehensive justice reform will help to reverse the systemic cycles that tear apart families, lay barren communities, lead to overcrowded jails, put strains on criminal justice infrastructure, and burden taxpayers.”

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Equitable Criminal Justice System

Governor JB Pritzker today proposed 7 guiding principles…

• End the use of the cash bail system and limit pretrial detention to only those who are a threat to public safety.

• Modernize sentencing laws on theft and drug offenses and use a public health approach to address mental health and addiction.

• Reduce excessive lengths of stay in prison by providing pathways for people to earn opportunities for rehabilitation.

• Prioritize rehabilitation and reduce the risk of recidivism by increasing access to housing and healthcare for returning residents.

• Increase police accountability and transparency for police officers and police departments.

• Update and strengthen statewide standards for use of force by police officers.

• Improve interactions with police by decriminalizing minor non-violent offenses, improving police response to crowd control, and increasing language and disability access.

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THE STIGMA OF BEING LABELED A VIOLENT OFFENDER

My brother Aaron, a violent felon, is neither my brother nor violent. The fact that these two descriptors aren’t technically accurate is basically irrelevant. In practice, they function as truth.

I was reminded of this last July when my dad called me from the county courthouse.

“How’d it go?” I asked, but I already knew it was bad news. If Aaron had been released, it would’ve been his voice on the line.

“The judge gave him 90 more days,” my dad said.

“But I thought—”

“Yeah, well. The judge agreed to that before she knew he was a violent felon.” He paused. “I saw her sentence a couple of guys to eight years. Young guys. He got lucky.” His voice was a tangle of sadness and anger and relief.

I’ve worked in criminal justice reform long enough that phrases like violent felon have largely been stripped of their emotional content. But this moment was personal, and hearing the term was jarring. For a second I thought my father must be talking about someone else.

An imprecise, capricious label handed down by the criminal justice system can mark a person for life.

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FIELD OF BROKEN DREAMS

A person who finds himself freshly recruited by the Texas criminal justice system into the slave labor force of its many state penitentiaries will soon find they have been thrown into a time warp.

As I made my way deeper into this system, in 1981, I found myself bound for a prison called Central Unit, to be my new home for the next 40 years.

The bus trip there was a true pain, since we had been handcuffed and essentially herded into a rolling cage. Soon, my senses told me we were getting close to the place where I was born, and it dawned on me fully when I saw the Imperial Sugar refinery.

I was born in Sugar Land, Texas, and now I’d be in its prison.

We slowed down on Highway 6, right after we passed a small airport and turned down a long straight road. On one side I could see houses for the ranked officials of the corrections department; on the other were fields of men dressed in white, carrying massive hoes called “aggies.”

They were in a line, “flat-weedin’,” as I would find out.

Armed guards sat on horses around them, with big straw cowboy hats, spurs, and aviator glasses, meant to shield their eyes from the Texas sun but also to keep the men from seeing who they were looking at. Even from the noisy bus I could hear the “field bosses” yelling and cussing at their unpaid workers and threatening to shoot them.

This, I would find out, was normal.

At the end of the road (which is kind of symbolic, for most prisoners in Texas are literally at the end of a road) sat the prison I would be at: a huge, white-bricked building with gun towers, razor-ribboned fences … the works.

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