Every year people die in the custody of Illinois Department of Corrections, the vast majority due in part to overincarceration.
COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions. 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.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker 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 have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.
The thousands of people currently serving 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.
Joseph Dole Is An Incarcerated Writer, Co-Founder & Policy Director Of Parole Illinois
Joseph Dole Is An Incarcerated Artist And Board Member Of Parole Illinois
The Long Term is a hand-drawn animation developed by artists serving long term sentences.
The video uses personal narrative and research to describe the scale and impact of long term sentencing policies. The work tells the stories about the fear of dying inside, the feeling of being programmed by prison and the impact on family life, from the perspective of 11 artists serving life or long term sentences.
The Sentencing Project reports that 1 in 9 people in prison are serving life sentences, and 1 in 7 have sentences of fifty years or more.
People locked in, or headed to, maximum security prisons are marked for death-by-incarceration.
Our prisons cannot continue to rely on deprivation, control and institutional violence to maintain order.
The failure to provide adequate treatment, programs and education is not justifiable, given the growth in prison spending in recent years as populations have declined — and given the high societal costs of recidivism.
We must re-align priorities in correctional budgets, and we must move forward with decarceration.
Prison distills all of our systemic injustices. People come there disproportionately from communities that are policed rather than resourced.
The incarcerated are housed in dismal cinder-block cells, deprived of adequate care, decent food and education, and paid pennies per hour, if they are lucky to even have a job.
Step 1: Drop Erroneous Charges Against Protesters Of The George Floyd Uprising
Step 2: Apologize For Pushing Around Protesters With Impunity
Step 3: Decarcerate For The COVID-19 Prison Pandemic
Step 4: Get Behind Earned Discretionary Release
Step 5: Be Kind
Responding to recent shootings, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown declared that “violent felons” need to “stay in jail longer.”
If he means that pretrial detainees must be jailed longer, this is unconstitutional. You can’t delay someone’s trial to jail them longer.
If he means that people convicted of violent crimes must stay in prison longer, this is equally ignorant. In Illinois, if someone commits a murder with a gun, he or she faces a minimum 45-year sentence, which the person is unlikely to outlive.
What makes Brown think that increasing that sentence will make a difference?
Brown’s outworn “tough on crime” rhetoric betrays his disregard for the failure of punitive deterrence and the real social needs of marginalized communities. Another police officer, Patrick Skinner, stressed in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “the rhetoric and the tactics and the aggression of war have no place in local police work.”
Yet Brown invokes the same aggressive approach and demonizing labels used by his predecessors and politicians for the past 40 years, which have proved ineffective in preventing crime and disastrous for marginalized communities.
Curiously, Brown hasn’t called for harsher prison sentences for violent police.
People (including those in uniform) need to be held accountable for their actions. But extreme punishment is a failed and racist policy. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and yet our cities have some of the world’s highest crime rates.
Illinois stands out for extreme sentencing laws, which have sent thousands of Illinoisans — over 70% of whom are people of color — to prison for the rest of their lives.
To bolster past politicians’ “toughness,” these people have been permanently torn from their families and communities.
Communities have sent a clear message: no more law enforcement “toughness” or swaggering sound bites. They want real solutions for families who are both victims of violence and caught in cycles of incarceration.
Brown’s burying of these concerns with knee-jerk rhetoric underscores why the Chicago Police Department must be defunded. Plans for shifting resources to social and mental health services and community renewal and for reopening closed schools, all of which have proved to prevent crime, would be much more inspiring.
— Joseph Dole, policy director, and Shari Stone-Mediatore, managing director, Parole Illinois
In the spring of 2019, through the Northwestern Prison Education Program, playwright and Goodman Artistic Associate, Rebecca Gilman, taught playwriting at the Stateville Correctional Center.
The students embraced their first playwriting class and, for their final projects, each wrote a short play. Ranging from comic to tragic, the plays tackle subjects as unique, original, and inspiring as the men who wrote them.
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, we planned to offer three live performances of the Stateville Voices plays: one at the Goodman, one at Kennedy-King College and one at Stateville.
We still intend to present live readings at the Goodman and Kennedy-King once it is safe to do so. We also want to take the plays to Stateville when the prison is no longer on lockdown.
However, given that the population at Stateville has been one of the hardest hit by COVID19 in the country, we felt it was urgent to present a live virtual event featuring some of the Stateville Voices plays as well as a panel discussion looking at what life is like at Stateville at the present moment.
Live on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, July 3 at 5PM.
The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously approved a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled, following mass public criticism of law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.
The proposed amendment next goes to a policy committee and to the city’s Charter Commission for a formal review, at which point citizens and city officials can also weigh in.
Activists had long accused the department of being unable to change a racist and brutal culture, and earlier this month, a majority of the council proclaimed support for dismantling the department.
It is time to start from scratch and reinvent what public safety looks like.
The next election should focus on creating a framework to allow people calling for the abolition of modern prisons to begin the hard work of creating new institutions.
Americans need to vote to help activists continue anti-racist work that will allow us to envision the possibility of a society that is free of racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia.
I don’t know whether it would have unfolded as it did if not for the terrible COVID-19 pandemic, which gave us the opportunity to collectively witness one of the most brutal examples of state violence.
This is an extraordinary moment which has brought together a whole number of issues.