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.

COVID-19: COMPASSION CRISIS

The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to change the terms of the discussion about incarcerated people — by humanizing them.

This transformation could thereby enable the acceleration of a broader and deeper process of long-term decarceration based on rational principles involving public safety, cost and genuine justice.

Are we ready to see and consider them as us?

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CORONAVIRUS: The Prison Tsunami

Despite early warnings, jails and prisons have seen a rapid spread of the virus — a humanitarian disaster that puts all of our communities, and lives, at risk.

Weeks before the first reported cases of COVID-19 in prisons and jails, correctional healthcare experts warned that all the worst aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system — overcrowded, aging facilities lacking sanitary conditions and where medical care is, at best, sparse; too many older prisoners with underlying illnesses; regular flow of staff, guards, healthcare workers in and out of facilities — would leave detention facilities, and their surrounding communities, vulnerable to outbreaks.

Despite those early warnings, even jails and prisons that believed they were well-prepared have seen a rapid spread of the virus.

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THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD

Multiple factors are responsible for the alarming death rates that black, brown, Native American and poor white communities are experiencing from the novel coronavirus.

Mendacious, misanthropic political leadership. A so-called health care system driven by profit and not human flourishing. An economic reality where even the below-a-living-wage money earned by poor and working-class people is siphoned off to the wealthy via tax cuts and tax policies that force wage earners to pay a larger share than dividend earners.

I am a preacher. So as I dust the COVID-19 crime scene, I am ultimately in search of theological fingerprints.

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ISOLATION & QUARANTINE AT AVENAL STATE PRISON

130 additional people have tested positive for COVID-19, including 115 inmates at Avenal State Prison.

Positive cases of coronavirus at the prison have increased significantly since May 18.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says the prison is currently testing as many inmates and staff as possible and following isolation and quarantine guidance to help slow the spread of the virus.

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SLOW MOVING WARDEN JETTISONED

Federal officials have reassigned the warden of a Louisiana prison where the coronavirus has ravaged the compound, leaving eight inmates dead and infecting dozens of other prisoners and staffers.

The Bureau of Prisons said Friday that Oakdale, Louisiana, warden Rodney Myers had been assigned to “temporary duty” at the bureau’s South Central Regional Office in Texas.

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COOK COUNTY JAIL GETS HELP FROM COLORADO NURSE

Kyle Mullica came to Chicago to fight COVID-19 on the front lines, picking one of the hottest spots in the city: the Cook County Jail.

“It was intense. It was a lot of hours. It was difficult being away from my family,” said Mullica, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room of a Colorado hospital.

He put his skills to use in Division 10, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, totaling five weeks straight.

“There’s this sense of duty, and a sense of calling on things like this. I wanted to use the skill that I had,” said Mullica, who also serves as a state representative in Colorado.

So with his wife’s support, he left home.

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MORE TESTING = MORE CASES

Louisiana’s prison system this week began “mass testing” at a second state correctional facility.

The results show two-thirds of inmates who contracted COVID-19 between two prison facilities the agency considers “hot spots” tested positive without showing symptoms.

At the all-female prison facilities in St. Gabriel and Jetson, a total of 317 inmates tested positive, including 210 who were asymptomatic. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections started testing all inmates at the facility where women are housed at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center weeks ago, after noticing it was a hot spot.

Two coronavirus-related inmate deaths stemmed from women’s facility in St. Gabriel.

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DOUBLE-STANDARD OR PRECEDENT FOR EARLY RELEASE: Kwame Kilpatrick, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti, Paul Manafort

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from federal prison.

Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years behind bars, convicted in 2013 on 24 felony counts of public corruption for a criminal racket involving extortion, bribery, conspiracy and fraud. Prosecutors said he used his positions as a state representative and then mayor to enrich himself and his friends.

He was not expected to be paroled until 2037.

According to a Friday news release from the Ebony Foundation, Kilpatrick has been granted early release after serving only seven years of his lengthy sentence.

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THE CASE OF THE MISSING HAND SANITIZER

Earlier this spring, a group of educators donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of hand sanitizer and soap to the Illinois Department of Corrections in an effort to help inmates protect themselves from the coronavirus.

But some inmates and their loved ones say prisoners have yet to benefit from this donation, and that more cleaning supplies are needed.

After Illinois prisons closed to visitors and outside groups working in the prison, educators from the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) wanted to find a way to help their students and other incarcerated people during the pandemic.

Rebecca Ginsburg, who leads a college-in-prison program that offers University of Illinois classes to incarcerated men at the Danville Correctional Center, says IL-CHEP reached out to prison staff to ask what they could do.

“And the response to that was: we would really appreciate sanitizer and masks,” Ginsburg says. “That was when it became clear that our roles were going to change from being that of educators to being among the parties that are working hard to do our best to ensure that our students and others who are locked up stay healthy and stay alive.”

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