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The Rehabilitation Initiative: Bring back parole to Illinois

August 1, 2018

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signs a parole reform bill on June 17, 2016. It eased the rules a little, reducing time served prior to parole eligibility from 85 percent to 75 percent of one’s sentence – though the rule was only 33 percent before 1997. But considering that sentences have become much longer since the onset of mass incarceration, it won’t help anyone for many years, and it doesn’t apply retroactively, so it’s no help to current prisoners. Still, it’s a step forward, and activists are pushing for more in Louisiana and many other states.

by Charles Childs

Does anyone notice what’s terribly wrong in Illinois prisons? I’ll tell you. In my opinion, not enough energy is being invested into the fight to bring back parole.

There’s an inside joke that even suggests that the dominant conversations around Illinois prisons have been reduced to four main topics: 1) Does anyone know what’s for chow tonight? 2) When we going back to commissary? 3) What’s coming on TV tonight? and 4) When we coming off lockdown? I disagree.

However, while we’ve been distracted by whatever it is that’s been distracting us, “everyone else” somehow has gained control of our narrative. My question is, why aren’t our voices the loudest?

The Rehabilitation Initiative is born from the idea that every offender who rehabilitates or habilitates himself, through educational, vocational and/or self-help programs, deserves a meaningful opportunity to earn his freedom – especially if those offenders have served in excess of 20 years.

The Rehabilitation Initiative is born from the idea that every offender who rehabilitates or habilitates himself, through educational, vocational and/or self-help programs, deserves a meaningful opportunity to earn his freedom – especially if those offenders have served in excess of 20 years.

The Illinois Constitution states, “All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship” (Ill. Constitution 1970, art. I, sec. II).

However, between the dissolution of parole in the late ‘70s and the creation of truth-in-sentencing laws in the late ‘90s, the sentencing objective in the Constitution has been abandoned. As a result, de facto life sentences (sentences that exceed the offender’s life expectancy) have been the trend of the last two decades.

I suggest to anyone who would benefit by parole to think deeply about the risk we pose to ourselves and our futures by idly standing by, assuming that someone else will do for us what we’re not even doing for ourselves. I challenge everyone who reads this essay to engage at least two people with dialogue and debate about what a functional parole system in Illinois should look like and why Illinois should have one.

I also encourage you to send emails, write letters and/or make calls to your state representative and find out if his or her position is in favor of Bringing Back Parole. If it’s not, then take steps to persuade them from your point of view.

It is our RESPONSIBILITY to develop practical alternatives to the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality, one that we must RESPOND to collectively, each of us according to our ABILITIES.

It is our RESPONSIBILITY to develop practical alternatives to the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality, one that we must RESPOND to collectively, each of us according to our ABILITIES.

In conclusion, many of us are no longer the people we were when we came to prison so many years ago. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve matured. We’ve changed.

Therefore, it’s time we regain control of our narrative and make it clear to the public that, oftentimes, the sentence itself doesn’t reflect or even consider a person’s rehabilitative potential – chiefly, because it’s been given to set an example and to deter others.

Let’s combat the stigma that long-term sentences create, by revealing that redemption and personal transformation is a possible reality for every human being who chooses that path. The pursuit of freedom is our common purpose and it’s far greater than everything that divides us – so let’s fight for parole.

©2018. Send our brother some love and light: Charles Childs, K79572, Menard Correctional Center, P.O. Box 1000, Menard, IL 62259.

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