concrete and Barbed Wire
I’ve been hearing a lot about the possibility and need for bringing a parole system back to IL. I don’t know if it will ever happen. However, as someone directly
affected by and in support of this possibility, I’d like to voice my thoughts on the subject.
To me it is expected and totally understandable for someone outside of the system (meaning someone not directly attached to the penal/justice system, or a victim of crime) would have a “lock-em’-up-throw-away-the-key” mentality. After all, it does seem like the simplest solution. The criminals are locked away, and society is safer. The reality of it isn’t quite so simple. I think that if people outside the system knew the reality of it, they would be shocked and possibly have a different opinion. The reality of it is that our current system of crime and punishment does not make society a safer place. It doesn’t even make it a better place.
There are 3 questions I think need to be answered when considering a parole system. 1) Does a parole system serve to satisfy justice? 2) Can a person change and learn from their mistakes (even horrible mistakes)? 3) Does a system of parole make society a safer, better place? I would argue that the answer to all 3 questions is “yes”.
The answer to the first question is one of law, fact, and opinion. The IL. constitution, section 11, Limitations of penalties after conviction; 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.” So, the constitution of IL. supports a parole system. Add to that the fact that violent offenders who spend at least 25 years in prison, and are at least 50 years old have only a 3% recidivism rate. Compare that to national averages of 55% to 85% for all other offenders. Imagine if those violent offenders were actually provided with rehabilitative services? The last factor is opinion. At what point is justice served? My thought is that the justice system is not a tool to satisfy the vengeance of a victim. While the victim may relish the thought of a person being locked up forever, I think once a person is locked up longer than they’ve been alive, (ie. over half of their life) or becomes elderly in prison, it becomes sort of like beating a dead horse. Just my opinion.
The answer to the second question is fairly simple. All one needs to do is compare the person they are now to the person they were at 20-25 years old to know that change is not only possible but unavoidable. If you are over 35 years old, I want you to think for a second about the person you were at 20-25 years old. Think of how you view people under 25 generally. We think of them, and of ourselves at that age as kids; in almost every sense of the word. We don’t think of them this way to be condescending, but because we can look back on our own life and see our own childish thought process. At the time, we thought we had it all figured out. Remember? We were lost! As we get older we see how our thought processes changed, how our attitude on life has changed. We become less self centered. More rational. Less impulsive. In other words we have matured. Think of all the mistakes we made simply because we acted without thinking. Think of all you’d do differently. I think nearly everyone will agree that we are not the same person at 40 that we were at 20 or 25. You may think this is just your opinion, or your own idea about yourself or something you “think” could be true. The fact is that this is supported by actual science that shows a person’s brain is not fully developed until their mid to late 20’s. So the thought we have that a person in their early 20’s is a kid is not far from the truth. Our own experience shows us that a person can and will change, and it is backed by science.
Question number 3 is a little more complicated, and one based more on opinion. Personally, I think a parole system could greatly improve society as a whole. My thought on this is, at least I think, unique. A person sent to prison is said to “owe a debt to society”. Exactly how is spending 23-24 hours a day locked in a box paying that debt? I feel like when I committed my crime, I not only hurt my victim and our families, I hurt society. Made it worse. In order to “pay” that debt, I should have to make society better, or contribute in some way. I should be utilized to actively make society a better, safer place through community service and community outreach programs; not picking up trash on the freeway. I’m talking about actual service to the community where the lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes can be used to ensure others don’t make the same mistakes. I’m not suggesting community service as punishment for murder. I’m saying the 25 years in prison then the earned parole are the punishment. The community service is where I’m able to right my wrongs against society. If I served 25 years of this sentence, I’d be 54 years old with a 3% chance of re-offending. And if I’m actively involved in community outreach programs, much like an addict actively involved in recovery, that 3% chance will be greatly reduced. Possibly to 0%. Additionally by me being out of prison my children are less likely to end up in prison. And let us not forget that by paroling older inmates, the taxpayers will save an enormous amount of money by not having to pay to care for elderly or geriatric inmates. (According to USA Today, the cost per inmate over 55 years old is $71,000) All that taken into account, I think that a parole system will greatly benefit society.
I was 24 years old when I committed the senseless murder that led me to spend the rest of my life prison. At 26 years old I pled guilty knowing I could get a life sentence. I did so because my childish mind thought I was grown. I thought I was all I was ever going to be. I didn’t, couldn’t, know then how different I’d be today. I’ll be 40 years old this year and I have experienced change. I can look back and see exactly how I ended up here. I blame no one. In the end I know I’m responsible for my actions. But I also know I’m not evil or a monster. I know that if I was let out one day, I could and would be a tool to better society. I feel like I still owe a debt, and I hope to be able to pay it one day.
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