The Push for Parole

Artwork by David Rivera.

By Shari Stone-Mediatore

On Thursday, November 8, 2018, the Illinois state legislature held a public hearing to discuss the issue of bringing a system of parole to Illinois. This was a subject-matter-only hearing. However, by January, Representative Rita Mayfield plans to have parole legislation ready to present and will hold another hearing to discuss that legislation.

In her introduction, Representative Mayfield indicated that she only learned there was no system of discretionary parole in Illinois during a public debate delivered by the Stateville Debate Team.

Representative Mayfield did an excellent job of chairing the hearing. Unfortunately, only a few legislators attended (probably because people are recovering from the activities of the recent election). Nonetheless, Representative Mayfield, along with co-chairs Representative LaShawn Ford and Representative Art Turner, effectively moderated the panels and asked pointed questions. Another legislator and staff-person listened attentively.

We filled the room with about 30 advocates for parole from all walks of life. We had plenty of people prepared to speak on behalf of parole; however, a few minutes before the hearing began, the legislators informed us that only 5 people would be able to present testimony on behalf of parole. Among others, Brian Nelson, of the Uptown People’s Law Center, was prepared to speak about his own incarceration and torture. Due to the limitations, he and many other attendees did not have a chance to speak. Still, their presence helped to demonstrate a strong show of support for establishing a fair system of parole in Illinois.

The hearing began with presentations on behalf of parole by Bill Ryan, Katrina Burlet, Alan Mills of the Uptown People’s Law Center, Juan Rivera*, and Janet Mandoline. Then two prosecutors spoke against parole and Jennifer Bishop raised concerns from the perspective of victims. The prosecutors tarnished their own credibility when one of them claimed that they were certain that every person they had prosecuted was guilty; and when one claimed that he was confident that there was no racism in his region, DuPage county.

The legislators then allowed time for respondents. Tim Libretti, Shari Stone-Mediatore, Ken Berry, and the brother of an incarcerated man responded to the misleading claims of the prosecutors and tried to put a human face on people with long-term sentences. No one from the opposing side commented. It seemed that most of the audience were supporters of parole. Ken Berry, who has experienced law-enforcement and incarceration from multiple perspectives, presented a particularly compelling case for educational programs and rehabilitation, so that incarcerated folks can be ready for parole and reintegrate successfully when they leave prison.

The hearing ended with Dan Johnson from Restore Justice presenting an update on their parole bill, HB 531, which they hope to pass this veto session. He stated that, after the bill is passed, they will work hard to make it more inclusive. (Currently, HB 531 does not apply to people who are currently incarcerated; it applies to people in the future who were not yet adults when the crime occurred.)

Representative Mayfield indicated that she is working on legislation informed by the bill developed by the Stateville Debate Team. She stressed that she is open to suggestions from all parties. She hopes to have an inclusive parole bill, with a bill number, ready to present in January.

* Editor’s Note: Juan Rivera, himself is a chilling example of wrongful convictions and prosecutions gone awry. ■

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of Stateville Speaks.