By Elbonie Burnside
This proposal is written with the concerns of the overcrowding in Illinois prisons in mind. # Team Freedom understands due to the seriousness of particular crimes a certain requirement of measures must be taken into account. However, the Illinois Constitution Article 1, Section 11 states: All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense with the objective of returning the offender to useful citizenship. In order for the percentage of criminal activity to drop, both lawmakers and breakers need to realize that we all fall short of perfection and the human thing to do is change for the better.
The penal system in Illinois is overcrowded for two reasons.
1. Crime rate is at an all time high.
2. Politicians have realized long ago how to secure pensions and squeeze an extra dollar out of taxpayers.
The overcrowding is a serious matter for those on the inside of prison as well as those on the outside. At Logan Correctional Facility inmates ship in from different counties with no bed space. Because of this a dorm is formed in a gym on the house building 14. That gym holds 70 beds and with a recent shipment Logan has resorted to having inmates sleep on the floor.
Proper healthcare service is inadequate. Because of the overcrowding inmates aren’t able to reach the healthcare at a sufficient time to take care of their health concerns.
Education programs are at an all time low, offering two vocational classes, a pre-GED and a GED class.
Food portions are small and do not meet the Illinois Department of Corrections Food Services guidelines.
Inmates are not taken care of with proper attire needed. Two bras, two socks, two panties, two blue pants and one state shirt isn’t enough clothing suitable for every day function when there are seven days in a week.
Currently there are no shoes for the inmates coming through R & C. Because of this, inmates are handed three pair of socks to wear throughout the facility. When there are shoes, navy blue ship on canvas shoes are handed to them. These shoes aren’t durable and once wet; the shoe begins to fall apart.
#Team Freedom embraces any offender who rehabilitates and returns to society as a productive citizen. We do not understand the theory that non-violent offenders are the only people considered when the topic of early release is a possibility. Maybe it’s because these offenders are normally repeat offenders and will continue to have chances at freedom, when under the truth in sentencing, violent offenders have no chance at all. Majority of offenders under 100% truth in sentencing are unjustly sentenced and some should be charged with 2nd degree murder instead of 1st degree murder. Offenders sentenced under the truth in sentence statute should be returned to society once rehabilitated. As all offenders should be.
The goal is to rehabilitate, restore and return to society. There are a few ways in which I’d like to present to help prevent overcrowding in prisons and have more productive members returned to society.
1. Parole Board
2. Truth in Sentencing
3. Program Sentence Credit
I only ask for an open mind throughout this proposal and some great thought…
Before the parole board was abolished in 1977, offenders were summoned to present their evidences of rehabilitation in hopes the board will agree and set them free from the prison system. The parole board was abolished because it did not feel effective. Reason being those paroled early were returning being repeat offenders and the percentage rate was extremely high.
Times have changed since 1977, prison has as well. Those who were convicted before 1977 still have a chance to appear before the parole board. After interviewing offenders who had been in and out of prison since that decade has pointed out various key elements that lends some insight in how prison accommodated prisoners during that time. The population of female inmates wasn’t as high as it is today. Dwight only housed a few hundred.
Prisoners were able to wear street clothing and have family send a box containing clothing and personal items every 3 years.
Prisoners were able to wear jewelry (chains, earrings, rings, etc.)
Prisoners were accommodated with a home appliance (microwave) to cook food with.
BBQ functions were held on the facility grounds.
Food was of value (pork chops, catfish and beef to name a few); no soy-based products.
A snack bar was available that gave prisoners the ability to order food as if from a fast food restaurant.
Clothing was able to get ordered from a catalog.
Although the few accommodations are trivial in the most people who have these specific needs at their disposal everyday, but in the prison lifestyle these main qualities give inmates the feeling of being “home away from home” as one inmate described. Another said, “It felt like I was away at college”. With degrees up to a bachelor being obtained at the time, who could dispute the claim? None of these accommodations exist today.
Though the percent of repeat offenders is still moderately high, those who are repeat offenders are those convicted of non-violent crimes and those who are likely not to return are the prisoners sentenced under the truth in sentencing statute.
Opinion: People are afraid offenders convicted of serious offenses who show some form of redemption and are allowed on the streets again only to return back to prison for committing the same type of act.
Observation: Those who are rehabilitated and can show evidence of rehabilitation are likely to be able to function in society. These specific prisoners are looking for a chance to prove rehabilitation is possible and are not looking for laws to break that will force them back into a prison that isn’t comfortable by any means.
Truth in Sentencing
Before the truth in sentencing statute was implemented in 1999, those who were convicted of a violent crime were expected to serve 50% of their sentence. Because of this statute offenders are expected to serve 100% of a sentence, which strips away the main objective of a punishment, which is to be restored to useful citizenship. Recidivism isn’t likely to occur in offenders over the age of 50 and neither is it likely to occur in offenders serving or have served more than 10 years no matter the age. There are model ex-offenders who are role models in their communities and promoting positive activity. Jouradine Smith, Benneth Lee and Jolinda Wade to name a few.
It costs $24,655.75 to incarcerate a person for a year in prison.
Opinion: Due to current administration and the move to Logan facility it is apparent rehabilitation for a long-term offender has been put to a halt. #Team Freedom understands due to the seriousness of particular crimes, much stricter punishment is issued, but it should include a chance of rehabilitation. This act, as well as not giving the convicted a chance to prove as much, is a violation of the 8th amendment.
Observation: #Team Freedom observes the change in offenders convicted of violent crimes. A lot of these offenders have spent their entire adult life in prison, which diminishes any chance of recidivism. These offenders are hoping for change within the legal system. A chance to prove they are rehabilitated and are able to function in society as law abiding citizens.
Program Sentence Credit
As it is stated in the revised administrative rules on sentence credit, not all offenders are eligible for programming credit. Offenders earn one-half day off their sentence for each day of participating in such programs (education, life skills course, behavioral modification, drug treatment, re-entry planning) at Illinois Correctional Industries programs if they successfully complete the programs. Violent and class X crimes are not eligible, but why? Due to overcrowding shouldn’t everyone be considered for this Program Sentence Credit? Program Sentence Credit would be a good way for offenders convicted of a violent crime earn time off their sentence at a good cost. Learning and being able to obtain the necessary tools needed to function in society. Whenever an offender is able to take advantage of programs prison has to offer, a level of confidence is imbedded and the offender believes there is a chance to make it in society, while being an ex-felon, but that is no longer possible since transferring to Logan. There is no productive life style for the prisoners of Logan who are serving 3 years or more.
The objective of prison is to correct/rehabilitate but with over 2000 women, rehabilitation is no longer possible for prisoners such as myself, which is a huge percentage of Logan’s population. If the % rate is checked on the number of prisoners who have returned to prison more than once after obtaining some form of program sentence credit, then a question has to be asked. Are offenders only entering such programs to earn time off their sentence with reform or rehabilitation far from their mind? If so, how can the legal system fix such a problem only a convicted offender is willing to fix? If there is little to be said about offenders who take advantage of programs because they can earn credit, then there surely is a lot to be said for those who have absolutely nothing to gain from these programs but reform and rehabilitation.
Opinion: As stated earlier Logan does not provide a productive lifestyle for prisoners who have a substantial amount of time to serve. It is believed this reason is to keep the prisoner in their current state of mind – imprisoned/corrupted.
Observation: Offenders who take advantage of prison’s programs only for the purpose of self-improvement speaks volumes of a person’s character and potential they have at rehabilitation. It was possible for prisoners to do so before Dwight and Lincoln were closed down for women. ■
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of Stateville Speaks.