With the General Assembly temporarily adjourned, it seems a good time to dip into the mailbag and revisit a few recent topics.
On March 31 I wrote about the Prisoner Review Board and whether ongoing battles were over its composition or its authority to release certain people from state custody.
That prompted a response from the nonprofit organization Restore Justice, which sought to clarify that very few Illinoisans are eligible for parole, as the state abolished discretionary parole in 1978. That means fewer than 50 current inmates are eligible, all of whom are in prison for acts from at least 44 years ago. Although the 2019 Youthful Parole Law did create pathways to parole reviews for people age 20 and younger, that does not apply to anyone convicted of killing a law enforcement officer or given a natural life sentence.
For more reading on this subject, visit restore justice.org/learn/why-parole-matters. An excerpt:
“At core, parole is a period of supervised, early release from prison. It is an alternative to incarceration that – when done right – can reduce prison costs and reduce crime. Yet there are no shortage of myths surrounding parole in Illinois, from the assumption that it doesn’t work to the belief that Illinois already has parole in the form of determinate sentencing and mandatory supervised release.
“Surprisingly (or maybe not), these myths are often held by the legislators who vote on parole bills.”
A March 30 column about structural problems with the Department of Children and Family Services drew an email from McHenry County Board Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Schofield, who also is the running mate of GOP gubernatorial hopeful and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo.
“A couple of my close friends are foster families, my sister works in foster care, and I have been familiar with [Court Appointed Special Advocates] since college. With these connections, I was able to get involved in conversations of what changes are needed within our system. Not one of those conversations included replacement of the executive director. The conversations revolved more around protecting the children.”
Ideas include making sure the system prioritizes a child over parental rights, using the input of external resources such as foster families for court proceedings, “more coordinated efforts such as advocates, attorneys and foster families working together for what is in the best interest of the child” and giving DCFS investigators a checklist for automatically triggering state action, to “allow for more consistency and accountability.”
Schofield shared other ideas, but highlighted those she’s already discussed with lawmakers. I agree with her take lawmakers should listen more to those in the system.
With the budget resolved, now is the perfect time to focus on legitimately solving one of Illinois’ most pressing problems.