There is no parole in Illinois. I did not know that until Katrina Burlet told me.
|Michael Simmons speaking at a convocation for North Park University’s School of Restorative Arts inside Stateville Correctional Center in 2019./Photo by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom|
“We got rid of our parole system in 1978,” said Burlet, campaign strategy director of Parole Illinois, a coalition committed to addressing the needs of prisoners.
Along with Illinois, 15 other states have abolished parole. California, on the other hand, has mandatory parole and in August pushed the issue into the headlines when a parole board voted to free Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
This is one of those debates where people of goodwill can have opposing views. You could argue that Sirhan’s crime is so vile, not only snuffing out the life of a father of 11 but a beloved leader who inspired millions, that he should never go free. I can see that.
Or you could counter that 53 years in prison is punishment aplenty, that keeping Sirhan in jail until he dies won’t bring RFK back, that we are too punitive a nation already, with 1.8 million incarcerated at any time. I can see that too.
Burlet is pushing Senate Bill 2333, which would allow convicted criminals in Illinois who have served 20 years in prison to be eligible for a parole hearing.
“It restores parole for people serving the longest sentences,” she said.
People like Michael Simmons. Burlet came to this issue after running a debate program at Stateville Correctional Center. I asked her to put me in touch with a prisoner who might be affected by changes in the law, and she offered Simmons, convicted of murder in 2001 for killing Kurt Landrum during a robbery and sentenced to 50 years.
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