Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Should Illinois bring back parole?

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

     There is no parole in Illinois. I did not know that until Katrina Burlet told me.
     “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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  1. There is an epidemic of violence and killing in America. I feel that violent criminals should be incarcerated in order to protect society. not as vengeance or punishment. Education , healthcare, even employment and other comforts and opportunities should be available for the model inmates.

    There are consequences to our actions . Learning how to behave properly after taking or destroying a life may entitle a person to a shorter sentence so bringing back parole to Illinois might be appropriate, but trusting a violent person to live a righteous life outside of prison is a big ask. it seems too big a risk to potential victims to let out a violent offender early. especially if cost of incarceration is one of the factors influencing that viewpoint.

    Release for property crimes and other nonviolent offenses ( drugs , theft) would seem more reasonable. But our political system weights these offenses too heavily in my opinion and many especially the under represented languish in prison for too long for these types of crimes.

    A person forfeits their liberty through violent action that robs another of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The good of the whole of society should trump the good of an individual who has broken the social contract even if they have shown the ability to behave differently while paying their debt. A transfer to a minimum security facility might be in order, but parole? Dont injure or kill others. Dont go to prison. Dont ruin your life and the lives of others.

    Offenders who are the victim of the plea bargaining system or some other mitigating factor like age at time of offense might deserve an appeal post ipso facto, resulting in a judge and jury determining a different sentence. But a parole board is often too politicized to be considering what amounts to justice.

  2. The epidemic is of people believing things that just aren't true, then baldly stating them as if they were true, like your opening sentence. I probably don't have to point that out, because one consequence of often posting opinions that are harsh and mistaken is that people come to expect them from you.

    1. Thank you for sharing that information I came across this passage early in the report:
      This past year, a total of 16,554 law enforcement agencies reported Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data to the FBI. In 2019, there were an estimated 1,203,808 violent crimes and an estimated violent crime rate of 366.7 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. This represented a one percent decrease from the prior year. The FBI’s UCR data indicates that the violent crime rate dropped 0.7 percent in 2017 and 3.5 percent in 2018 from the prior years..

      1,203,808 ! Wow!
      But there was a decrease during the coevid pandemic when lots of people stayed home for a year.

      Good job law enforcement!

      1.2 million of something could qualify as an epidemic. Even when the total drops.

      Mercy is an aspiration. But not everyone is entitled to it.

      Violence is a disqualifier in my book.
      Plenty of others don't belong in jail. I think we should consider them first.

      And please let's consider the source. The orange one was chief then. The law and order president. Looking to show what a fine job of beating back lawlessness he was doing.
      Why you so quick to call me a liar dude? It clouds your assessment .
      I don't do that to you. Why?

    2. Again, you're maintaining something that has scant corollary in reality. I never call you a "liar" because that would imply intention to deceive. I have no idea what you're intentions are. You may be just unaware, or deceived.

    3. FME makes a lot of good points. But citing a Trump Justice Department press release boasting about their success in cutting violent crime in 2018 through 2020, eesh little cringe on that. This year shootings, carjackings, violent assaults, in South Loop, Near West, River North are a little to close for my comfort. We'll know if it's just my mind playing tricks on me, or FME, when the 2021 crime statistics are published.
      To learn more about Michael Simmons visit the IDOC inmate search. Select Last name, enter Simmons, and scroll to Michael born in 1978. In 1997 at the age of 19 convicted of felony firearm possession, he served 2 years. Then arrested for felony possession of controlled substances schedule 1&2. Sentenced to 4 years, got a break and served only 2 years before being released. Then in 2001 found guilty of murder, sentenced to 50 years.
      It is a matter of relying on someone's ability to get to know and judge that person’s character. I have a friend who owns an AR15, another who owns an AK47, and feel perfectly safe in their company. I'm reminded of Norman Mailer's advocacy for Jack Henry Abbott, author of "In the Belly of the Beast." After his early release Abott killed a waiter. Maybe if Mailer spent more time with Abbott instead of reading letters, he may have reached a different conclusion. If Katrina Burlet spent time with Simmons and is sure he is reformed, I'll be willing to trust her judgement. Like FME suggests, lesser crimes theft and drugs can have draconian sentences that need to be re-examined. It's appalling that so called white collar criminals can be sentenced to a few years in prison for stealing millions.

  3. I am a religious skeptic, but I am fascinated by the central thesis of Christianity, which is, as Katrina Burlet notes, a philosophy of forgiveness and redemption. A lovely notion. Yet, in a country which the religious right insists is a Christian nation, forgiveness is openly rejected by the political right as weakness. This is a mystery to me - but then dissonance doesn't seem to be a problem for that spectrum of the political landscape.

  4. It's pretty amazing to me that I was unaware that Illinois has not had a parole system the entire time I've lived here. Clearly, my never having given any considereation to that is another benefit of white privilege.

    "This is one of those debates where people of goodwill can have opposing views."

    Or not really even know what their view might be. I'm not sure what I think about the issue in general or the particular instance of the guy in question, though erring on the side of mercy sounds appealing.

    I'll just point out that the one-size-fits-all dictum of "no parole" seems like a poor fit with a judicial system that is so arcane, biased, money-influenced and often seemingly random that case-by-case analysis would always seem to be necessary.

    E.g., Mr. Simmons was sentenced to 50 years. I know nothing about his case, but theoretically, a person in his situation could have never been convicted, for whatever reason. He could have been sentenced to 30 years. Or 40, or 20, or life in prison. If he were rich and "connected", would he have gotten 50 years, even if found guilty? The likelihood that 50 years for him is *the* unassailable, appropriate sentence is just not credible, it seems to me, though I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to decide what is.

    On the other hand, if one is against the death penalty, as I am, there need to be assurances that sentences will not be tentative. Which is why I'm not sure what I think about this issue...

    1. I agree. so I did some reading . not about the killer but about the victim, Kurt Landrum. from all indications a fine human being . murdered in his home by two men committing a robbery. he's still dead.

      then I read about the trial and the appeal. they are still in prison.

    2. Where? I looked and found nothing about Kurt Landrum.

  5. Life without parole in a supermax prison for crimes of the Richard Speck magnitude seems a reasonable alternative to the death penalty. Otherwise, one can count among the pragmatic reasons for parole avoiding the expense of housing sick oldsters and the fact that the hope for parole is an incentive toward good behavior and self improvement.


  6. While this story doesn't indicate that the killer was Mr Simmons it's from the same year and the deceased name matches

    So it's possible that I'm just wrong and that there were other extenuating circumstances during the crime that would indicate Mr Simmons deserves parole or a reduced sentence?

    This was the only story I came up with

  7. I also found this which in the body of the text indicates that the circumstances involving Mr landrum's death at the hand of Mr Simmons were similar enough to be certain that these are the two people mentioned in your article today.

    It's pretty dull reading but it seems that Mr Simmons has been working to find any avenue for relief of his circumstances. And has possibly exhausted them all with no more recent attributions.

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  9. I'm sorry to continue to take up your time about this and I don't expect all of this to end up in the comments section because it's really communication just between me and you and I doubt others are really interested or overly concerned about the welfare of murderers so I'll try to just shut up now. Even though I still think you're calling me a liar about the epidemic of violence in America which again I found many many different outlets reporting on it and most of them are not poorly thought of or have ratings for fake news. Violent crime is a serious problem in America even the link that you sent me to dispute that assertion seems to agree that I might have some basis in fact when I made that assertion.

    I'm not trying to be a dick I thought reasonable people could disagree or whatever you said in your article today.

    I'm sorry you find me so unreasonable though I know I am from time to time it's certainly not my default setting I don't know how it's come to be yours to imagine me to be such a person. You don't know me

  10. Man the more I read about parole in Illinois I understand how complicated it is. Discretionary parole was abolished in 1978. No parole board hearings to determine release


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