Earned re-entry: Advocates fight to bring back parole in Illinois
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois is one of 16 states without parole or conditional freedom for prisoners. Democrats hope to reinstate the parole process next year, but it won’t be an easy task.
Over 5,000 people are serving life in prison in Illinois. The majority of those incarcerated are Black or Latino. Critics say this is due to Illinois leaders removing parole in 1978 as a supposed way to deter crime.
However, a proposal in Springfield could allow someone to go through the parole process if they’re 50 or older and have served at least 20 years in prison. If the plan becomes law, Illinois would eliminate the age limitation three years after the effective date. You can read the Senate companion bill here.
Victims and loved ones would be notified and given an opportunity to participate in the parole hearing, as well. Candidates would make a statement about why they earned discretionary reentry. Anyone appearing before the Prisoner Review Board must also show proof of rehabilitation and remorse for their crime.
“People need to understand they are human,” said advocate Mark Sommars. “We see them as just as much personally deserving second chances as you and I would deserve second chances in whatever it may be.”
Sommars said he has helped dozens of women at Central Illinois correctional centers improve their lives. He started to work as a lay minister after he retired in the 1980s.
Sommars said anyone can have a life-changing experience.
Crushion Stubbs said the wait to get out of prison can “drain you until there is nothing left.” He was incarcerated for 27 years for murder and said he had to start hoping for a better future. That’s why he wants people to have the opportunity for parole - he said it gives a chance for introspection on crimes committed years ago.
“You now start to identify and realize what went wrong, what happened and how much I’ve changed since that time,” Stubbs explained. “And you begin to make sense of this nonsense that happened.”
He is now an organizer and peer mentor for people released from prison who ask for resources from First Followers in Champaign. Stubbs points people in the right direction to find housing, transportation and jobs.
Although, Stubbs is most proud of his work with groups who speak up for those affected by mass incarceration.
“If the possibility of change is there, and it’s always there, why would you not review it? Where is your stick of measurement,” Stubbs asked. “Even in science, the only way you know something is growing or progressing or advances is through measurement.”
The movement to reinstate parole has gained more attention over the last year with support from Chance the Rapper and Common among others. Still, advocates know it could be challenging to pass the plan during a time where re-entry is politicized.
They stress that parole is not guaranteed release for anyone. It’s just the opportunity to appear before the Prisoner Review Board.
“I just wish that some of our politicians had more heart when it comes to areas like this,” Sommars said.
The legislation to reinstate parole gained support from some Democrats in the House and Senate this past session. Sponsors hope they can move the plan forward this spring.
Stubbs hopes to speak with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to help them understand why the status quo can’t stand.
“We shouldn’t throw away people,” Stubbs said. “These people are coming home. Whether physically or through the influence of other people, they’re coming. I’m telling you, I want my neighbor to be a better person than he was coming into the system.”
The Gray TV Capitol Bureau requested an interview with the lead sponsor of the House proposal. However, a spokesperson for Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) said she wasn’t available to speak on it until session starts next month.
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