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Elder Parole Legislation Introduced in Illinois Senate

On February 26, 2021, legislation to establish the right to apply for parole for older individuals with significant time in prison, and others who have served a lengthy period of time, was introduced in the Illinois Senate by Senator Robert Peters as Senate Bill 2120. The Bill has been referred to Assignments. This Bill is the Senate version of House Bill 2399, which was introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives on February 17, 2021 by Representative Anne Stava-Murray.

Many persons are unaware that parole was abolished in Illinois on February 1, 1978 for all persons sentenced on and after that date.

As a result of the abolition of parole in 1978, for over 40 years, persons sentenced to imprisonment in Illinois have had no parole process that would allow them to demonstrate rehabilitation and to apply for early release.

Following the abolition of parole, the increase in the prison population in Illinois has far outpaced the increase in Illinois’ total population.

The increase in the prison population was 270% from 1978 to 2019, while Illinois’ total population increased during the same period by only 11%.

The Illinois prison population has also aged considerably.

The percentage of incarcerated persons in Illinois who are 55 and older grew to 13.4% in 2020 from only 3.4% in 2005.

The two pending Bills, if enacted, would re-establish the right to apply for parole for a group of older persons and others those who have served a lengthy period of time.

This group consists of people who, as a result of their age, are statistically less likely than the general prison population to commit additional crimes after release. They are also, on average, the most costly persons to incarcerate due to the need for expensive medical care for the diseases of old age as well as for end of life care.

The two Bills would establish a right to apply for parole for (1) individuals who are 60 years of age or older and have served at least 20 consecutive years in prison, and (2) individuals who have served at least 25 consecutive years regardless of age. Factors to be addressed at parole hearings would include evidence of rehabilitation, character references and community support, participation in prison programs intended to prepare the person for release, disciplinary history while incarcerated, and plans for housing if release were granted. Victims’ families would be notified and given an opportunity to participate in the parole hearing. The Prisoner Review Board would then conduct a hearing and decide, by majority vote of the panel hearing the case, whether to grant release.

Photo: Gavel and Book with Copy Space on Table by Towfiqu barbhuiya

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