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Illinois Should Provide Aging Prisoners the Right to Apply for Parole

The Illinois General Assembly should pass Elder Parole legislation that would improve Illinois’ criminal justice system and potentially save millions of dollars that are being spent each year to incarcerate people who do not need to be in prison. This legislation would provide a process for older individuals to apply for parole where no parole opportunity currently exists.

Illinois provides no opportunity for parole for any person sentenced on or after February 1, 1978

• Parole was abolished in Illinois on February 1, 1978 for all persons sentenced on and after that date

• Illinois also has no “compassionate release” for individuals with terminal diseases or lengthy end of life medical conditions

• Executive clemency granted by the Governor is the only way to obtain early release in Illinois

Elder Parole legislation was introduced in the 2019-2020 session of the General Assembly by Representative Stava-Murray and by Senator Lightford. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced by Representative Stava-Murray and Senator Peters in the 2021-2022 session of the General Assembly. The expected legislation would allow the following persons to apply for parole:

  • Persons 60 years or older who have been imprisoned for at least 20 consecutive years, and

  • Persons who, regardless of age, who have served at least 25 consecutive years

None of these persons would be entitled to early release.

It would be up to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to decide, on an individual basis, whether any particular individual should be granted parole.

Laws that were passed in the 1970s and 1980s to increase the length of sentences, and to reduce the ability of individuals to shorten these sentences by showing rehabilitation, have resulted in a growing percentage of older persons in Illinois prisons. Many persons have “aged out” of criminal tendencies, and there should be a way for them to show that further imprisonment serves no valid purpose. These individuals would pose no threat to public safety if released, and could lead productive lives in society where they could contribute to their families, as well as to society by working and paying taxes, instead of requiring them to remain in prison, at great cost to the State.

Future blog posts will provide further detail on the potential cost savings and the public policy reasons for providing a parole opportunity to older persons who have been in prison for a significant number of years, and are ready to be released. Future posts will also include the perspectives of incarcerated persons who would be covered by the legislation.

Photo - Rear View of a Silhouette Man in Window by Donald Tong

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