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Potential Cost Savings from Elder Parole Far Greater than Costs of Administration

On April 20, 2021, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB) filed a Fiscal Note on HB 2399 in response to a request by Rep. Wilhour. In the Fiscal Note, the PRB stated that HB 2399 will have an increased cost to the PRB of over $4 Million in the first 10 years of the program. This is an average of $400,000 per year for the PRB's costs of administering the new parole process.

However, unlike legislation that creates the need for expenditures without any offsetting cost savings, HB 2399, if enacted, would save State funds overall.

HB 2399 would create potential cost savings, through the reduction of incarceration, that would far outweigh the PRB's additional costs of administering the program.

The Bill provides a much-needed parole process that would allow persons incarcerated in Illinois prisons, who have served at least 20 years, to have a hearing to review whether they should be released early on parole. These persons would be entitled to a parole hearing, but no one would be released on parole unless the Prisoner Review Board decided to grant parole based on the person’s individual qualifications. During the first 3 years the law is in effect, persons who are at least 50 years old and have served 20 years will be prioritized for review. Statistically, older persons are the most expensive to incarcerate and least likely to re-offend.

The State is now bearing the costs of expensive medical care for the diseases of old age and end of life care, as well as accommodations for disabilities, for many older individuals for whom incarceration no longer serves a valid purpose. HB 2399 would permit persons who have served substantial time to be released while they are still able-bodied and capable of contributing to society, and before they have reached the stage of requiring constant medical care.

The failure to have a parole process such as the one that would be established by HB 2399 has resulted in the following conditions in Illinois prisons, which were described in a 2019 report by Dr. John Raba, an independent monitor appointed by the federal court in connection with a class action settlement:

“Men and women with various types of dementia, cerebrovascular accidents (CVA), advanced cancers, cardiovascular disease, and increasing fragility with risk of falls are housed in many of the IDOC facilities. The infirmaries are becoming filled with patient-inmates who are confused, incontinent, and require assistance with the basic activities of daily living including dressing, feeding, bathing, and toileting.”

In his most recent report dated February 15, 2021, Dr. Raba stated that little action had been taken or progress made since his earlier reports, and that from August 2019 to June 2020, the percentage of the prison population that is 50 years of age and older increased from 19% to 22%. He also observed:

“In the chart review of deaths in 2020 the Monitor found patients whose needs for care exceeded the capabilities of the facility, particularly skilled nursing, geriatric, hospice, and palliative care. The Monitor continues to ask the question why are these men and women incarcerated when they are so overtly and obviously no longer a danger to society.”

According to Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) prison population data, as of December 31, 2020, there were 1857 individuals who were in the category that would be prioritized for parole hearings during the first 3 years. The IDOC-published average cost of incarceration per person for fiscal 2020 was $34,362. At this rate, the cost of incarcerating these 1857 persons in 2020 was $63.8 million for a single year.

The Executive Director of the John Howard Association of Illinois has estimated that the average cost of incarcerating an older person can be more than twice as much as the average cost for all persons in Illinois prisons.

At twice the average cost, the cost of incarcerating these older persons was over $127 million per year. While not everyone who is entitled to a hearing would be granted parole, these figures show that there is a potential for significant cost savings by releasing persons who are determined by the Prisoner Review Board to no longer require incarceration, and that these savings would be repeated each year as long as the released person would have otherwise remained in prison.

Compared to a $400,000 additional annual cost of administering the new parole process, the potential savings, from reducing at least part of the $63 to over $127 million per year costs of continuing to incarcerate people who no longer need to be in prison, are far greater.

Photo: “Heap of different nominal per dollars” by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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