Elderly prisoners were not excluded from the unjust sentencing laws
passed during the 1980s and 1990s. "Get tough" politicians and prison
officials made sure that aging inmates served out their terms. In
Illinois, many of those sentences covered a range — 25 to ...
Elderly prisoners were not excluded from the unjust sentencing laws passed during the 1980s and 1990s. "Get tough" politicians and prison officials made sure that aging inmates served out their terms. In Illinois, many of those sentences covered a range — 25 to 50 years, for example— and were subject to a parole decision by the Prisoner Review Board. According to a new report from the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison watchdog group, the review board may be too stringent:
The Illinois Prisoner Review Board is too stingy in granting parole requests from the state’s longest-serving inmates, representatives of a prison watchdog group said Monday. [...]
“As long as the Prisoner Review Board emphasizes the original crime, rather than balancing that crime against proven rehabilitation of the prisoners ... justice will continue to fall short in Illinois,” said Malcolm Young, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association of Illinois.
According to the report, only 3.5 percent of inmates sentenced before 1978 have been paroled, leaving 300 inmates between the ages of 50 and 90 housed in the Illinois Department of Corrections' hands. These prisoners, many of whom have taken steps towards rehabiliation and aren't threatening to the public, present the greatest financial and health risks to a state racked with budget constraints. Via the AP:
Justice Department statistics show that the number of inmates in federal and state prisons age 55 and older shot up 33 percent from 2000 to 2005, the most recent year for which the data was available. That’s faster than the 9 percent growth overall. [...]
Rising prison health care costs — particularly for elderly inmates — helped fuel a 10 percent jump in state prison spending from fiscal year 2005 to 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That growth in spending is projected to continue, the group said.
Despite the low percentage of release, Prisoner Review Board chairman Jorge Montes defends his committee's decisions, claiming the board is “the most balanced that it’s ever been,” with more members who are willing to give rehabilitation “its appropriate weight." A bill currently circulating in the Illinois House -- which would enable those who’ve turned 50 and spent 25 years behind bars to seek a sentence reduction -- would go a long way to alleviating this glut, but it's facing opposition from the Chicago police union chief and Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine. WBEZ says legislators might revisit the bill next spring.