The settlement of a lawsuit against the State of Illinois last month is excellent news for the 28,000 men and women who are currently on parole in the state. By early next year, people accused of violating their parole conditions may have the right to an attorney during the parole revocation process. This means that parolees will have a better chance of defending their case and might be able to avoid getting sent back to prison.

The Old Parole System Was Unfair to Offenders and Costly for the State

For years, the Illinois parole system was notorious for putting offenders at a disadvantage. According to Alexa Van Brunt, Clinical Assistant Professor at Northwestern University School of Law and attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center: “The Illinois parole revocation process has left alleged parole violators in the dark and unable to defend themselves. The vast majority lost their freedom in phony hearings that lasted only minutes and stripped them of their constitutional right to due process.”

It is debatable whether systematically incarcerating repeat offenders enhances public safety. While offenders cannot commit more crimes if they’re off the streets, the longer they stay in prison, the less likely they are to be rehabilitated. But one thing that both liberals and conservatives can agree on is that incarceration is expensive. Regarding the old parole revocation process, Attorney Van Brunt stated that the “system seems intent on keeping prison doors revolving … [and] has helped keep prisons overcrowded.”

According to Alan Mills, Executive Director of Uptown People’s Law Center: “With this settlement, we expect that many people will now win their parole revocation hearings, which will help relieve the massive overcrowding in Illinois prisons.” This, in turn, will allow the state to reallocate financial resources from incarceration towards rehabilitation programs.

What Are the Guarantees for Parolees Under the New System?

The MacArthur Justice Center and Uptown People’s Law Center filed a class action civil rights suit against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (IPRB) in 2013. In October, the CDC and IPRB settled the case and agreed to the following terms:

The state must provide parolees with a written notice of any parole violation accusations and give them written findings at each stage of the revocation process

The state must give parolees a chance to explain their side of the story at a preliminary hearing

If the preliminary hearing shows that it is likely that a parole violation did occur, the parolee can present his or her case at a final revocation hearing. If the preliminary hearing shows that a violation did not occur, the parolee will be released.

Parolees may be represented by legal counsel at both preliminary and final hearings

The state cannot unreasonably delay the scheduling of preliminary or final revocation hearings.

A third party will monitor whether IDOC and IPRB are implementing these changes

The citizens of Illinois will be able to raise objections to these settlement terms, and the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois will weigh these objections at a fairness hearing on January 25. It is likely that the court will give final approval to the settlement, in a move that will finally bring the Illinois parole revocation process in line with the Constitution’s requirement of due process.



Does the Illinois Sex Offender Registration Act violate the First Amendment right to free speech? The Illinois Supreme Court answered in the negative after considering the question in October of this year. This means that convicted sex offenders in Illinois still have to disclose all of their Internet accounts and usernames–from Facebook and Twitter to blogs and forums.

Sex Offenders Must Continue to Report their Online Accounts

The legal challenge to the Sex Offender Act came after an offender was arrested for failing to provide the authorities with his Facebook account information. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , the offender argued that the internet disclosure provision of the Sex Offender Act was unconstitutional, and “imposes tremendous burdens on the right to free speech on the Internet,” according to Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff counsel for the ACLU of Illinois.

In their view, requiring sex offenders to provide the authorities with “every single website on which they post information — from comments on newspaper articles to prayer requests on religious websites,” does little to increase public safety. Instead, “it inhibits offenders’ ability to rehabilitate and lead a positive, productive life.”

The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, stating that “the internet disclosure provision advances the substantial governmental interest of preventing sex offenses against children and protecting the public from the danger of recidivist sex offenders.” According to Judge Charles Freeman, who wrote for court’s opinion, the law is designed to not limit “more speech than necessary, or in other words, to lessen the number of unconstitutional applications.” For example, sex offenders don’t need to report whom they communicate with online.

The Government Can Limit Freedoms for the Sake of Public Health and Safety

In America, the government can limit constitutional freedoms–such as the right to free speech or the right to bear arms–when the regulation reasonably protects the health and safety of citizens. Courts must often balance people’s individual rights with the interests of the community.

The Illinois authorities have sided with the community in this case, but other states have ruled that similar internet disclosure laws were unconstitutional. These other states reasoned that requiring sex offenders to register their online accounts unduly interfered with their freedom of expression, while only marginally improving public safety because predators generally use private messaging–not forums or social media sites–to stalk their victims.

Illinois Sex Offenders Who Fail to Register Face Serious Penalties

According to 730 ILCS 150/3, a sex offender must provide the authorities with:

Current photograph

Current address

Current place of employment

Telephone number, including cell phone number

Employer’s telephone number

School attended

All e-mail addresses, instant messaging identities, and chat room identities

All Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) registered or used by the sex offender

All blogs and other Internet sites maintained by the sex offender or to which the sex offender has uploaded any content or posted any messages

A failure to meet these requirements is considered a Class 3 felony, punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and 2 to 5 years in prison.