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.