Should Illinois Reinstate Parole? Wheaton College graduate follows her faith, says the answer is yes
There is no parole in Illinois. I didn’t know it until Katrina Burlet told me.
âWe got rid of our parole system in 1978,â said Burlet, founder and executive director of the Justice Debate League, which encourages inmates to discuss public policy.
Along with Illinois, 15 other states have abolished parole. California, meanwhile, imposed mandatory parole and in August grabbed the headlines when a parole board voted to release Sirhan Sirhan, who murdered Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
This is one of those debates where people of good will may have opposing views. You could argue that Sirhan’s crime is so vile, not only in stifling the life of a father of eleven children but of a beloved leader who inspired millions, that he should never be free. I can see this.
Or you could say that 53 years in prison is a bountiful punishment, that keeping Sirhan in jail until his death won’t bring RFK back, that we are already an overly punitive nation, with 1.8 million incarcerations at any given time. I can see it too.
Burlet is lobbying Senate Bill 3233, which would allow convicted felons in Illinois who have served 20 years in prison, or a quarter of their sentence, to be eligible for a parole hearing.
“It restores parole for those serving the longest sentences,” she said.
People like Michael Simmons. Burlet came to this question after leading a debate program at the Stateville Correctional Center. I asked her to put me in touch with a prisoner who might be affected by changes in the law, and she proposed Simmons, convicted of murder in 2001 for killing Kurt Landrum in a robbery at Landrum’s home and sentenced to 50 years.
How did he manage to kill someone?
âMy case,â Simmons wrote, âwas not the result of a bad decision to participate in an incident that ultimately led to the death of a man. Long before that, other factors contributed to a mindset that lacked forethought and thoughtfulness. “
The strongest argument in favor of such a bill, in my opinion, besides the enormous cost of storing aging prisoners, is that people change sometimes, and just like Sirhan Sirhan at 77 does isn’t the 24-year-old who pulled the trigger, so Simmons in his forties isn’t the same man he was in his twenties. To keep someone in jail for a crime committed decades earlier is to feel the injustice of punishing one man for a crime committed by another.
While in prison, Simmons graduated from North Park University with a master’s degree in Christian ministry.
âI have changed,â Simmons wrote. He is due for release in 2052, but would like to be free before that “to have more opportunities to use my life experience as well as my education to help bring healing to individuals and communities”.
Sincere conversion? Prison scam? Your answer probably reflects more on yourself than on Simmons. Burlet certainly thinks he deserves the freedom. Why? She graduated from Wheaton College in 2015, and that fact struck me as crucial to her advocacy on this issue and this bill.
âFor me, this is 100% of my faith in Christ,â she agreed. âLiterally, it is the gospel. Jesus came so that all who have done bad things can be forgiven and live freely. I don’t understand why the whole church is not on forgiveness. Redemption is the gospel and we can actually practice these things.
Occasionally. Bill doesn’t exactly cross Springfield.
âLawmakers are not on board,â she admitted with a chuckle.
That’s because macho postures – all those TV commercials with Republican politicians blowing up with their AR-15s – have become the default in this country. You can’t go wrong speaking loudly. This is, as I said, an issue that people can take sides on from any side. Even Kennedy’s children separated on Sirhan’s parole, some arguing vigorously for his release, others insisting that he die in prison.
If I had to go down to one side, I would suggest we show mercy. The world has many faults, but being too nice isn’t one of them. The opportunity for the company to improve itself, just like the chance for ourselves to become better people, is always there, provided we work on it. If I remember correctly, it was a sentiment that RFK himself expressed.