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Bring back the chance of parole in Illinois

Columnist Neil Steinberg makes an excellent point: People and societies are always changing, and we always have room to develop our better selves.

The Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna, Illinois
Sun-Times Media

In a recent column, Neil Steinberg writes that he, like many other people, was unaware that “there is no parole in Illinois.” Or, more precisely, that since 1978 the state has had no general system of discretionary parole to review people for early release.

Steinberg also makes an excellent point: People and societies are always changing, and we always have room to develop our better selves.

This belief in change is precisely the rationale behind a proposed law pending in the Illinois Senate, the Earned Reentry bill — SB2333 — which would provide parole eligibility for people after they have been incarcerated for 20 or more years. The bill doesn’t guarantee release for anyone. It simply gives people the opportunity to have their status reviewed.

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My own support for Earned Reentry stems from the tremendous admiration I have gained for individuals who have been convicted of violent crime and, years later, turned their lives around and committed themselves to helping their communities. As a teacher and advocate, I have worked closely with incarcerated individuals who have battled with trauma from violent childhoods, mental illness, lives of homelessness and poverty. I have seen many of them reckon with their past mistakes and work hard to earn college degrees, mentor others, and try to reverse cycles of violence.

Earned Reentry, as set out in the bill, would give them hope that they may one day return home.

To date, 12 state senators and 16 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the Senate bill and its counterpart in the House, HB2399 (amendment 1). And almost 13,000 people have signed a petition to end death-by-incarceration in Illinois.

Why?

Because it makes no sense to warehouse thousands of people, decade after decade, at taxpayers expense, without ever reviewing whether their continued incarceration serves any purpose.

Because if nothing is changed, more than 5,000 people in this state will be required to grow old and die in prison, though many of them could be out supporting their families and leading productive lives.

And because sending deserving people home will help to heal families and communities, which is the only real basis of safety.

Shari Stone-Mediatore
Managing Director

Parole Illinois

Parole is about second chances

I wanted to thank Neil Steinberg for his compelling column about Senate Bill 2333, which would bring parole back to Illinois. It’s tempting to wonder why more legislators aren’t on board, but the truth is that I’ve come to expect very little of the people who hold political power.

They run. They win. They care only about running and winning and clinging to the spotlight, which is human nature. But this moment — the bringing back of the possibility of parole — calls for something bigger, something we can believe in.

Mistakes are the only way we grow. And fortunately for me, the circumstances of my upbringing allowed for my mistakes. I wasn’t battling poverty, or racism or misogyny. Violence wasn’t part of the landscape of my youth. I was lucky. But I can’t turn a blind eye now to those whose circumstances didn’t match the North Shore bubble of my upbringing.

People change. Circumstance change. I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of the pandemic, let alone 20 years ago. When it comes to mercy, I vote yes: Bring parole back to Illinois.

Second chances are the best part of life.

Greg Morelli, North Center

Most restaurants got no federal help

I am one of hundreds of thousands of restaurant owners who received zero relief from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund discussed in a recent Sun-Times editorial. While I very much appreciate your shedding light on the desperate plight so many of us restaurant owners are in, I and am disappointed in the headline over your editorial — “Restaurants need another federal rescue.” It gives the impression that restaurants already have received support and would just like more.

The brutal truth is that two-thirds of the restaurants that applied got no funding at all, and we are desperate for the government to do right by them and replenish the fund before our businesses go under. We are drowning in debt and losing hope as the pandemic continues.

On behalf of struggling restaurants everywhere, I respectfully ask for a revision, or an editorial note, clarifying the need. So many people read only headlines and get their impressions from there.

Janet and Alan Rhoades, City State Diner