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Birth of the C-numbers

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Dear editor,

In the February 16 issue the "No Mercy" article about C-numbers in Illinois prisons failed to explain why the Illinois parole board is now denying parole to prisoners who, irrespective of their crimes, were previously granted parole. The explanation goes back to 1976 when the Illinois legislature conducted hearings on what was wrong with our penal system. They published a summary of their findings which said in part:

"The disparities in judicial sentencing practices are compounded by the uncertainties and inequities caused by the capriciousness of arbitrary parole release decisions. By and large parole board decisions are drawn from fragmentary information relating to an inmate's pre-incarceration history, institutional behavior, and participation in and responsiveness to treatment, education and vocational programs, together with a brief interview averaging six minutes in Illinois. Seldom do parole boards apply these criteria with any uniformity. The parole board's failure to predict future criminality, which has been estimated by opponents to be one in every two cases, is therefore not surprising.

"The discretionary capriciousness and abuse is compounded by the parole board's vulnerability to political pressures, media and public criticism. Lack of established procedures made parole boards susceptible to the political ideology of the appointing authority, current public attitude towards crime and board members' own personal prejudices and preconceptions. It is these influences which have resulted in inconsistent policies varying from Governor to Governor and shifts in public attitudes.

"Instead of rehabilitating offenders and reducing crime this process results in an inequitable and erratic system affording little justice to the incarcerated or reasonable protection of the public."

"Summary of the Report to the Illinois House Judiciary II Committee by the Subcommittee on Adult Corrections," Springfield, Illinois, June 24, 1976, at page 5.

Based on this study Illinois changed to determinate sentencing, abandoning the parole system because the parole board members were doing more harm than good. But, being patronage jobs, the legislature was loath to eliminate this perk. And from this the C-numbers were born; the legislature simply left some prisoners under the old parole system, a system that affords "little justice."

William Heirens

Vienna, Illinois

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