Parole board draws heat from both sides
Weeks before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board voted on whether to parole convicted cop-killer Theodore Bacino, Senate Democrats attempted to change the makeup of the board by blocking the reappointment of former police officer Salvador Diaz.
Diaz had consistently voted to keep Bacino locked up.
The Democrats' move failed, Diaz got another term and the board voted in June to keep Bacino behind bars for another year.
The political maneuvering captured the attention of police organizations and individual crime victims, who all signed sent a letter to lawmakers in June saying the appointment process to the PRB “is beginning to lose credibility.”
“Convicted murderers and cop-killers, the unbelievably damaged families left behind, public safety, and the integrity of the criminal justice system are not political footballs to be played with in this manner,” wrote the group, which included the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Arguing on behalf of inmates, advocates say the parole board should give additional weight to a prisoner’s potential for rehabilitation and the lack of danger the prisoner would be to society.
“Our feeling is, given the length of time and the age of these offenders, that there are probably more individuals who under those criteria, if they were applied objectively, would be eligible for release than are being released,” said Malcolm Young, executive director of the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison watchdog group.
In the middle are the PRB’s 13 members, who are responsible for deciding whether to release the 260 prisoners who were sentenced before the state abolished indeterminate sentences in 1978. Under the old system, judges sentenced prisoners to a range of time in prison and the PRB decided when to release them.
About 95 percent of the remaining prisoners are murderers, said PRB attorney Ken Tupy.
PRB Chairman Jorge Montes, the second-longest serving board member, rejected the assertion that his board is undergoing any major philosophical shift. He said the board has recently been approving parole at a slower rate than in past years.
Over the last decade, the board released 307 inmates — an average of 2.6 prisoners a month, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The board has two vacancies because Gov. Rod Blagojevich has declined to fill open spots, so it takes just seven votes — rather than eight — for a prisoner to win parole.
Montes said any dramatic shift in the board’s view is a matter of perception.
“Some of the (recent) cases are a little bit more spectacular, perhaps,” he said. “Many of them involve police killers. But we released police killers before without much of (a) fanfare, when there was less attention on the board.”
Still, the Democrat-led push to block the re-appointment of Diaz for six more years on the board was just the latest effort to remove board members perceived as tough on prisoners. Last January, the Democrats successfully led the fight to remove John Stenson, a former Peoria police chief, from the board. And in March 2006, Democrat Blagojevich declined to reappoint James Donahue, a former Tazewell County sheriff, to another term.
After the unsuccessful push to oust Diaz, law enforcement groups mobilized with victim advocates like Terry Rudeen to keep pressure on the board to deny parole for the most heinous criminals. Bacino gunned down Rudeen’s husband, Winnebago County Deputy Michael Mayborne, after robbing a bank with another man in 1974.
Rudeen said she believed last year that the board was becoming more lenient on prisoners, but that it corrected itself this year. She said recent publicity surrounding cases such as Bacino forced them to reconsider whether those prisoners deserve freedom.
In June, the board voted 9-4 against Bacino’s request for parole, showing even less support than it did last year, when six members voted to free him.
“I agree with rehabilitation and trying to get people back into society to pay taxes and be productive,” Rudeen said. “But when it’s a heinous crime ... I think that’s when you throw away the key.”
Aaron Chambers can be reached at (217) 782-2959 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The parole board
Members of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, serve six-year terms. The board is responsible for deciding whether to release the 260 prisoners who were sentenced before the state abolished indeterminate sentences in 1978. Under the old system, judges sentenced prisoners to a range of time in prison and the PRB decided when to release them. Under the modern system, prisoners serve fixed sentences and the board sets conditions of release when those sentences are complete. The board currently has 13 members, as Gov. Rod Blagojevich has not filled two vacancies. Here are the members:
Jorge Montes (Chairman), a lawyer and former prosecutor appointed in 1994
Eric Althoff, a former downstate coroner and firefighter appointed in May 2003
Nancy Bridges-Mickelson, a former businesswoman who served state government in a variety of capacities, appointed in January 2001
Edward Bowers, a former police officer and hospital administrator appointed in March 2006
Salvador Diaz, a former Chicago police officer appointed in July 2005
Robert Dunne, a former state representative and businessman appointed in April 1999
Barbara (Hubbard) Dye, a former state prison and troubled-youth program administrator appointed in May 1992
Craig Findley, a former newspaper owner and publisher, as well as a former state representative and congressional aide, appointed in February 2001
David Frier, a retired political science professor who taught college-level classes at state and federal prisons, appointed in November 2002
Thomas Johnson, a lawyer, former prosecutor and state representative appointed in May 2004
Jesse Madison, a former consultant and state Senate adviser appointed in May 2004
Milton Maxwell, a career probation officer appointed in October 1993
Norman Sula, a former high school teacher and Lisle Township trustee, and career quality assurance engineer, appointed in November 2000
Geraldine Tyler, a career probation officer and former college professor appointed in May 2004
Source: Illinois Prisoner Review Board