The probation system is set up to frustrate, discourage, and jam up ex-offenders who truly want to turn their lives around. It is seriously broken and needs to be overhauled. This is unfortunate because it keeps the majority of ex-offenders (who are minorities), in the “system”—preventing them from securing a law-abiding future. This is not news to anyone but, having seen it first hand, it is nothing short of a bureaucratic bubble waiting to explode in the face of anyone determined to untether themselves from it.
My nephew made his expected “call in” to his parole officer (PO) a few days ago. As arranged, the officer was to come over and visit my nephew and ensure that he is doing well and following his parole agreement. Now, my nephew has made his share of mistakes and this was his first incarceration. Effectively ‘scared straight’, he immediately secured a job after release and has continued to work in the direction of stabilizing his life. His PO did not show up for that first meeting but instead, informed my nephew that he was no longer his contact and that someone else had been assigned his case.
After not hearing from the new parole officer, he called the State’s Department of Correction’s parole number. This time, instead of reaching the automated menu (the standard), all he got was a busy signal. After several attempts over a period of hours, we looked on the internet in an attempt to locate a brick and mortar building that we could visit for his check-in.
The purpose of parole is to keep track of men and women released from prison. The State must know where the parolee lives and works. It must ensure that all terms of the agreement are being met and they are staying out of trouble. This is crucial to prevent repeat offenses. This isn’t a one-way street because it also helps the parolee stay on track and focus on creating a better (crime free) existence. It’s a huge burden on the court system, parole board, and other officials to make sure this system runs as expected. When it doesn’t, the parolee runs a risk of “violating” their parole and returning back behind bars.
The other day I watched my nephew dance this precarious tango with the Department of Corrections. We were unable to locate any information on the State’s website that pointed us to an address. In fact, the information that was there was ambiguous at best. After calling Chicago’s 311 line, I was provided an alternative number and I passed it to my nephew. He called and was finally provided an address. Upon arriving there, we found that address was no longer a legitimate location. My nephew eventually remembered another ‘general’ location as a possibility. So not knowing for sure where we were going or if the location, like the one we’d just visited, would be open or not, we took a chance and went anyway. Driving down the street, looking for “official” looking buildings, we finally found a Department of Corrections location.
Once inside, he explained his situation and asked to be connected with his new PO. The employee seemed skeptical that he called the main number (and found it wasn’t operational), but she called his new PO. Unfortunately, she had to call four bad numbers before she finally reached him.
According the 2010 Census, Illinois reported 130,910 adults on probation and 33,162 people on parole. After what I’ve witnessed, I have to question how many revocations and absconders were due to individuals not having the proper information to enable them to check in and be compliant. Given the fact that funding for critical programs such as this is stretched to the limit, it is imperative that a solution to this problem be reached that ensures a smoother transition for parolees. Low cost and small fixes should include at minimum:
- The website providing updated information such as addresses for parole locations
- Keeping their main number and menus operational at all times
- Updating parole officer contact information (4 different numbers is inexcusable)
- Keeping in-home check-in appointments with parolees
My nephew was diligent in proactively locating his new Parole Officer. He is working now and maintaining healthy structure and balance in his life—determined not to violate his parole– “Once was enough for me” is his motto. It is my fervent hope that he does not fall through the ambiguous cracks of the State’s parole system.