Inmate files class action lawsuit accusing state agencies of failing to change parole review rules

Jonathan Bilyk Feb. 3, 2015, 2:43pm

A man 36 years into a 100-year-plus sentence for murder and armed robbery filed a class action lawsuit late last month against two state agencies he claims have ignored a 2010 state law requiring them to change the way the state evaluates inmate parole cases.

With the help of a legal team including lawyers from Northwestern University School of Law, Harrison Chancy filed the complaint Jan. 28, asking the Cook County Circuit Court to force the Illinois Department of Corrections and Illinois Prisoner Review Board to craft new standards for parole review as required by the five-year-old law.

Chancy, an inmate of Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, asked the court to allow him to serve as class representative for a group of more than 170 other so-called “C-number inmates” currently behind bars in Illinois under "indeterminate sentences" for convictions on charges brought before 1978, when the state changed the manner in which sentences would be handed down for new convictions.

In 1979, Chancy, then 19, was convicted of murder, armed robbery and burglary in connection with crimes he was accused of committing in 1977. He was sentenced to 100 to 300 years for murder, 25 to 50 years for armed robbery and 15 years for burglary, using the sentencing guidelines in place prior to the 1978 law.

According to the complaint, Chancy has maintained he is innocent of the crimes and has been denied parole each time his case has gone before the review board, covering 14 reviews dating back to 1988.

In 2013, Chancy’s parole was denied by a 7-6 vote, despite an “impeccable” behavioral record, consistent employment in prison, a detailed plan for rehabilitation and reentry into society following his release and eight years of “good-time credit” awarded him by the IDOC, the complaint asserts.

A year later, despite another year of good behavior and even more recommendations, including from his work supervisor in the IDOC, the suit contends the parole board voted 10-4 to deny his parole, and this time set his next hearing three years away for 2017.

The parole board then denied Chancy’s request through his attorney to reconsider its decision, as he argued the 2014 denial was an “arbitrary and unjustified vast departure from the 2013 hearing.”

aided by a legal team including J whose work has helped exonerate 10 wrongfully convicted men in high profile cases,

Chancy’s legal team argues the 2010 law should have made parole reviews, like Chancy’s, subject to a “statewide, standardized risk assessment tool.” The law, the Illinois Crime Reduction Act, required such standards be in place and in use by 2013.

Chancy’s lawyers submitted a letter to the state agencies, demanding they create such risk-assessment standards, as the law requires.

However, “as of the date of the filing of this complaint – two years after the date defendants were required to implement the terms of the Act – defendants are still failing to utilize a statewide, standardized risk assessment tool,” Chancy’s complaint asserts. “Defendants, therefore, are in clear violation of their duties mandated under the statute.”

The suit asks the court to declare the state agencies have violated the law and order them to comply by immediately employing the required risk-assessment standards and granting new parole hearings using those new standards to Chancy and other C-number inmates.

Chancy's legal team includes Joshua Tepfer, a law faculty member at Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth; David Shapiro, a faculty member at Northwestern’s MacArthur Justice Center; Alan Mills of Uptown People's Law Center; and Laura Kleinman of Schiff Hardin LLP.

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Organizations in this Story

Cook County Circuit Court
50 W Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602

Illinois Department of Corrections
1301 Concordia Ct
Springfield, IL 62702

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