Mag Mile hotel stabbing puts spotlight on parole system

November 19, 2012 3:26:00 PM PST
A violent crime during the heavily-attended Mag Mile Festival of Lights has the governor's office and state parole board running for cover.

Suspect Jimmy Harris, 56, has spent most of his adult life in various Illinois prisons and was on the street barely a week when he allegedly stabbed a suburban doctor.

Harris's right arm tattoo indicates that at some point he was a member in the Conservative Vice Lords street gang. He has a criminal record dating back to 1979 with at least five dozen arrests and nine felony convictions including robbery, burglary and aggravated battery.

During all of the past 33 years, Harris has been either in a state prison or on parole. His most recent felony conviction occurred in 2007 when during a grocery store robbery he used a shard of broken glass to stab a security guard.

He was paroled in August of this year but a month later in September was arrested for aggravated battery and sent to Stateville prison on a parole warrant.

When the battery charge was dismissed for an unknown reason, Harris's parole was re-instated on November 9. That's when he began using the Pacific Garden Mission for overnight shelter.

Then Saturday night during the lights festival, eight days after resuming his parole, police say Harris tried to cut the throat of an Oak Brook oncologist during a robbery in a Westin Hotel restroom.

"I don't know what happened. On the other end, I'm not casting aspersions on the parole system, but it's gotta be more difficult when somebody's homeless who's on parole and we've got to keep track of him to prevent things from happening," said Garry McCarthy, Chicago Police Superintendent.

A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn's office says Harris's release three months ago quote "had absolutely nothing to do with overcrowding" and that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board acted independent of the Department of Corrections.

A review board spokesman said the PRB cannot change an inmate's date of release. The 15-member board required only that Harris submit to "mandatory anger management counseling."

Harris is being held Monday night in the Cook County Jail. Soon after a likely state parole violation warrant is filed, he could be transferred back to Stateville.

His sentence for the 2007 robbery conviction does not end until 2015. The prisoner review says there are 20,000 inmates released from Illinois prisons each year, most of them returning to the Chicago area.