Gov. Pat Quinn is in damage-control mode following allegations that, under an unpublicized and discretionary
meritorious early prison release program, Department of Corrections
(DOC) officials shortened sentences for about 1,700 inmates some of
whom had killings or ...
Gov. Pat Quinn is in damage-control mode following allegations that, under an unpublicized and discretionary meritorious early prison release program, Department of Corrections (DOC) officials shortened sentences for about 1,700 inmates some of whom had killings or attempted murder on their criminal backgrounds. Moreover, the initiative circumvented an informal agency policy requiring inmates to serve at least 61 days. In response, the governor suspended a second, separate early release program two days ago, which was implemented in September for non-violent offenders. Today, he appointed a veteran Chicago police officer to oversee the system's release procedures.
Not surprisingly, as individual stories of crimes committed by early released prisoners surface, critics are having a field day pouncing on Quinn.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, suggested that the governor is "not qualified" to serve as the state's chief executive. And Democratic gubernatorial challenger Dan Hynes chimed in yesterday calling Quinn's explanations "dizzying." "We have 1,700 criminals, many of them dangerous, in our streets and communities right now," Hynes added, "and he he is not giving us the information."
Prison reformers aren't too pleased with the state of affairs at DOC, either. But their concerns are more structural -- and their ideas more forward-looking.
At a press conference at the Thompson Center today, a coalition of prison-reform groups, religious organizations, and lawyers called on state leaders to contextualize the early release program they are so intensely scrutinizing and throw more energy into creating a comprehensive plan to address the root causes of high incarceration rates and recidivism. "Early release is helpful ... but it's not risk-free," said Jean Maclean Snyder, an attorney who has represented mentally-ill prisoners at the Tamms Correctional Center. "And it's not risk-free because release is not risk-free." She added this important statistic: "Every year, 32,000 people are released from IDOC and, within three years, 17,000 come back." Watch:
(In the video, the "37 day" figure Snyder uses is a reference to the average sentence inmates received who took advantage of the MGT Push program.)
The coalition also unveiled a 10-point New Year's wish-list for the DOC. Among their recommendations are improvements to re-entry programs, medical care for inmates, and education programs. They also think a review of existing mental health policies is in order. "If these basic fundamental issues are not addressed," warned Stateville Speaks editor Bill Ryan, "there is a very real possibility that the Illinois correction system will go the way of California and simply implode." Now that is a very scary proposition.