IDOC Inmate Early Release & Agency Reform (Page Updated Jan 9, 2013)
This is good news! Looks like we are wrong to believe that IDOC plans to delay implementing the new early release program. Looks like maybe a month or so. This response from IDOC indicates that IDOC will continue to report it’s progress as time gets closer. Kudos to Kurt Erickson’s persistance coverage of this issue all the way along. He is the only reporter to consistently pester IDOC for the really useful information.
State readies for revamped early
prisoner release program
SPRINGFIELD — The Quinn administration began taking the first steps Wednesday to re-start an early inmate release program that could reduce the population of the state’s overcrowded prison system.
On Wednesday, a day after a special panel of lawmakers signed off on rules for the program, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said officials are beginning to review inmate records to determine which prisoners might be eligible for reduced sentences.
“This will be an ongoing, careful and thoughtful process,” Solano said in a prepared statement.
There is no set timetable for when the first prisoner might be released under the program, but the review of inmate information is a signal that the program could launch in the coming weeks.
The already crowded Illinois prison system became even more tightly packed after Gov. Pat Quinn suspended a similar early prisoner release program in 2010 after The Associated Press reported that inmates were being released after serving just a few weeks behind bars.
The cancellation has meant about 49,000 inmates are packed into a prison system designed to hold about 32,000 inmates.
In June, Quinn signed off on a new early release program approved earlier by the General Assembly. The law calls for offering good time credits to non-violent offenders who have participated in job training and drug rehabilitation programs.
Under the new law, prisoners must spend at least 60 days in prison before being considered for release.
“This program will provide an award of up to 180 days of sentence credit to statutorily eligible inmates who exhibit positive behavior and a potential for rehabilitation,” Solano noted.
The launch of the program comes as the state is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by inmates at the Vienna Correctional Center, who say overcrowding has resulted in unsafe living conditions, including vermin-infested living areas, mold and broken windows. Some of the problems have been fixed since the suit was filed.
The union representing correctional officers and other prison employees supports the new program because it could reduce tensions within the prison system.
“Offering good time can be a tool to keep prisons safe when it rewards good behavior and compliance with rules,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
But, said Lindall, “In practice, the Quinn administration’s track record on corrections is disurbing. We are approaching the implementation of a Quinn good time program with extreme caution.”
John Maki, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association, said the program will not resolve the state’s overcrowding problem, but it could give inmates an incentive to behave better while they are incarcerated.
“This is a small fix,” said Maki.
email@example.com . 217-782-4043
On January 8, 2013, JCAR approved the regulations IDOC submitted to it to regarding the new sentence credits and early release provisions. JCAR will issue the notice of rule approval to IDOC within the next 5 days. From that point on, it is up to IDOC, as to when it chooses to implement the new rules, issue inmates new sentence credits and begin the job of releasing qualified individuals up to six months early from their sentences. IF IDOC continues to remain silent about how much longer it may take them to do so, then, as we said below, we don’t expect it to move quickly, unless some catastrophe happens. Understandably, everyone is anxious for IDOC to start sending people home. The IDOC rumor mill will be swinging into overtime now. We just advise everyone not to get their hopes up too high yet until something definite happens. If you get a nice surprise sooner rather than later, then great! Meantime, just plan for a little longer of a wait, just in case. A notice of all rules approved at the January 8, 2013, JCAR meeting will be publicly released in the IL Register this Friday, January 11, 2013.
January 2013, and What is Ahead for IDOC Early Release?
6 months wasted with IDOC plodding along on implementing any Early Release. Obviously, Early Release and reducing IL prison overcrowding is not a priority with Governor Pat Quinn. IL prisoners are being needlessly housed under some of the worst facility conditions in the country due to Quinn’s disregard for their welfare after having put thousands of them in jeopardy when he single-handedly suspended IDOC’s prior Early Release programs a couple of years ago. Since then, our IL prison population has climbed dramatically and current prison closings taking effect will only exacberate the overcrowding. Quinn’s disinterest in solving the problem he helped create is shown by Erickson’s article below which details how slowly IDOC is moving to implement awarding of the new Sentence Credits. Contrast the lack of action on Sentence Credits with the pre-preparation effort IDOC made to move prisoners from Tamms and to close it and other facilities. IDOC did not delayed preplanning any closures and jumped to carry them out the moment court approval was granted. In the article below, IDOC won’t even commit to stating a date by which it will implement Early Release. Sure regulations need final approval by JCAR, but IDOC should still be able to issue a timetable for the rule-making to be final. It should also be able to state ways in which it has conducted other pre-planning so it can jump once the rules are final.
There is another reason why Governor Quinn may not urge IDOC to get on the ball about implementing Early Release as soon as possible: the Offender Initiative Program which became effective for the whole state on January 1, 2013. Governor Quinn signed this legislation into law on August 27, 2012, and probably expects that, starting now, fewer and fewer individuals will be convicted and sentenced to IL prisons. If the prison population rise tapers off due to the effect of this program, then Early Release may not be as important to decreasing overcrowding in IL prisons. If fewer people enter the correctional system, then normal inmate release dates may suffice to significantly reduce the prison population if inmates continue to be discharged and paroled at the usual rate.
The Offender Initiative Program should significantly reduce the population in minimun-security facilities. Individuals who are charged with a non-violent, first-felony of any of the below offenses are now eligible to participate in a deferred prosecution program in each county with the approval of both the county State’s Attorney and the defendant. If approved, the prosecution is suspended for 12 months, during which the defendant must not violate the law, possess a firearm or dangerous weapon, make restitution to any victim, work or perform 30 hours of community service, and work towards obtaining a GED or vocational training. If the defendant is successful in the program, they will not be convicted of a felony and their records can be expunged. Individuals are only eligible once for the program and if they re-offend within 5 years, their expunged records can be used against them in court. With this first-time chance to avoid a conviction applying to the largest categories of non-violent offenders presently entering IDOC, more prison space should be left to accomodate repeat offenders. Of course, some counties will be more eager to implement deferred prosecution than others, but as a cheaper and quicker alternative to some prosecutions, a big carrot is being waved at the counties that can unclog their criminal courts.
- Theft, 720 ILCS 5/16-1.
- Retail theft, 720 ILCS 5/16-25.
- Forgery, 720 ILCS 5/17-3.
- Possession of a stolen motor vehicle, 625 ILCS 5/4-103.
- Burglary, 720 ILCS 5/19-1.
- Possession of burglary tools, 720 ILCS 5/19-2.
- Possession of cannabis, 720 ILCS 550/4.
- Possession of a controlled substance, 720 ILCS 570/402.
- Possession of methamphetamine, 720 ILCS 646/60.
Obviously, political considerations are motivating Governor Quinn. Despite the new poll from Public Policy Polling confirming Quinn’s approval rating at just 25 percent and naming him the most un-popular governor in the country, Quinn seems to think he is doing a great job managing IL and that he has a chance at re-election. If Quinn remains the political animal he has shown himself thus far to be, he will continue to allow IDOC to drag it’s feet on awarding any new Sentence Credits. Quinn’s legislative ratings fell considerably during the legislative sessions this year due to the extreme and stubborn positions he has often taken. Yet, having gotten the approval for his prison closures which was once considered unattainable, Quinn has once again, gained enough authority to proceed as he wishes. Given the upcoming fiscal cliff political climate, attention will continue to be drawn away from IDOC. Despite the expectations and hopes of many inmates and the prison rumor mill working overtime, we advise readers not to expect IDOC to begin awarding Sentence Credits and implementing any Early Release prior to August 2013, (at the earliest). Barring any major disaster occurring to inmates (and becoming public) we expect there will continue to be little pressure on either IDOC or Quinn to become accountable.
No prisoners released early 6 months after law signed
SPRINGFIELD — More than six months have passed since Gov. Pat Quinn approved legislation designed to ease overcrowding within the state’s bursting-at-the-seams prison system.
But, the new law, approved by lawmakers last spring and signed by Quinn last summer, has not yet resulted in a single inmate being sent home early.
Rather, bureaucrats at the Illinois Department of Corrections and an obscure panel of lawmakers are still working out the rules that could someday put the release of prisoners in motion.
And, although Quinn is in the process of squeezing more prisoners into less space by closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight, officials say they don’t know when the program might begin.
“There is no firm timetable set for the implementation at this time,” said Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano.
On June 22, Quinn approved the legislation that would reinstate a prisoner sentence credit program he cancelled during his bid for governor three years ago.
Under past practice, inmates could receive credits toward an early release based on things like good behavior, their record of not committing violence and any classes they took behind bars.
But, in 2009, an Associated Press report revealed that some inmates were being released just weeks or even days after their arrival. Quinn canceled the program.
Since then, the number of inmates residing within the state’s sprawling prison system has mushroomed, with about 49,000 prisoners packed into space built to house about 32,000.
Alan Mills, a Chicago attorney who represents three inmates who have served time at the Vienna Correctional Center and are suing the state because of its overcrowded conditions, said the state will see immediate benefits once the program is running.
In the lawsuit, the inmates say their bunkhouse has been infested by vermin and mold. Broken windows were covered with plywood. Some of the problems have since been fixed.
“If the department would begin implementing the law passed by the legislature … then it could close down Building 19 at Vienna, where prisoners are housed in an old warehouse, stop housing people in basements flooded with sewage at Vandalia, and begin offering programming like basic education, drug treatment, and medical and mental health treatment, that would reduce the current 50 percent recidivism rate,” Mills said in an email.
The delays associated with getting the program up and running are not uncommon in state government.
Once signed into law, the measure went to officials within Corrections to be drafted into a set of workable rules. In October, the proposed rules were submitted to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which includes members of the House and Senate.
The panel could vote to approve the rules as early as Jan. 8. But, even if they get a green light at that time, Corrections officials still would have until October 2013 to implement the guidelines.
In the meantime, Quinn is moving forward with the controversial closure of prisons. The “supermax” facility in Tamms is nearly empty of inmates and will close on Jan. 4.
The all-female Dwight Correctional Center also is set to close, but a firm date has not been released.
Together, the two facilities comprise the loss of nearly 1,400 beds in the crowded system.
Despite the slow pace, Solano said agency officials support the new early release program and are hopeful it will serve as an incentive for inmates to be on their best behavior while serving their time.
“This sentence credit law increases accountability in the state’s prison system by setting new guidelines in place that further strengthen the Department’s ability to promote positive offender behavior through the award of sentence credit and allows the Department to revoke credit if the offender is not compliant with rules,” Solano said in an email.
In addition to behavior, Corrections officials will consider and evaluate an inmate’s prior offenses as well as the offender’s potential for rehabilitation.
The new law also expands the number of programs an inmate can participate in and receive sentence credit and grants inmates credit for programs they might have taken while awaiting trial at a county lockup.
Early Release, Good Time, SB 2621, Otherwise known as
new Sentence Credits was Signed by Governor Pat Quinn into
law on June 22, 2012, and, when implemented
allows for Early Release of Illinois IDOC inmates
Senate Bill 2621 passed the IL legislature, and is before
Governor Pat Quinn for his signature!
It’s official! As anticipated, the IL House passed Senate Bill 2621, by a vote of 68 -50, authorizing the Department of Corrections to issue sentence credits which can lead to the early release for inmates eligible under the terms of the bill. The bill is now before Governor Pat Quinn for possible signature. Quinn has 60 days to either sign it or indicate his opposition to it; or he can automatically allow it to become law. While this is great news for all incarcerated in the overcrowded IL state prisons, the bill still needs Quinn’s approval and then to be implememented. It is unknown right now if Quinn will sign the bill into law; he has not indicated past support for the bill or any inclination that he will work to implement any form of early release. If signed the law will head to Rules and Regulations for work before IDOC changes are begun. As we have said before, even in the most optimistic scenario, readers should not look for any sentence shortening to begin till after the November 2012 elections and possibly even some time in 2013. Still, this is wonderful and long anticipated news! Congradulations to everyone who has worked so hard for so long to try to reinstate some form or early release for IL inmates!
Here is the link to the whole piece of SB 2621`legislation. Readers will have to scrutinize it carefully to determine just who is eligible for what:
Click here for SB 2621 info
Replaces everything after the enacting clause. Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Changes the references to "good conduct credit" and "early release" on felony sentences to "sentence credit", and the references to "good conduct for meritorious service" to "sentence credit for good conduct". Provides that the Department of Corrections shall provide annual reports to the Governor and General Assembly on award, amount, holding offenses, and revocation of sentence credit for good conduct. Provides that the rules and regulations for sentence credit shall provide that the sentence credit accumulated and retained by an inmate during specific periods of time in which the inmate is engaged full-time in behavior modification programs or life skills courses and satisfactorily completes the assigned program as determined by the standards of the Department of Corrections shall be multiplied by a factor of 1.50 for program participation. Provides that the rules and regulations shall also provide that sentence credit, subject to the same offense limits and multiplier, may be provided to an inmate who was held in pre-trial detention prior to his or her current commitment to the Department of Corrections and successfully completed a full-time 60 day or longer substance abuse program, educational program, behavior modification program, or life skills course provided by a county department of corrections or county jail. Requires the county program credit to be calculated at sentencing and included in the sentencing order. Deletes prohibition on an inmate receiving additional sentence credit for time spent in an educational or training program if the inmate previously served more than one prior sentence for a felony in an adult correctional facility. Provides that the Department may also award 60 days of sentence credit to any committed person who passed the high school level Test of General Educational Development (GED) while he or she was held in pre-trial detention prior to the current commitment to the Department of Corrections. Provides that the Department’s rules and regulations for revoking sentence credit, includes revocation of sentence credit for good conduct. Effective upon becoming law.
Senate Floor Amendment No. 4
Provides that eligible inmates for an award of sentence credit for specific instances of good conduct may be selected to receive the credit at the Director’s or his or her designee’s sole discretion. Provides that consideration may be based on, but not limited to, any available risk-assessment analysis on the inmate, any history of conviction for violent crimes as defined by the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act, facts and circumstances of the inmate’s holding offense or offenses, and the potential for rehabilitation. Restores language that no inmate shall be eligible for the additional good conduct credit in which the inmate is engaged full-time in substance abuse programs, correctional industry assignments, educational programs, behavior modification programs, life skills courses, or re-entry planning who (i) has previously received increased good conduct credit for that participation and has subsequently been convicted of a felony, or (ii) has previously served more than one prior sentence of imprisonment for a felony in an adult correctional facility.</a>
Quinn to Close Tamms, Dwight, Southern IL and Westside ATC’s
by August 31, 2012!
Quinn announced on June 19, 2012, that he intends to go ahead and close most of the corrections facilities that he has threatened with closure. Read our current article regarding the closures here.
One mention in the articles listed above is that Quinn may need to go ahead and sign SB 2621 in order to be able to implement these facility closures by August 31, 2012. This would be nice, but Quinn has given no indication that he is in any hurry to sign SB 2621, and, even if he signs it quickly, it is doubtful that it could be implemented in time to have any effectiveness to facilitate the closures.
Yes, Early Release is possible, but will it happen?
After many false hopes and promises, for the first time since December 2009, it looks like the legal mechanism or fix required to allow the IL Department of Corrections (IDOC) to reinstate some form of early release for certain, well-behaved, non-violent prisoners will happen shortly. In the next few days, through a ground-swell of bipartisan effort, the Illinois legislature will likely show it’s compassion for the thousands of Illinois inmates and their families who have suffered prison overcrowding and worsening prison conditions simply because they have been stuck in IDOC at the wrong time, after Governor Pat Quinn’s suspension of all IDOC awarding of Meritorious Good Time credits (MGT)(which previously allowed prisoner sentences to be shortened).
The state legislature’s action is a tribute to the many individuals and organizations which have worked so hard to educate our legislative members regarding the punitive nature and counter-productive effects of Quinn’s actions in eliminating MGT. Just about everybody dealing with some aspect of the state criminal justice system devoted their time and energies to contacting legislators and encouraging them to piece together the individual aspects of Senate Bill 2621. The bill is likely to squeak by and pass both houses before the May 31st end of the legislative session. (Read article below)
The real question is: Will Senate Bill 2621 be signed and implemented by Governor Pat Quinn?
Senate Bill 2621 has a lot of fanfare going for it, but it will not be the panacea for anyone serving less than a year in IDOC now. Readers with a short sentence cannot depend on the Governor either signing the bill or implementing it. Quinn will have up to six months to decide if he wants to sign the bill into law in the first place. While he is likely to face public pressure to sign the bill, Quinn has been known to procrastinate to the max when he really does not want to do something, and it has become apparent to many observers that Governor Quinn does not like the idea of any early release program going into effect under his stewardship.
All along, Governor Quinn has really been arguably two-faced about the reinstatement of MGT or any sort of early release program. As the January 2012, Illinois Issues article below points out, whenever prodded, Quinn has paid lip-service to the urgency of IDOC resolving the issue of the MGT suspension. Yet, time after time, IDOC under Quinn failed to develop any program or take any of the steps needed to reinstate early release. When finally cornered, the Quinn administration countered with the assertion that he could not authorize any early release program permitting eligibility to any violent offender.
Well, Senate Bill 2621 and state legislators, naively or otherwise, are calling Quinn’s bluff, by giving him law to enforce which will meet the provisions which Quinn set forth for early release. It remains to be seen how Quinn will respond. Our bet is that Quinn will delay signage of the bill at least for several months and then implement it slowly, if at all. Our guesstimation is that readers should not look for an implementation of early release before this November and more probably not until sometime in 2013. Our impression is that Quinn believes that he fulfilled his obligation to state prisoners when he abolished the Death Penalty in IL, and that he feels that the rest of state prisoners are responsible for where they happen to be. We are certain that Quinn will continue to come up with plenty of sleight-of-hand excuses to distract us from his deliberate inaction regarding early release and worsening prison conditions.
In the meantime, hard-won legislative victories such as Senate Bill 2621 are really few and far between, so give yourselves a big round of applause!
Gov. Quinn takes a pass on early prison release plan
by Jamey Dunn
Instead of using what arguably was the biggest scandal during his time in office as a chance to reform a broken system, Gov. Pat Quinn stuck his head in the sand as Illinois’ prison population reached an all-time high.
An escalated version of the Meritorious Good Time early prisoner release program, dubbed MGT “Push,” became the subject of controversy in 2009 and a talking point for Republicans during the 2010 general election. The Associated Press uncovered an administrative tweak to the program that allowed prisoners to apply credit for good behavior to their sentences almost immediately. Previously, the Illinois Department of Corrections had required prisoners to wait 61 days before using any such credits. Under MGT Push, the waiting period was changed to 11 days. So, many of those sentenced to short terms were released before they moved on to the corrections system.
The state released 1,745 prisoners under MGT Push. On average, they served 36 fewer days than their sentences. The AP found that some inmates released under the plan had violent records. The DOC also failed to properly notify local law enforcement officials when prisoners were being released. In some cases, notification was not given at all. According to a report from Quinn’s office: “MGT Push resulted in the earlier release of hundreds of inmates, including more than 100 serving sentences for violent offenses, after as few as 11 days in DOC custody.” The revelation resulted in negative press for Quinn heading into his first bid to be elected governor.
So he did what any politician — and reasonable executive — would do in the same situation. He halted all early release programs and ordered a top to bottom review. Quinn brought in Judge David Erickson to work on a panel that took a look at the Meritorious Good Time program. Erickson concluded that the Quinn administration had taken a flawed program and made it worse. The report said that the focus of the program should be a rewards system meant to encourage good behavior and a desire for
rehabilitation, not just a way to cut down on numbers. “The department must fundamentally change its attitude and approach toward MGT credit awards. Despite Illinois’ dire economic state and the very real need to maximize control of facilities, these programs should not simply be population pressure release valves; they must be, first and foremost, a means to incent and reward good conduct that shows a genuine rehabilitative intent. This will not only benefit the individual inmate but also the community he or she will reenter.”
At the time of the report, Quinn vowed to fix the program. “These problems at the Department of Corrections are systemic, they’re longstanding, there’s lots of flaws, they need to be corrected. And I’m going to do that,” Quinn said. But two years later, the DOC has no plans to start a new-and-improved Meritorious Good Time program in the foreseeable future. As a result, advocates say that overcrowding, especially at lower security prisons, is getting worse. According to a spokesperson for the DOC, the prison population has not substantially changed since it reached its peak of 48,743 in May 2011. An October quarterly report from the department projects that the population will reach 49,615 by September 2012.
Malcolm Young, who serves on an advisory board for DOC, says that after the MGT Push scandal, word from the Quinn administration was that there were plans to reform and relaunch the Meritorious Good Time Program, but he says “nothing materialized.”
Young, who is also director of the Program for Prison Reentry Strategies with the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, says: “The fact that it hasn’t been done yet, it’s actually kind of mind boggling.”
“When a window for reform opens, it can close very quickly,” says John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison watchdog group.
Maki says that in the wake of the MGT Push scandal, the idea of reinstating an early release program is a nonstarter with the Quinn administration. “It is dead,” he says. “It’s politically poisonous.” Maki and other advocates argue that the program has been in use in Illinois since the 1970s as a way to control prison populations as well as encourage good behavior from prisoners. “MGT was around for 30-plus years. It was something that administrations from both parties used. It was noncontroversial. … This is a standard practice in corrections.”
He says that overcrowding in Illinois prisons is by no means caused by the lack of an early release program for the last two years. He says the problem is a result of “decades of bad laws and policies” that will take a “multi-pronged solution” to tackle. However, he says that reinstating the Meritorious Good Time program could help to address serious problems at some of the state’s minimum- and medium-security lockups. “The minimum [security prisons] don’t tend to get a lot of press and don’t get a lot of attention.” But Maki says his group, which tours correctional facilities and issues reports on them, has found “inhumane” conditions at some of the lower security facilities. He says these offenders, who are often not locked up for violent crimes, would be the ideal candidates for early release based on good behavior.
He points to the association’s review of the Vandalia Correctional Center in 2011. The minimum-security prison was designed to hold 1,100 but instead holds 1,748. The state considers the prison to be at operational capacity. However, when association monitors visited the facility, inmates were housed in standing water in rain-flooded basements. The association’s report links the conditions directly to the state’s lack of a Meritorious Good Time program. “[John Howard Association monitors] found the conditions in these lower-level dormitory basements to be unsafe, unsanitary and unacceptable. The blame lies not with Vandalia’s administration, however, but with the Illinois governor and legislature, who created this deplorable situation. The suspension of Meritorious Good Time credit (MGT) in December 2010 by the Illinois governor has greatly exacerbated prison overcrowding — particularly in minimum- security facilities like Vandalia, whose low-level, non-violent offender populations are most affected by MGT’s suspension. Despite this crisis in overcrowding, the governor and legislature have refused to address the issue or take prudent action to replace MGT,” the report said.
“As a direct result of MGT’s suspension, Vandalia was forced to absorb more than 300 additional inmates into a facility already bursting at its seams with a population that far exceeds its design capacity. Consequently, the only place to house the additional inmates is in dormitory basements, which [monitors] found to be neither safe nor suitable as living quarters.”
Maki said that during a recent visit to the Vienna Correctional Center, another minimum-security prison, monitors found a similar situation, with inmates being housed in a lower level that had broken windows and was infested with cockroaches, birds and mice. According to the DOC, Vienna, which was designed to hold 925, has a population of 1,902. The state says that the prison has a so-called operational capacity of 1,887. As of press time, the John Howard Association had yet to release its report on the Vienna facility.
The state’s classification of operational capacity started popping up in reports last year. It is defined in DOC reports as “the maximum number of inmates a facility can hold.” The “design” or “rated” capacity of a facility is the capacity of the institution when it was built. The design capacity of the state corrections system is 33,703, but the operational capacity is 51,229. So according to the DOC, there’s room left.
“We’re not there yet,” says Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for DOC. “We’re still maintaining our numbers under that threshold.” Elman said Quinn’s administration knows there is work to be done. She says DOC is focusing on other tools, such as Adult Redeploy Illinois. That program is based on the successful juvenile model, which seeks to rehabilitate offenders through community programs, such as addiction counseling, instead of prison time.
However, Maki, Young and Erickson agree that good time credits can be used as a tool to reward positive behavior in prisoners and encourage them to work toward rehabilitation.
“Illinois is pretty much at a crisis in terms of overcrowding. I think that it’s not being acknowledged by the administration,” Young says. While the state seems to have adopted a policy of denial when it comes to the problems in its corrections system, Illinoisans are also culpable. We cannot have unrealistic expectations of our state. We must demand that our government act in a competent, humane and open way. What we cannot demand is that it protects us from every evil that could potentially befall us. But few of us want to live in a society that locks up all criminals and throws away the key. And even if we do, we simply cannot afford it unless we want to fund nothing but prison costs.
Unfortunately, this forces us to confront inherent risks of our society. Some criminals will reform, and some will reoffend. Focused screening and requirements for early release, which exclude violent offenders from eligibility, and programs that can help inmates make the difficult transition back into society can improve the odds. But we have to accept that some people who get out will offend again and sometimes even violently.
Maki says that public backlash over scandals in the criminal justice system stem from the basic human desire of all individuals “wanting to protect themselves, their families and their loved ones.” However, he says that instead of being reactionary, we must look to what works. “Incarcerating this many people does not keep you safe,’’ because prisoners at present lack access to rehabilitation programs.
While half-baked plans such as MGT Push, which was carried out sloppily and without public notifications, spur righteous outrage, such high profile scandals should not bar the way for effective policies geared toward real goals: encouraging rehabilitation, improving prison conditions and spending less money on incarceration. It seems the Meritorious Good Time program needs some work, as well as some changes to the law, to become focused on such goals. But having survived the scandal of MGT Push, Quinn could be just the guy to get the ball rolling.
Illinois Issues, January 2012
The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is overflowing with prisoners and can no longer afford to house the many non-violent offenders needlessly imprisoned in Illinois. Locking people up and throwing away the key is no longer the answer to crime. It burdens the public with expense, and non-violent offenders are not rehabilitated. Prison has been found to be the necessity only for violent, repeat offenders who require incarceration in the interests of public safety.
Severe budget shortfalls and forced IDOC staff reductions are making IDOC want to reduce Illinois inmate populations to manageable levels. IDOC Director, Michael Randle, in conjunction with the directives of Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn was moving IDOC in a new direction in reforming IDOC and establishing policies to encourage the “early release” of low-status offenders. Randle was replaced with Gladyse Taylor, by Quinn in September 2010, and Quinn announced he will no longer use Early Release programs to reduce the IDOC population. Other states are beginning to use Early Release programs to reduce prison populations, but until the political consensus in IL reverses and overcomes the negative press from the last Early Release attempt, no Early Release program will happen in Illinois.
Gladyse Taylor merely babysat the department, and Quinn did not name her final IDOC Director. Instead, on April 25, 2011, Governor Quinn nominated Salvador “Tony” Godinez to lead the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Last, the executive director of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department of Corrections, Godinez has spent 37 years working in the correctional system, including as warden of Stateville Correctional Center, as well as chief of operations and chief of staff at IDOC. Godinez is a “no nonsense, experienced IDOC staffer— an old pro. Consensus within corrections is that “he is a safe pick…won’t shake things up, but sure as hell won’t screw things up either. No MGT Push surprises out of this guy. Boring is good in corrections.” Godinez was easily confirmed by the IL General Assembly, and has been following the policy set out by Quinn, but has at least been making some honest statements.
On October 8, 2010, Quinn stated that his emphasis to reduce the swelling prison population will be on “on alternative sentencing, boot camps, working with local law enforcement and local sheriffs to not have people come into the state prison at all.” Up to this point, we have seen no initiatives from Quinn. Local counties still control alternative sentencing options and with local and county budgets been hit, these alternatives are increasingly being eliminated and not expanded.
IDOC officials indicated for over a year that the revamping of MGT is IDOC’s top priority and that it involves a number of related steps in order to complete. This has pretty much now been debunked as political spin intended to distract the public away from Quinn’s reluctance to address prison overcrowding and reinstate any form of an early release program.
Quinn may have a few more unpleasant surprises up his sleeve. Last year he pushed hard for a state tax increase and got it, but it did not solve the state’s fiscal problems. Illinois is more in the hole than ever, and there are no more magic rabbits for Quinn. Now, his only solutions are to cut state expenses and increase the state’s efficiency, and he is starting to move in ways which may be ruthless. Quinn had seven state facilities on the chopping block for closure last year. Their closures were averted at the time, but now a whole new list of closures are proposed and some will probably carry through no matter what happens with the state budget.
Supposedly, there has been a statewide push for several years for circuit courts and counties to develop local programs to recognize and correct the problem of persons being sent to prison who either do not need to be there in the first place or who do not benefit by being in prison. While it is known that some individuals are dangerous to society or deserving of severe punishment; IL prisons today are largely filled with more minor offenders who are not rehabilitated but simply warehoused by state prison. Adult Redeploy was designed to create funding methods for communities to develop alternative court supervision and rehabilitative programs to reserve state prison for serious and dangerous offenders.
Some communities deserve credit for getting their jail populations under control, because they have been proactive in realizing that it is better to rehabilitate rather than punish the citizens who ultimately return to their communities. Other communities have continued to deal harshly with offenders and are just beginning to consider their options as they are finding that they cannot afford the costs of jailing everyone. Unfortunately, much better progress could have been made with Adult Redeploy up to this point in time. Now, if the state also throws responsibility for prison inmates upon these localities, it may swamp them. Not only that, but the state and these localities will face the public unwillingness to host inmates since these localities have been trained for years to criminalize offenders.
The chickens are coming home to roost for IL. On the one hand the state is running out of money as the prison population continues to climb; on the other hand, electoral rhetoric and “Get tough on Crime” politics have created a public atmosphere which is unreceptive to the degree of mindset change required to deal with prison overcrowding and avoid the embarrassing lawsuits and costly effects it has has in other states.
We will continue to update information as events unfold, but at this point, readers should not expect implementation of any early release program until after the November 2012 elections and possibly 2013.
AP Exclusive: Lawmakers seek prison crowding fix
FILE – In this April 2004 file photo, eighty-six inmates share a dormitory at the minimum-security Vandalia Prison in Vandalia, Ill. With Illinois’ prison population continuing to rise and Gov. Pat Quinn refusing to reinstate a program that gave well-behaved prisoners early release, lawmakers from both parties are pushing plans this spring to find alternatives to incarceration or other ideas to reduce the state’s packed lockups. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman,File) — AP
By JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer
3:23 p.m., Jan. 20, 2012
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Lawmakers from both parties are seeking ways to reduce Illinois’ growing prison population, and one has introduced legislation to restart a contentious program that let well-behaved prisoners out early.
Gov. Pat Quinn shut down the 30-year-old early release program after The Associated Press reported in 2009 that prison officials had implemented an unpublicized, accelerated version that was springing criminals in as little as eight days.
He has shown no interest in reviving it, but least one legislator is looking at it again as the prison population has grown by 3,000 inmates in two years. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers is meeting with Quinn to find solutions more palatable to the governor and the public.
Conditions inside state prisons are “wretched,” according to John Maki, executive director of the prison watchdog group John Howard Association. Monitoring visits to Illinois lockups in the past year have revealed inmates housed in gymnasiums, standing water in living quarters and rodent problems.
Illinois is not alone in trying to address prison crowding. An August report by the American Civil Liberties Union identified six states that have adopted laws in the past five years to decrease prison populations, with four more working on the issues. One of the more popular tacks among reform states is to expand good-conduct credit, including in Kentucky and Ohio just last year.
Prison advocates nationwide generally support early release as one solution to overcrowding, and Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, has introduced legislation that would restore Illinois’ accelerated early-release program. But the governor previously has said he won’t go along with that, even with new controls imposed by lawmakers, after problems with the program nearly cost him reelection in 2010.
Instead, Quinn’s staff has been working with a group of legislators who plan to pick up the pace when the General Assembly resumes its work later this month. Some told the AP they hope to have a solution by the end of the spring session.
The group includes Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a law-and-order legislator who speaks of being “smart on crime” and advocates alternative sentencing, such as treatment for first- or second-time substance abusers.
“Put them into community-based programs with ankle bracelets, into treatment centers or halfway houses where they can get job counseling or programming to put them back into a productive life,” the Elmhurst Republican said.
As of November, there were 48,620 people incarcerated in Illinois, 144 percent more than the 33,700 for which space was designed, according to the Corrections Department. But department officials now play down those numbers, saying “operational capacity” is about 51,200. That’s after the agency began counting how many people a facility can actually hold, along with what it was designed to house.
For decades in Illinois, the director of the Corrections Department had the discretion to cut sentences with “meritorious good time,” or MGT, by up to six months for an inmate who displayed good behavior behind bars.
But Quinn abandoned the practice in December 2009 after the AP reported that the agency secretly dropped an informal requirement that all incoming inmates serve 60 days behind bars before getting good-time credit in a plan dubbed “MGT Push.” More than 1,700 inmates were released under that program, and some went on to commit more crimes.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Derrick King, for example, was sentenced to three years in prison for a brutal attack on a woman in 2008. He served about a year in county jail and 14 days in state prison before he was released in October 2009 under MGT Push and then arrested the next day on suspicion of assault and sent back to prison.
Lawmakers later put the 60-day minimum sentence requirement into law. An independent review of the accelerated early-release program determined the Quinn administration had failed to consider dangers to public safety in trying to save money and recommended it be reinstated with reforms.
Quinn has not said why his administration will not reinstate the program, although he said in October 2010 he was focusing on “alternative sentencing approaches.” Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson confirmed he’s working with the legislative group to “manage population numbers while continuing to incarcerate – for safety, rehabilitation, and punishment.”
Along with Reboletti, the panel meeting with Quinn’s staff about a solution includes Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale and Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin. Each says he’s open to options that keep the public safe but reduce the inmate population to make prisons safer and spare the state budget. The House Democrats’ representative is parliamentarian David Ellis, the governor’s office said.
Dillard, a candidate for governor in 2010 and potentially again in 2014, said early release is not popular, given the shock of MGT Push.
“My constituents want people locked up,” he said. “They’re tired of people who still should be locked up in the penitentiary (out) committing crimes.”
Nonetheless, he’s open to ideas such as Reboletti’s.
Turner’s bill would reverse the new 60-day minimum prison sentence requirement and give the Corrections director discretion to release anyone who has served 60 days behind any bars, including in county jails. Turner did not return repeated calls and an email seeking comment.
Regardless of the method, something has to happen soon, Maki said.
At Vandalia prison in June, John Howard visitors found dirty, stagnant water pooling on the floor of inmates’ living areas. One dormitory, Building 19, at Vienna prison in September had rodent droppings and inmates complained of mice and cockroaches. Windows on two floors were broken and birds had built nests inside.
“When you put nonviolent offenders in deplorable conditions you’re not going to make this person better,” said Maki, whose report blames Quinn and lawmakers who have cut corrections budgets. “Prisons are not typically uplifting places, but Building 19 was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen.”
Rebalancing Plan Will Increase Community Care Options for People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions
This entry was posted on January 21, 2012 at 6:28 am and is filed under Early Release, FOIA-Freedom of Information Act, IDOC, IL in Fiscal Ruins, Local Issues, Meritorious Good Time, Uncategorized. Tagged: Governor Quinn and good time, idoc early release, MGT, return of good time. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Edit this entry.
In September 2009, Quinn and Randle initiated an “Early Release” Program (described below) to test the effect of releasing 1,000 short-term inmates early in order to save IDOC costs. The hope was that these individuals successfully released would pave the way for the state to subsequently release 7,000 – 10,000 additional inmates at significant cost savings to IDOC. Unfortunately, the program was not well implemented and some individuals were released who had violent backgrounds and who committed crimes upon release. The political backlash incurred by Quinn over the program resulted in his terminating all IDOC Early Release Programs in December 2009. It also resulted in Quinn canceling all Meritorious Good Time Credits which IDOC awarded (up to six months) to inmates in order to shorten their IDOC sentences.
A commission was established to investigate the Early Release programs and report back findings in May 2010. That report issued August 12, 2010.
In the meantime, lack of MGT reinstatement leaves many individuals in IDOC facilities serving longer terms than they anticipated. Many are reporting that they have been misinformed by prosecutors concerning the length of their sentences prior to accepting plea bargains. Any individual considering the acceptance of a plea agreement must now be aware that under the current IDOC situation, you will have to serve a minimum of 61 days of any sentence agreed to and will not be granted any good time credits until legislative action is taken. No matter what the court or prosecutor tells you; MGT is not guaranteed. It is discretionary and, in fact, no credit will be granted to anyone now unless MGT is formally reinstated by IDOC. Any other Early Release program is now unlikely to occur no matter what happens.
Richardwanke.com will continue to update this page with the latest information concerning IDOC Early Release and Good Time Credits as it is received, but we do not anticipate any movement here for a long time.
In July 2010, IDOC began releasing individuals who it states were approved for Early Release prior to January 2010. IDOC has set up the public notification page on it’s website it is required to do listing names and (unfortunately) the addresses and offense information for all inmates that it is now releasing early because they were approved for Good Time credits before the program was suspended. All inmates who were approved before the suspension know who they are and have been waiting to be released. Sources within IDOC say there may be a backlog of up to three years worth of pre-approved individuals awaiting their release. Curiously, many of the persons now being released entered IDOC as recently as 2009. Meanwhile, for the rest of IDOC inmates, MGT remains suspended awaiting legislative action. For these individuals, there are no short-cuts. Early Release is no longer expected to be reinstated.
Posted by tennesseetree on August 14, 2010
The delay in issuing Judge Erickson’s report and assessment of the IDOC Early Release Program and awarding of MGT Credit is now explained. The report was issued today during a major press conference conducted by IDOC ranking officials and Governor Quinn’s Administration.
The report and accompanying information may be viewed at the IDOC website, at, http://www.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=3&RecNum=8753
Most of the report findings are not new because bits and parts of them have been previously leaked to the press by Erickson and other IDOC officials.
At the core of the new plan for implementing awarding of all Meritorious Good Time Credits to IDOC inmates are three points: 1. requiring inmates to earn credits and spend at least 60 days in state custody before receiving any awards for meritorious conduct, 2. developing formal, consistent procedures and policies for programs (with public input) and implementing these department- wide under the responsibility of the IDOC’s Chief Public Safety Officer, and 3. instituting a fully electronic advance notification process with appropriate procedural safeguards, to give local authorities time to respond to or prepare for a prisoner’s release and to plan for public safety.
What is apparent is that Quinn needed the time from January to now to get IDOC agency staff on-board and put the IDOC internal house in order as well as restructure the essentials of the IDOC Early Release program along the lines of the recommendations contained in the report before formally releasing the report and it’s specifics. Quinn timed the report release to issue now, before the November elections to demonstrate to the public that Quinn has the answer to his critics and a master plan to capably handle IDOC and all Early Release issues. Quinn wants no more political embarrassment from IDOC or early release and is effectively deflecting all opportunity for attack on the issue of crime by making IDOC a non-issue for this November’s election. Unfortunately, this ploy did not quite work out and Quinn released Mike Randle from his position as IDOC director in September 2010, in response to further political attacks from Quinn’s opponents.
Everybody has to note, that much of the plan and many of the objectives outlined by IDOC today still exist more on paper than in fact. What this means to the public is delay; a lot of additional delay before the agency actually once again starts to award MGT to anyone not previously approved to receive it. As IDOC stated today, several of the recommended reforms announced will require legislative action and if they are also seeking public input for procedures; then, as we all know, it will take quite a while. Obviously, Early Release will not be in place by November 2010, and probably not before Spring 2011. In the meantime current MGT and Early Release programs remain suspended; so sorry, but no one else is getting approved for them until then.
We have a plan; it is a large plan, and we can only wait to see how well it is implemented.
A Scandal that Wasn’t – The Facts about “Early Release”
(Factsheet handled out to press by Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Office at August 11, 2010 hearing on Early Release)
1. Nobody in any Illinois prison was released early.
a) The 1,745 prisoners released during Fall 2009 under the Push-MGT program all served terms mandated by law. The initiative taken by IDOC director Randle was to award MGT (Meritorious Good Time) to all those who were eligible for it, rather than arbitrarily withholding it from prisoners serving less than 61 days. (These prisoners already served terms of at least three months in local jails before transfer to IDOC custody.)
b) Prisoners serving terms less than 61 days are extremely expensive because they must be examined and classified, and assigned to a program of rehabilitation. But since they are generally released long before they have to access rehabilitative programming – sometimes even before they have left Reception and Classification — a few additional days or weeks of incarceration is pointless.
c) The average reduction in sentence for prisoners released under revised Push-MGT was 37 days.
2. The scheduled release of prisoners was not secret.
a) Though not much discussed in the media, Meritorious Good Time is a program that is well-known by corrections professionals and many legislators. The law establishing the program – 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(3) and (a)(4) — was passed in 1978 by Republican Governor James R. Thompson. The initiative was expanded by Republican Governor Jim Edgar in 1993 with added good time for the completion of educational, substance abuse and other programs.
b) IDOC Director Randle publicly announced the expansion of the MGT release program in Sepember 2009. In addition, the IDOC lists on its website the names and photos of all prisoners in its custody, or under post-release supervision. When the controversy about MGT arose, the IDOC separately published the names of released prisoners.
3. Push-MGT did not lead to higher recidivism.
a) Illinois’ three-year recidivism rate is 51%. Of the 1745 prisoners released under Push-MGT, just 57 (3.26%) were returned to prison for new offenses. However under pressure from lawmakers and the press, new rules were established that lead to the return to prison of many more, 841 (48.2%). These men were sent back to prison for technical, even petty violations, including a single positive drug or alcohol test or possession of alcohol in the home. The new rules also required prisoners to make daily phone reports and twice-weekly visits to a parole office, sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes. Violation of any of these provisions resulted in re-incarceration.
b) A few of the released prisoners committed serious crimes, and this is regrettable. The story of Edjuan Payne who committed a murder in Peoria is especially disturbing. But the crime for which Payne was incarcerated when he received good time credit was relatively minor, and a number of trained professionals – including conservatives on the Prisoner Review – determined that any threat posed by his release was small. They made a mistake that turned out to be tragic. Some prisoners – whenever they are released – will recommit crimes, and there is no reason to believe that a few extra days or weeks in prison will turn a recidivist into a model citizen. The only proven method of reducing recidivism is education, rehabilitation, and jobs.
4. Most states have programs like MGT and they have been proven both safe and effective.
a) A carefully controlled study of crime and punishment in New York, Michigan, Kansas, and New Jersey has indicated that prison populations can be safely cut by eliminating mandatory minimum terms, reducing or ending sentences for minor drug offenses, and increasing the use of meritorious good time (The Sentencing Project, Downsizing Prisons: Lessons from Four States). New York State has cut its prison population by 20% and reduced violent crime by 30% over ten years. Saving money is compatible with public safety.
b) The bi-partisan Taxpayer Action Board (TAB) appointed by Governor Quinn in 2009, recommended that the IDOC dramatically reduce its large, low-risk inmate population by allowing those who “no longer represent a significant risk to society” to “reenter society under state supervision.” MGT serves this essential purpose.
c) The Illinois Crime Reduction Act of 2009, (SB 1289) co-sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Durkin, was signed into law one year ago by Governor Pat Quinn. Its mandate is to end the imprisonment of men and women guilty of minor crimes. One provison of the law, (sec. 10, part c, no, 2), even decrees that additional good time can be earned by prisoners for participating in drug-treatment, educational and other programming. Some of the same legislators who voted to increase the use of MGT condemned it just a few months later!
5. Sen. Bill Brady sponsored a bill that reduced MGT, increasing the states prison population by 2,557 and costing the state an estimated $64 Million dollars per year!
a) The Illinois prison population now stands at 47,718, an annualized increase of nearly 10% from the previous year, at a time when most states have been reducing their prison populations. According to research by Malcolm Young of Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, Illinois could save 120 Million dollars a year by reducing its prison population by just 5,000 – a modest 10% reduction.
b) The 28 Illinois prisons were built to hold 31,000 inmates. They are now greatly overcrowded, leading to greater violence, sickness and mental illness among prisoners, and much greater danger to corrections officers.
The real scandal is that the prison population has been allowed to soar, recidivism rates to rise, and our pockets emptied because a few politicians prefer to arouse fear than offer real solutions. The only path forward is to offer alternatives to prison for those who commit minor offenses, and educational and rehabilitation programs to those we must imprison.
Linda Shelton has an excellent analysis on the injustices that will result on persons convicted on non-violent and lesser offenses as a result of the new State law passed in January 2010, requiring all IDOC prisoners to serve at least 61 days of their sentence prior to release from IDOC. As she shows, “early release” is not secret, is not new, and is not even necessarily “early”:
FROM IDOC WEBSITE NEWS:
State provides funding to the Illinois Department of Corrections for smarter prevention, tougher enforcement
Board will assist IDOC in reforming state’s criminal justice system
October 13, 2009, Chicago Sun-Times commentary, at:
Latest information on IDOC Inmate Early Release & Reforms: