Effort by IL Prisontalk regarding MGT? Is it Wise?

Posted: May 25, 2011 by parchangelo in IDOC
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Attention:

This evening IL prisontalk (IPT) sent a letter to all it’s members advising them the contact their local representatives and get them to sign on to sponsor and pass four bills which have stagnated in the IL General Assembly this session and which are in danger of not passing due to lack of support from legislators.

We, at this website, understand the urgency behind everyone wanting inmates in the IL Department of Corrections to once again begin receiving Meritorious Good Time (MGT) to reduce the length of their sentences. We want MGT to return too and we also want it to return as soon as possible. However, we have noted all too often how lots of people equate any bill which mentions or proposes to alter laws or legislation related to MGT, and which happens to be introduced into the General Assembly, as a bill which will either reinstate MGT or help it return. IN ACTUALITY, THIS WILL NEVER BE THE CASE.!!! The current legislative session is almost over. All bills have been introduced, and THERE IS NOT ONE BILL PENDING WHICH AUTHORIZES THE RETURN OF MGT!!!!

MGT will not return due to anything that happens this session in the General Assembly. MGT will return when it returns, and that means that it will return when Governor Quinn is confident that the agency under his control, the IL Department of Corrections (IDOC) can once again issue MGT to inmates without making a mistake and accidentally releasing someone back into the community who is dangerous and who will commit a crime for which IDOC and Quinn can be blamed.

So, what does THAT mean?  What it means, in our opinion, is that Quinn does not care if these 4 bills mentioned below in the IPT letter are passed or not. What it means is that Quinn only cares that he has systematically raked over IDOC and restructured it’s staff, equipment (updated computers), and procedures so as to ensure that when MGT is reinstated that no one under his control will screw up again and make the same mistake they made before he suspended the MGT push program. Quinn wants no more embarrassments, so no matter what the legislators do, he will not reinstate MGT until he feels IDOC is ready to handle it.

So, for this reason, while we are posting this letter by IL prisontalk; that we cannot endorse it’s call to action. We cannot advise any of us readers to respond to it and do as IL prisontalk asks.

We have carefully examined the ramifications of what IL prisontalk is advocating that it’s members do, and we do not like them. Basically, here is why:

ILprisontalk is an organization which is highly regarded as an advocate for the rights of IL prisoners. These bills which it is advocating to be passed, are not bills which will help out the situation or requirements placed on IL inmates. These bills are restrictive bills which will diminish the rights of IL inmates. They are also unnecessary bills, since it was long ago determined that there is no problem with the laws already on the books regarding Meritorious Good Time; it is simply that IDOC screwed up in 2009 in implementing a program. There is no reason to push to pass new, more restrictive laws. They will not stop IDOC from making mistakes again.

IPT’s proposed action will only serve to legitimize the fear-mongering that state politicians continue to use to whip the public up against crime, time after time. Right now, state legislators apparently don’t have the support (even among themselves) to pass these four bills, because they have bigger budget issues which they are focused on. IPT’s action will give them the support to claim that they not only have a “public mandate” to act on public safety and pass these bills, but that they also have the support of opponents who are usually against these type of bills which add restrictions on to prisoners. State legislators will now be able to claim that even advocates for prisoners apparently believe that tougher laws are required in order to protect the public. This means that they will be even more vocal against the rights of “criminals” in the future.

Look at each of the bills below:

Synopsis As Introduced

SB1560
Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Provides that the Department of Corrections shall establish uniform procedures for providing timely advance notice of early release of inmates to law enforcement in local jurisdictions and shall submit a report to the General Assembly, by January 1, 2012, of those notice procedures. Provides that the 14-day advance notice of early release of an inmate because of the award of good conduct credit for meritorious service shall be provided to the Governor and sheriff of the county where the prosecution took place. Effective immediately.

SB 1341
Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Provides that the Director of Corrections shall not award good conduct credit for meritorious service to an inmate unless the inmate has served a minimum of 60 days in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Effective immediately.

SB1561
Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Provides that the Department of Corrections shall prescribe rules and regulations for revoking good conduct credit awarded for meritorious service. Effective immediately.

SB1562
Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Provides that the Director of Corrections shall provide the Governor with monthly written reports, and the General Assembly with an annual written report, on the award of good conduct credit for meritorious service. Provides that these reports must include: (1) the number of inmates awarded good conduct credit for meritorious service; (2) the jurisdictions from which these inmates were committed and into which they were or will be released; (3) the average amount of good conduct credit for meritorious service awarded; (4) the holding offenses for good conduct credit for meritorious service awardees; and (5) the number of good conduct credit for meritorious service revocations. Provides that as to both reports, the Department of Corrections must publish the reports on its website within 48 hours of transmitting them to the respective parties. Effective immediately.

If passed, these four bills will add restrictions and make it more difficult to legally challenge what some regard as the state’s arbitrary decision to revoke MGT. Whenever MGT is reinstated, some individuals who are not eligible for it because of the new laws may want to challenge their individual deprivation of MGT upon the basis that they would have been eligible for it under the old laws.

More importantly though, IPT apparently believes that the return of MGT can be hurried along if we all just “give in”, by satisfying the appetites of lawmakers and help make it as tough as possible to qualify for MGT, so that Gov. Quinn gets to the point that he believes he can go ahead and reinstate MGT without everyone squawking.

We don’t think that this will happen because, again, we think that Quinn ain’t gonna move on MGT till he is satisfied that IDOC is completely in ready for MGT, and that has nothing to do with the law. State legislators can pass one bill or 30 bills this session which have to do with MGT and crime; it all does not matter to Quinn how many bills they pass and which bills are passed. Whatever happens, if someone is released, as long as IDOC follows the letter of whatever laws are passed; Quinn will not have to take the heat. Quinn will shrug off responsibility at the time and just say that the legislators had the chance this session to pass a law on it and that they did not do so and therefore, it is not his fault.

Quinn will be able to avoid responsibility for the failure of any law being passed. What he will not be able to shrug off responsibility for is the failure of IDOC to follow the law and if it releases someone early who it should not have released because they were either not eligible for MGT or IDOC overlooks information showing they are dangerous. So, if IDOC makes a mistake, Quinn will be on the hook again for it in time for the next election cycle, and this is what he wants to avoid. That is why we say that the return of MGT will have nothing to do with these four bills; it will only return when Quinn feels IDOC is ready to handle MGT.

We know that our advice is likely to be unpopular here, but again, we cannot advise readers to join the IPT effort on these four bills. We feel that IPT’s efforts are a mistake which will have negative effects  and can only make them and others less effective in the future when trying to work on behalf of prisoners. IPT previously advised that they heard information from reliable sources that MGT is due to return July 1, 2011, but now, IPT is apparently starting to backpedal from this prediction. We are all frustrated over the suspension of MGT and it’s effect on many families, but we must stop short of desperation…

______________________________________________________

Dear IPT Members,

As everyone is well aware, we are in the midst of trying to get the state legislature to pass 4 bills pertaining to the restoration of MGT.

These are SB 1338, 1341, 1560, and 1562. These are bills that were sponsored in the Illinois Senate by Senator Kirk Dillard, a west suburban Republican. These bills allow the Director to award MGT up to 180 days, to inmates that qualify under rules established by the Senate. This bill won unanimous approval in the Senate and was sent to the House.

Once in the Rules Committee, Rep. Will Burns signed on as sponsor, but later abandoned them. These bills are sitting in committee right now as we speak with no sponsor. If no sponsor is signed on to move these bills out of committee, they die and have to be done all over again when they come back in December. Speaker Madigan’s office has agreed to give us until the 29th to find a sponsor for these bills. It is going to be an uphill battle. They are dealing with budgets, redistricting, pension reform and all this has to be done by the 31st.

We are asking everyone to call their state reps, whether Republican or Democrat, and ask them to sign on as sponsors to this bill. Here is how we do this. Call your State Representative in their Springfield office as they are in session until May 31st.   All numbers for your Rep can be located at www.ilga.gov.   Click on House, then click Members….scroll down to your Rep and click on the name. Please make your call before 9 am, so that it is done before they get fully started on their day.

Give the person that answers the phone the SB numbers and tell them that this is important legislation that affects every taxpayer in the state, and that you are a registered voter in their district. Also tell them that these bills award MGT to NON VIOLENT OFFENDERS ONLY! Make sure they understand that as well as this will positively affect the state’s strained budget. Ask them to inform the Representative that these bills die on 05/29/2011 with out a sponsor.

The Representative may call you back and ask you for more info on it. Tell them you appreciate very much them taking time out of their schedule to call back. Explain to the Rep. the importance of this legislation. Tell them the hard work is already done and that all we need is a sponsor to move it out of committee and bring it to the floor.

The past year has been filled with frustration and lost patience. We now have an opportunity to make a difference in an issue we all feel passionately about. Please call your Representative, ASAP, early tomorrow morning and urge them to take up sponsorship of these bills.

Regards,

IPT Administrators and Staff
The Illinois Prison Talk Team.

http://www.illinoisprisontalk.com/index.php

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Comments
  1. Rick Tippie says:

    I take issue with your response to IPT’s efforts to have MGT re-instated. While somewhat informed, you have failed to report crucial events that led IPT to what they are doing today.

    You mistakenly reported that these pieces of proposed legislation have a lack of support in the State House. That is not true. These bills were sponsored by Rep. William Burns who is no longer a State Rep. He is an alderman in Chicago. His replacement is not picking up ANY of the former Reps. bills because, and I quote her, “I am too new”. This is absurd. Anyone know when you accept a job, you hit the ground running. You know what lies ahead before you begin any new venture, especially in politics. If these pieces lacked legislative teeth, explain why them were they ALL passed through the Senate without 1 NO vote?

    Secondly, I call your attention to your erroneous statement that these bills do not authorize the return of MGT. Quite the contrary. These pieces of legislation are taking parts of the old MGT law and merging them together with recommendations from Gov. Quinn’s Erickson Committee that said certain safeguards should be in place before MGT is re-instated. These bills contain such safeguards that the Erickson Committee recommended to Gov. Quinn.

    Next you report that some under the old law would be eligible for MGT while not under the new law. That may be true in some cases. But MGT was never meant to be made eligible for violent offenders. This was made apparent when Illinois passed truth in sentencing. Personally, I do not think I would want a murderer or sex offender eligible for these programs that are offered to inmates that help reduce time spent in prison. Do not get me wrong, I am all for someone getting a reduction in time, but when it come to the loss of life or someone with a sex offense, they should spend what time they were sentenced to.

    Even under the old law, there was the right by the state to revoke, arbitrarily, MGT and any other good time earned. The only new restriction the new would place is that facilities now have to report 14 days prior to release, to the counties that prosecuted the offender, of the upcoming release.

    This is a time where money is tight, people are more afraid of losing their house than having a non violent offender released from prison 6 months early. People want to see action out of their elected officials, not a continued waste of the state’s financial resources. My advice to those who oppose the re-reinstatement of MGT would be to lobby your lawmakers for stricter sentencing guidelines. Require longer MSR out of the inmates. These laws were and are intended for NON VIOLENT offenders ONLY. I wish you well in whatever your endeavors are but I think you are “spinning your wheels” going up against legislation that your own Governor wants.

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    • parchangelo says:

      Rick,
      Thank you for your comments and response to this posting. We welcome discussion on our blog and differing perspectives. That is the only way people are informed.
      First, you state that we are mistaken when we say that these four bills lack the legislative support to get passed:
      If these bills have sufficient legislative support, then they will get passed by legislators on their own. If they are abandoned bills, then other legislators don’t need an outside suggestion or campaign to incite them to pick up the bills and run with them; legislators know their job and do it when they have a true interest in pushing legislation through. The legislative session is winding down and legislators have a lot of other priorities on their plate. Our read is that these four bills do lack legislative support or momentum, or they would be passed by now since, as you indicate they early on seemed so easy to run with.

      Second, you and the IPT forum keep stating that passing these bills is a “good or necessary” step (evil) in order to attain the return of MGT because until the laws are changed to make MGT more restrictive and controllable for IDOC to administer, Quinn will not be willing to bring it back again. Our statement that these bills DO NOT AUTHORIZE THE RETURN OF MGT is accurate, and we stand by it. Even administrators on the IPT forum have stated the same when pushed to clarify this to it’s members. These bills and all the rest passed this session do nothing in and of themselves to directly authorize the return of MGT. Again, ALL THESE BILLS AND LAWS WILL DO IS FLESH OUT AND EXPAND THE EXISTING LAWS AND LEGAL STRUCTURE ON MGT which IDOC will then take and use to administer the program. Which IDOC will then take and use to expand the bureaucratic nightmare for most inmates. Revoking MGT awards for one pretext or the other will become commonplace. This appears to IPT to be a relatively harmless tradeoff to incur, but that is not the case to us at this forum, because these changes and the laws that have already passed this session (such as the murder registry working it’s way through) will in some way affect the lives of all IDOC inmates, even past their imprisonment.

      At a time when most other states are critically examining whether they can continue to afford to maintain the attitude that every prisoner should be punished to the max, and when the US Supreme Court is coming out and telling certain states that they will have to reduce their prison populations because the overcrowding has lead to conditions which equate to cruel and unusual punishment, Illinois is going in an opposite direction. Our legislators continue to show no reasonableness regarding punitive punishment and no recognition that they should be held accountable to the public for saddling us with massive fiscal and social costs just for the privilege of imprisoning everyone they want to with these draconian laws. At a time when the voices of prison advocates need to pull legislators off this fear-mongering campaign and start to make them see sense and the writing on the wall, IPT wants to abandon this role and go buddy-buddy with the fear mongers? This will not improve the possibilities for prison reform in IL in the long run.

      Why should we be jumping over ourselves now to help them by joining them in advocating for stricter MSR laws or additional punitive laws that not only imprison masses, but then also penalize them for the rest of their lives by making it virtually impossible to successfully re-enter society. All this just in the hopes that if we help them, they will throw us the bone and reinstate MGT a little sooner??

      Instead, we should be perceiving that the pressure is on them fiscally to be more responsible, and the US Supreme court and the state fiscal crisis may force them to reinstate MGT sooner rather than later in order to reduce the inmate population.

      As we stated earlier, Quinn does not care whether or not all the Ericson report recommendations are translated into law in order to proceed with reinstatement of MGT. He does not care, because that is not his responsibility. He does not make the laws and cannot be held responsible for the failure of the enactment of any particular laws. He knows this and is not waiting to reinstate MGT because these four bills have not been passed. He will be happy to do without them because all he needs to be concerning about it that his agency, IDOC is able to comply with the laws. So, the fewer the laws, the better for him because then IDOC is less likely to make mistakes that will embarrass him.

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