The article below is written by Kurt Erickson and appears on Erickson is one of the few politically savy Illinois media investigative reporters who have been following the long saga and potentially embarrassing story of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s single-handled responsibility for creating a huge fiscal mess for Illinois when he first cut off all discretionary early release efforts to release state inmates by the Illinois Department of Corrections in December 2009, and how Quinn has since then failed to act in any manner to resolve the subsequent massive overcrowding of state prisons which resulted from his action.

This is a huge political story and a wholly, self-created dilemma for the Governor that Republican legislators and fiscal critics should be jumping all over Quinn on. If played up properly by his opponents, he negative publicity Quinn deserves on this issue could suffice to render him and the Democratic party (which is mute on urging Quinn to resolve it) highly vulnerable at the polls come next election.

Basically, at a time when the State is already fiscally broke, Quinn’s action is making all state prisons, “rack, stack, and pack” prisoners who are mostly small-time, minor offenders, which the state can ill-afford to house. Quinn has added millions of dollars to the cost of state corrections, not because he first suspended the early release programs, but because he has since procrastinated since cutting off the programs by failing to take any intermediate actions to resolve the prison overcrowding or to control the actions of IDOC staff at facilites.

Evidently, Quinn’s modius operandi is to procrastinate well beyond any reasonable time period over all important issues. He has dragged his heels over policy and fiscal issues before, but the IDOC prison overcrowding affects the lives and well-being of many families and individuals.



SPRINGFIELD – The Quinn administrations decision to continue cramming more inmates into already overcrowded prisons could put the state on the road to a lawsuit.

After packing its own prisons too tightly for decades, California officials were ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in May to slash the inmate population to 137 percent of what the overall system was designed to hold.

That has left the state scrambling to dump more than 30,000 prisoners into county-level jails or privately operated lock-ups over the next two years.

In recent months, however, officials changed the way they calculate capacity.

Instead of using an industry standard based on the number of cells, the state is now measuring capacity based on how many beds can fit in a facility. The new capacity for Illinois prisons is listed at 51,000 inmates.

A key attorney in the California lawsuit says Illinois revamped measuring stick is similar to claiming a three bedroom home can actually sleep 25 people if beds are placed in living rooms, laundry rooms and storage spaces.

“Technically, they can stack triple bunks in every room,” said Rebekah Evenson, a Berkeley-based attorney who helped shepherd the California lawsuit through the legal system.

John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said that bureaucratic maneuver could land the state in hot water.”Thats what California got in trouble for,” Maki said. “Were seeing the same kind of stuff.”

DOC differs

Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said the new capacity number reflects changes that have been made to the original design of the prisons, allowing the agency to say the state is operating at 95 percent capacity.

“Here in Illinois our prison population is not at the over-capacity level,”

Elman noted.Elman, however, said an attempt by the department to gain national accreditation was dropped after the inmate population began to grow. As part of the American Correctional Association accreditation process, prisons must meet certain specifications for square footage per inmate – a standard that may not be possible for Illinois given the additional prisoners.

Evenson said recalculating capacity based on bed space is “very, very irresponsible” because it could lead to numerous problems.

Crowding typically results in more violence behind bars. It also likely means fewer educational opportunities, which already had been reduced because of Illinois on-going budget woes.

“Mentally ill people become sicker,” Evenson said.

The increase in prisoners also has raised concerns about flat or reduced staffing levels of prison guards.

On Thursday, two Republican state senators are planning a press conference designed to spotlight staffing levels within the Department of Corrections. State Sens. John O. Jones of Mount Vernon and Shane Cultra of Onarga both represent districts that have a number of overcrowded prisons within their boundaries.


For now, however, it doesnt appear the Quinn administration has a solution in sight.

There are no plans on the books to build more prisons to help ease overcrowding. In fact, Illinois is in the process of selling an unused maximum-security prison to the federal government.

The department also has not made any public announcements about whether or when it will reinstate an early release program.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents corrections workers, said overcrowding has made the states prison system more dangerous than usual.

“Ignoring the problem is unacceptable,” noted AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. “The state must hire staff to ensure safety and provide rehabilitative programs, and it must develop and implement a responsible good-time policy.”

via Illinois headed toward a prison meltdown?.

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