Archive for the ‘IL in Fiscal Ruins’ Category


The IL Senate sent the official budget bills to Governor Pat Quinn yesterday, and Quinn is now announcing that he want to going to go ahead and move money from the IL corrections budget to avoid cuts to DCFS.

Quinn to cut prison funding in hopes of helping DCFS

Quinn has angered a lot of state representatives, particularly downstate reps by what they perceive is a threat to continue to close prison facilities in an attempt to manipulate them into agreeing to pension reform. However, Quinn’s announcement today that he wants to go ahead to close facilities in order to save an already overburdened IL Department of Children and Family Services from additional cuts puts pressure on state legislators to quell their protests due to the dire shape that DCFS is already in:

The $33.7 billion budget landed on the governor’s desk Friday, and he plans to act on it Saturday morning. Quinn told the Tribune he plans to veto spending lawmakers dedicated to several prisons he plans to close.

The administration says it will shut the supermaximum prison near Tamms in far southern Illinois, the Dwight Correctional Center in central Illinois and juvenile justice centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. Two transitional centers for inmates will close, but the administration has reversed course and plans to leave open one on Chicago’s West Side.

“…About half of the lawmakers’ cut would force the agency to reduce its staff of 2,900 by about 12 percent, or 375 workers. The remainder of the cut would eliminate contracts that provide services to children and families, the agency said. The budget trims by lawmakers came on top of a $35.3 million reduction Quinn had proposed.

The Tribune has reported that the caseloads for DCFS investigators are often double what they should be and in violation of critical terms of a 1991 federal consent decree that sets monthly limits on new cases for investigators. The agency also is failing to inspect more than half of the state’s day care facilities on an annual basis as required by law, the Tribune found…”

The pressure will be on legislators during the fall veto session in November to decide which is the greater public area of concern: prisons or children? If they follow Quinn’s direction, legislators will approve Quinn moving the money to DCFS from prison facilities which will already be closed by then:

“…In November, we’re going to have to support our reductions, and the Legislature may try to override it,” the governor said. “But we are going to lay out a stark choice: Is it protecting children or is it maintaining facilities that don’t need to be open?”


As we anticipated, Quinn is not listening to the input of others when it comes to his plan to trim state government in IL. Despite widespread pain and outrage, it looks like Quinn is moving forward to close as many of the 59 state facilities he early this year announced plans to close as he can get away with closing. Quinn seems to be trying for a quick and sizable reduction in state government while he can get it without much opposition.

Perhaps Quinn is trying to flex some muscle having received widespread acknowledgement for his apparent willingness to tackle tough financial issues such as Medicaid and pension reform during the recent legislative session. Many remarked the appearance of a “new Quinn” in his taking a leadership role in working to resolve the state fiscal crisis. Now, Quinn appears to be going full steam ahead on his own.

Quinn first played coy by raising hopes that he would avoid closing correctional facilities and possibly turn Tamms super-maximum security lockup into a lower-security prison in order to alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce costs:

Finke: Quinn coy on facility closings-PJStar article

Tamms likely won’t remain a super-max-WBEZ.org

Yesterday and today Quinn made it plain that he has no plans for Tamms except closure. Via simple memo to state facilities yesterday, Quinn showed his disregard for any half-measures and the concerns of many state legislators as well as the recommendations of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). Quinn simply notified state staff that that he will proceed with the closure of not only Tamms prison, but also the women’s prison at Dwight, the Murphysboro Youth Center, and the Westside and the Southern Illinois Adult Transitional Centers, by August 31, 2012.

Quinn confirms Decatur facility to close with state prisons – Herald-Review article

Illinois Gov. Quinn moving ahead with Tamms prison closing and others-stltoday.com

The Peoria and Chicago Crossroads Adult Transitional Centers are spared the axe for now.

Reaction from the unions and state legislators who just sent Quinn a state budget with sufficient funding to avoid the closures of these facilities was quick and furious, particularly from downstate legislators who feel Quinn’s actions are particularly harmful to their constituents:

State Facilities to Close-WSILtv.com

Quinn Announces Prison Closures In Memo-WUISNews.wordpress.com

Unions and lawmakers push back on facility closures-Illinois Issues Blog

Quinn closing prisons against lawmakers’ wishes-Pantagraph.com

“…if the governor wants to show he is serious about getting the state to live within its means, he should focus on all of the waste and mismanagement that occurs in Springfield and Chicago on a daily basis before handing out pink slips to all the employees at Tamms,” Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg, said in a written statement…”

Approximately 720 state employees will be affected with some having a chance to move to other positions. As Kurt Erickson, a reporter who covers correctional issues in-depth reports, IDOC is going to have to expend a lot of manpower first in order to get every inmate moved appropriately before the state will begin to realize any savings the Quinn administration claims the facility closures will produce:

Dwight closure to trigger musical chairs for inmates-Pantagraph.com

Quinn’s office apparently only decided that it needed to explain more clearly why it is going ahead with these facility closures after a posturing attack by IL Treasurer Dan Rutherford:

Treasurer Dan Rutherford sent out a press release…

“I do not agree with Governor Quinn’s apparent final decision to close seven state correctional facilities and youth centers in the near future. Closing prisons will only exacerbate the overcrowding we face in Illinois with our prison population. Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities. I took a similar stand back in 2008 when the previous governor abruptly suggested closing multiple state facilities without a comprehensive plan. As a state senator, I proposed legislation that would have put into place long-range strategic planning on certain facility closures. I am again calling on the state to implement business principles by having strategic long-range plans for its major state facility assets.”

Quinn’s budget office response to Rutherford today:

The Department of Juvenile Justice has a declining population of youth which means the state no longer needs eight state detention facilities. We have chosen which facilities to close based on the needs of our youth. In the case of Murphysboro, there is another IYC facility nearby in Harrisburg. Also, the facility has the capacity for 256 youth and currently houses less than 20.

In the case of Joliet, the physical plant does not provide the rehabilitative environment that our youth need. A more rehabilitative model of juvenile justice where youth are served and supported in the community instead of being incarcerated has been shown to result both in safer communities and better outcomes for our youth.

Tamms is only half full and very costly to operate with an average inmate cost of more than three times any other prison in the state. Approximately $64,800 compared to $21,405. The security level at Tamms for high level offenders can be safely replicated at other existing facilities. Closed Maximum security inmates will be transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center and Menard Correctional Center. These facilities will be able to supply the level of security needed for these inmates without compromising safety for staff or inmates. Tamms minimum security inmates will be relocated appropriately throughout other facilities around the state.

Dwight is located within 22 miles of Pontiac Correctional Center, 45 miles from Stateville Correctional Center, and 45 miles from Sheridan Correctional Center. Dwight houses women, and the female prison population is trending down. Between 2005 and 2011 IDOC female prison admissions decreased 41%.

Overall, these closures will allow the state to better live within our means and address the state’s most pressing needs.-capitolfax.com

_____________________________________________________________________
Commenters are already pointing out a few criticisms of Quinn’s justifications above for closing these state facilities pointing out:

the prisons listed around Dwight house MALE, not FEMALE inmates, so even if women inmates numbers are reduced. Dwight inmates still have to be moved about 90 miles away to Logan, and this one;

– Use Common Sense – Wednesday, Jun 20, 12 @ 9:39 am:

If Governor Quinn was doing what was right for Illinois he would have chosen facilities that were old and in need of repairs. Take IYC St. Charles and IYC Pere Marquette as examples. They are in need of a lot of repairs. Plus, if you are doing right by the youth ask them where they would rather be housed. Most probably would say Murphysboro cause it is a newer facility and nice. He can’t say he is doing this to save money cause if that were true he would keep newer facilities open and close old ones. Plus the IYC in Chicago is not even owned by the State. They pay rent on that facility just to run it, over a million a year. Nothing gets said about that. All politics. All about where you live in the state. Has nothing to do with saving money. If you believe that, you are just as bad as Quinn.-Capitolfaxblog

It will be interesting (but unlikely) to see if anyone is able to change Quinn’s mind before August 31st concerning these closures. If Quinn is pushing ahead to close facilities where funding was allocated then there is little doubt that he will also move ahead to close down the rest of the state agency facilities he has threatened to close. Initial responses to his actions are disbelief and the speculation that Quinn is up to his old tactic of threatening closures as a ploy to gain leverage in other negotiations with state legislators. In this case, speculation is rampant that since Quinn did not get legislators to give him all that he wants in state pension reforms, that he will only halt these closures if legislator leaders are able to agree with him on pension changes this summer, before the fall legislative session starts and confusion reigns. Perhaps these facility closures are just pawns in the process to Quinn, but if so, employing an old strategy of pressure again is likely to cost Quinn the good will he won for legislators in the Spring session. As many are now pointing out these closure facilities will end up hurting Quinn and the democrats too. The facility closures target Southern Illinois counties directly, including the poorer ones where it counts. Voters in those counties will not forgive Quinn or the democrats if the closures occur.


 The  John Howard Association was one of the main organizations that wrote SB2621. This fact sheet is from their website theJHA.org and answers a lot of questions readers are asking about how sentence credits will work and who will be eligible for them:

What you need to know about SB 2621

SB 2621 is a piece of criminal justice reform legislation that passed the Illinois Senate and House in the spring 2012 legislative session. This is a significant victory for both the John Howard Association (JHA), which was one of the chief advocates for the bill, and for safe, smart, and cost-effective prison reform. If Governor Quinn signs this bill into law, it will establish a responsible early release program to ease prison overcrowding that will replace Meritorious Good Time (MGT), the 30-year-old good conduct credit program that was suspended in early 2010.

What will SB 2621 do?

As of May 2012, Illinois housed more than 48,000 inmates in a prison system designed for about 34,000. While almost every facility struggles with its population, the worst crowding is in the state’s minimum and medium security prisons, which house mostly low-level offenders. This kind of crowding endangers not only inmates, but also the thousands of staff that work in the state’s correctional institutions.

SB 2621 will address these problems by authorizing the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) to award up to 180 days of Sentence Credits to low-level offenders for completing educational programs, taking part in community service, or demonstrating good behavior. This is a standard tool that prison systems across the country use to control behavior and encourage participation in programs that reduce recidivism.

How is SB 2621 different from MGT?

SB 2621 will mandate several key improvements designed to protect public safety, including the following:

  • SB 2621 will authorize DOC to consider an inmate’s entire criminal history when awarding Sentence Credits, which includes prior offenses, the “facts and circumstances of the inmate’s holding offenses,” and the “potential for rehabilitation.” Under MGT, such consideration was impossible.
  • SB 2621 will authorize DOC to award Sentence Credits for completing a broad range of programs in county and state custody, from GED classes to life skills courses. MGT recognized only a limited number of programs and excluded county jail programming from consideration.
  • SB 2621 will require DOC to publish a public report detailing how it awards Sentence Credits. This requirement will provide an exceptional level of transparency to ensure DOC is awarding Credits in a way that is consistent with the bill’s intent and the promotion of public safety. MGT lacked a comparable level of transparency.

Will every inmate be eligible for 180 days of Sentence Credits?

No. While SB 2621 will authorize DOC to consider offenders’ criminal histories in awarding Sentence Credits, it will also limit and exclude the following offenses (as was the case under MGT):

No persons who are committed for the following offenses shall be awarded more than 90 days of Sentence Credits during a term of incarceration: first degree murder, reckless homicide while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, deviate sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, aggravated indecent liberties with a child, indecent liberties with a child, child pornography, heinous battery, aggravated battery of a spouse, aggravated battery of a spouse with a firearm, stalking, aggravated stalking, aggravated battery of a child, endangering the life or health of a child, cruelty to a child, or narcotic racketeering.

No persons who are serving a sentence for a conviction for any of the following offenses committed on or after August 20, 1995, shall be awarded any Sentence Credits:

First degree murder, attempt to commit first degree murder, solicitation of murder, solicitation of murder for hire, intentional homicide of an unborn child, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, aggravating battery with a firearm, heinous battery, aggravated battery of a senior citizen, aggravated battery of a child, habitual juvenile offenders, violent juvenile offenders; or home invasion, armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, aggravated discharge of a firearm, or armed violence with a category 1 weapon or category II weapon, when the court has entered a finding that the conduct leading to conviction for the offense resulted in great bodily harm to a victim.

How long will it be before DOC is ready to start awarding Sentence Credits?

Before SB 2621 goes to the Governor, it must be certified by both the House and Senate. Once it is certified, the bill must be sent to the Governor within 30 days. When the Governor receives the bill, he will then have 60 days to sign it.

Once SB 2621 is signed into law, DOC will have to create and promulgate new administrative rules that will govern its application.

How many inmates would receive Sentence Credits?

As of now, that number is unclear–but it will likely be a smaller class of people who received MGT based on the new factors DOC will be able to consider when awarding or denying Credits.

Who supported SB 2621?

SB 2621 had significant bi-partisan support in the General Assembly. In the Senate, it passed 55-1 and was sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), Thomas Johnson (R), Michael Noland (D), John J. Millners (R), Mattie Hunter (D), Pamela J. Althoff (R), Annazette R. Collins (D), and William Delgado (D). While he was not an official sponsor, Senate President Cullerton played an essential role in passing the bill.

In the House, SB2621 passed 68-50 and was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D), Jim Sacia (R), Kelly M. Cassidy (D), Arthur Turner (D), Kimberly du Buclet (D), Rita Mayfield (D), La Shawn K. Ford (D), Esther Golar (D), Eddie Lee Jackson, Sr. (D), Scott E. Penny (D), Charles E. Jefferson (D), Karen May (D), Naomi D. Jakobsson (D), and Monique D. Davis (D).

Supporting organizations include: John Howard Association, Metropolis Strategies, ACLU of Illinois, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, A Safe Haven, Appleseed Foundation, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), Protestants for the Common Good, Roosevelt University’s Institute for Metropolitan Affairs, Roosevelt’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, Safer Foundation, TASC, Youth Advocate Programs, Coalition for Prison Reform, Illinois Prison Talk, and League of Women Voters of Illinois.

What can I do to support safe, cost-effective criminal justice reform?

Contact Governor Quinn and tell him to sign SB 2621 into law.

Contact your state Senator and Representative. Thank them if they voted yes, and if they voted no, tell them you’re disappointed. We’re going to need bi-partisan support to continue to reform Illinois’ criminal justice system. You can find your legislators here and how your legislators voted here.

Updated June 4, 2012

 Be sure to donate generously to the John Howard Association and support them for the work they did on this bill and the work they do every day monitoring conditions at each of the State of IL prisons.


The IL legislature is sending IL Governor Pat Quinn a 2012 budget which includes funding to continue operation of all the facilities which Quinn proposed closing in order to save the State money. The Pantagraph article below summarizes the situation:

Budget keeps facilities open, but layoffs come anyway

“…The layoffs come as lawmakers gave Quinn enough money to avoid closing prisons in Dwight and Tamms, a youth prison in Murphysboro, the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia and adult transition centers in Decatur and Carbondale.

The proposed budget also provides more than $26 million to convert the prison at Tamms into a medium- or minimum-security facility to address concerns about the harsh conditions at the state’s only “supermax” prison.

The prison’s dangerous inmates would be transferred to maximum-security lock-ups in Pontiac or Chester.

Lawmakers cautioned there is no guarantee Quinn will actually spend the money to keep the facilities open…”

Yeah, there certainly is no guarantee that Quinn will either approve the budget or spend the money the way the legislators are telling him that they want it spent. We know enough about Quinn to bet that there are parts of the budget that he will not accept and that he will move some of the budget monies around. While there is money in the budget for all the facilities, funding runs a little short for some of them. For example for Developmental Centers current funding this year is $293M vs $269M in this budget.  As IL Senate Republican, Christine Radogno, characterizes it on her website today: “…Although the budget pretended to protect a number of state facilities from closure, the budget actually gave the Governor tremendous flexibility to shutter facilities and move money around. State facilities that the Governor targeted for closure were not allocated sufficient funds to remain open for a full year and provisions contained within the budget allowed the Governor to take funds earmarked for one facility, move those funds into a more general account and then reallocate those funds to a completely different facility…”

It will not be surprising if Quinn does choose to go ahead and close at least one or two of the state facilities which he is threatening with closure despite the recommendations of the The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) that none of these be closed. Quinn is already indicating that he will proceed with his closure of the Jacksonville Developmental Center,

Quinn: No change in position on Jacksonville Developmental Center

Quinn has the ultimate authority to close any or all of his wish list facilities regardless of input or the COGFA recommendations. It is just that no Governor has previously closed any facilities without COGFA approval. We will just have to hold tight to our seats and see what Quinn decides to do in the next 60 days or so.


It’s official! As anticipated, the IL House has now 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 will now head to Governor Pat Quinn for possible signature. Quinn has 60 days to either sign it or indicate his opposition to it. 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.

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=2621&GAID=11&DocTypeID=SB&LegId=62972&SessionID=84&GA=97</a

Bill Synopis:

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.


State of the state

James Krohe Jr.

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

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)

Revamped Illinois prison release plan moves to House

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 above 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 some applause!

 

 


No real surprise here today. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability released it’s recommendations this morning about which state facilities it believes that Governor Pat Quinn is justified in closing. The position taken by the CGFA is conservative and so, most of it’s recommendations are not likely to be high regarded by Quinn who will still make the final decision regarding any closures.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-3 Tuesday against closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight. It also advised against closing Tamms Correctional Center, Dwight Correctional Center, Illinois Youth Center at Joliet, Westside Adult Transition Center, Peoria Adult Transition Center, Warren G. Murray Developmental Center. The only facility the CGFA recommends closure for is a state DCFS office in Skokie, IL, although even that office and workers will be moved to another state-owned building. COGFA also clarified previous that it’s previous votes stand against closures of the Singer & Tinley Mental hospitals, Jax DC, and the Murphysboro Youth Center.

Commission votes to keep Murray Center and Tamms open.

There has been a lot of public and agency input and fact-finding about Governor Pat Quinn’s desire to close all these State facilities in the hopes of saving the State some money. Given the sinals that Quinn has put out recently about his intent to push forward with pension and medicaid cuts,  Quinn is still likely to close some if not all of these state facilities despite the CGFA recommendations. Especially since some public and professional support for at least two types of facility closures has developed over the past few months.

Forget that most if not all of the relatives of inmates who are or have been imprisoned in the Tamms Supermax prison and the ACLU want Tamms closed  because of the  alleged human rights violations committed there daily. There has been a groundswell of other voices pointing out that the closure of Tamms simply makes economic sense, and that it’s closure won’t affect public safety. Closing Tamms despite union opposition has to look pretty attractive to Governor Quinn given that, at the minimum, the State will have another opportunity to sell another state prison for money:

Our Opinion: It simply costs too much to run Tamms

Thoughts on today’s Tamms editorial

Some health experts and families are also siding with Quinn in support of the closure of four of the state’s eight developmental centers. They may be giving Quinn too much credit in attributing his plan to an overriding desire to empower persons with disabilities, but their support is likely to result in some closures.

Quinn facility closure plan hailed by activists


May 31, 2012, State Legislature passes new law paving way for Early Release programs! Read latest at http://richardwanke.com

 

We previously advised readers that any return of the Meritorious Good Time Credit (MGT) which IL Governor Pat Quinn suspended in December 2009, or a new program for the early release of IL inmates would first be publicly announced before the state acted to release anyone. Rumors are spread every month to inmates within the IL Department of Corrections (IDOC) about the anticipated return of MGT. These rumors are false, and as this article shows, IDOC is not about to reinstate MGT.

This article is the first clear and official indication of how Governor Quinn intends to proceed in order to address the extreme prison overcrowding he created in his attempt to win election as state governor. Quinn has so far ignored all inquiries as to why he has not reinstated MGT, but this article basically states that he will not do so; nor will he implement any “early release” program across the board. Rather, it states that Quinn and staff are brainstorming with just a few crucial legislators who deal with criminal justice issues; particularly Rep. Dennis Reboletti, who is a hard-liner on crime.

Rep Reboletti speaks of “alternative sentencing”,  ankle bracelets, treatment centers and halfway houses; terms similar to Quinn’s mention in October 2010 that he would focus on altenative sentencing, but it remains to be seen exactly what, if any, leniency will be included in the methods by which these options will be implemented. Reboletti has never advocated shortening sentences and releasing any inmates early, and his alternative sentencing options may mean just removing prisoners from IDOC and the State’s responsibility and instead making them serve the remainder of their terms elsewhere, such as in local communities.  Given that the State is short on money already and so are most communities; passing the responsibility for prisoner behavior onto localities would be difficult to work out. Yet, if localities accept inmates and themselves release them early, then the State can avoid political flack if anything goes wrong.

Whatever form of compromise is reached between Quinn and his legislators, it is unlikely to apply uniformly across the board for inmates. Some inmates convicted of non-violent offenses will be eligible to participate; yet others committing other offenses may not have that option.  Rep. Art Turner’s legislative overture to set aside the 60 day requirement is certainly doomed. Additionally, since funding sources appear to be non-existent right now, implementing sentencing alternatives and processing individuals by the end of the upcoming Spring legislative session appears to be over-optimistic. ILprisontalk.com is urging it’s members to contact legislators in support of Rep Turner’s bill and HB 3900. We doubt this is necessary. Since legislators tightened eligibility restrictions for awarding MGT, they are unlikely to now loosen them, and Governor Quinn won’t require this. Given who the legislators are that Quinn is negotiating with, Quinn isn’t going to unveil any risky or lenient program for sentence reduction. And, he will not need a prod to act. He will just move when he decides to do so. He can count on legislative support, not opposition, as legislators are not likely to oppose any actions negotiated by both parties and the Governor that they believe will reduce the prison population (and, more importantly, prison costs).

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 he just resurrected two of them last week: Tinley Park and Jacksonville. These serve vulnerable, disabled individuals which Quinn now states he is justified on moving back into the community because he has better plans for their placement and welfare. Quinn’s plans are yet unspecified and may be little better than his initial and criticized plans, yet he is announcing the closures of Tinley Park and Jacksonville as executive and final decisions not subject to re-review. Quinn is using the assertion that because his initial closure plans for these two facilities involved public hearings and a review, that these eliminate the necessity for the same this time around. If Quinn wins on this point, don’t be surprised if he also resurrects the closure of Logan Correctional Center and/or the Chester Mental Health Center.

This is not to say that alternative sentencing is not the solution. It is, but it will not succeed alone. Alternative sentencing options will only take some offenders out of IDOC to relieve prison overcrowding. It does not resolve the overcrowding in the first place, and if the current community mindset with respect to crime and offenders is not changed, then localities will not welcome alternative sentencing options and the placements of offenders.

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 effectively deal with prison overcrowding in time to avoid embarrassing lawsuits and costly effects.

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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.”

Illinois governor to close 2 state institutions

Governor Quinn Announces Active Community Care Transition Plan
Rebalancing Plan Will Increase Community Care Options for People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions


Talk about white-collar crime! Local governments get enough Homeland Security money, they apparently don’t worry too much about having to account for it:

Project Shield program misused?

January 9, 2012

“…When you waste Homeland Security money, you are less safe … This put our citizens at risk,” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-5th District, said.
Quigley and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday to launch a criminal probe into how contractors made decisions and how Cook County spent grant money for Project Shield.
“We may have more than just a problem of lackadaisical management. This program may have been looted by Cook County officials and the primary and secondary contractors involved,” Kirk said.
Kirk pointed to 168 changes made to contracts during the project’s first four years. The changes all increased the cost of the project — one change alone increased the cost by $413,555 — but there was no documentation of what specifically the extra cost went toward, according to the report.
“Money was paid to contractors and subcontractors for additional or different work and yet we have no idea what they did or how it was accounted for,” Kirk said…”

 


The problems in IL prisons are prompting a number of inmates to submit “letters to the editor” in order to let the public know what the situation is inside the Illinois Department of Corrections and to suggest ways for the State of IL to solve a few problems. We ran across two inmate letters written from inmates serving time at the Logan Correctional Center (which Governor Pat Quinn proposed closing) which we found noteworthy:

Jason Alan Spyres, at the Logan Correctional Center had this to say in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Illinois is broke and has proposed 1900-plus layoffs, claiming we have no other choice. Of those layoffs, 356 involve the Logan Correctional Center — a prison I’m in, serving a 30-year sentence for cannabis convictions.

In no way do I approve of my prior mistakes; however, being in prison doesn’t strip me of the ability to see specific policy changes we could make that would reduce the budgetary needs of the Department of Corrections — and lower future crime rates. Changes that wouldn’t involve state layoffs, or controversial inmate release programs.

Example: The Earned Good Conduct Credit is good time offenders can earn by participating in drug treatment, or earning their GED — two activities that are statistically tied to significantly lower recidivism rates. However, IDOC excludes anyone convicted of a Class X felony from EGC eligibility.

So, what is the Class X conviction? It was introduced in 1978 for the most serious, heinous and violent crimes, such as murder, aggravated kidnapping and child molestation/rape. But flash forward to 2011, and selling cannabis can earn you a Class X. First offense, with no guns and no violence. You still couldn’t earn the same good time carjackers, burglars, and murderers do. Yes, I said murderers. In Illinois, second-degree murder is not Class X and is eligible for the same good time we deny to thousands of nonviolent offenders.

When IDOC admits 89 percent of those who parole without a GED will return to prison in three years, why wouldn’t we incentivise all offenders to make positive choices — especially nonviolent ones?

Critics might argue this idea would result in some earning their GED only for the good-time. And they’re right, but would that be such a horrible thing? They would still have to demonstrate improved reading and writing abilities, and statistically, their recidivism rates would drop nearly in half.

For every 3.5 offenders added to the EGC program we’d save as much in current expenditures as a layoff. So, 1,900-plus layoffs, or more nonviolent offenders earning the same good-time we already give to second-degree murderers? Please, call your state legislators and tell them which you prefer.

Jason Alan Spyres,

Logan

and, Grant Larson, wrote to the following to the Decatur Tribune:

POLITICIANS ARE SELLING OUT PRISON INDUSTRIES

Dear Editor:

In 2009, Representative Bill Mitchell (R) Forsyth, proposed that inmates sleep in tents and work road crews. Bill’s ideas seem humorous. In my opinion, Bill and other politicians have been selling out the prison industries since the 1960’s.

The soy “magic” meal that was intended to feed those in a disaster is being force fed to us. The health issues are endless. The lucrative soy contract, no doubt, benefitted a politician. In fact, beef can be purchased cheaper than soy. Mary Ann Bohlen, assistant deputy director of fiscal accounting compliance for IDOC was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by state police. We can only wonder what the results of that investigation will cost.

If we show initiative or a willingness to work, the motive is questioned. With no good conduct incentive, no work ethic is being promoted. Drug treatment and vocational programs should be a priority. There are a lot of wasted acres within IDOC. They no longer raise any livestock or produce that could be used to feed inmates and lessen the cost to taxpayers. Every Illinois prisoner has a release date. Drug treatment and work release with restitution should be mandatory for drug related crimes. Work release needs to be required for reentry to society.

Road crews and tent living would put spoiled AFSCME officers on foot patrol and horseback. They would want more than a 2% raise. Some watchdog group would protect the inmates from work too. Who is robbing who?

Grant Larson,

Inmate at Logan Correctional Center

Lincoln