Posts Tagged ‘IDOC’

Full Text of Press Release from State of IL, Governor Pat Quinn’s Office website

Governor Quinn Signs Laws to Improve Public Safety and Criminal Justice in Illinois
New Laws Will Crack Down on Crime; Continue to Manage Prison Population and Encourage Positive Behavior

CHICAGO – June 22, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today signed several new laws that together will improve public safety and criminal justice in Illinois. Senate Bill 2621 increases accountability in the state’s prison system by setting new guidelines that strengthen the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) ability to manage the state’s prison population. Forty-six other states have adopted similar laws, which also encourage non-violent offenders to pursue positive rehabilitation strategies.“Ensuring public safety is my top priority,” Governor Quinn said. “This is good criminal justice policy and good public safety policy that will manage our prison population and make non-violent offenders less likely to commit crime in the future.”SB 2621, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), passed both houses with bi-partisan support and has been endorsed by many criminal justice organizations, including the John Howard Association. The law increases safety inside prisons by allowing DOC to award sentence credit to non-violent offenders who have shown willingness to correct their behavior through successful completion of rehabilitation.Sentencing credit has existed in Illinois law since 1978 but under the new law, inmates would only be eligible to receive sentence credit after serving at least 60 days in DOC custody. Inmates who display appropriate, positive behavior will be reviewed and evaluated by DOC to determine whether they are eligible to receive credit. Under the new law, DOC will consider and evaluate an inmate’s prior offenses, the circumstances of the inmate’s current holding offense, as well as the offender’s potential for rehabilitation prior to the decision to award sentencing credit. DOC will also have the right to revoke credit if an inmate demonstrates negative or violent behavior. As a result of the Governor’s 2009 Crime Reduction Act, there will also be a risk assessment tool in place this year to ensure that sentences are administered according to individual evaluation of the inmate.

SB 2621 also increases transparency by requiring DOC to provide annual reports to the Governor and General Assembly containing program statistics, how the new policies are being implemented and how sentence credit is being awarded. Additionally, county state’s attorneys, county sheriffs and the committing county will receive notification two weeks prior to an inmate’s release.

In order to qualify for sentencing credit, inmates will be required to successfully complete rehabilitation treatments, which could include substance abuse treatment, adult education, and behavior modification or life skills programs. Inmates may also receive sentence credit for passing the Test of General Educational Development (GED) while in DOC custody.

“Presenting inmates with an additional incentive for good behavior will improve the environment inside our facilities and allow the department to focus our efforts on violent criminals,” said Illinois Department of Corrections Director S.A. “Tony” Godinez. “Eligible inmates will now have the benefit of receiving sentence credit appropriately and responsibly as the department continues to look for effective, safe and secure methods of managing state prisons.”

SB 2621 is effective immediately.

Governor Quinn also signed additional laws to increase public safety and protect children from predators. Senate Bill 3579, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and Rep. Sandra Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn), prohibits sex offenders from participating in holiday celebrations where minors are present, for example handing out candy on Halloween. The law goes into effect Jan. 1. Senate Bill 3809, sponsored by Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) and Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville), enables park districts to have criminal background checks performed to determine whether a job applicant is a delinquent minor for committing certain offenses, such as sexual assault. The law goes into effect immediately.

Senate Bill 3258, sponsored by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) and Rep. Scott Penny (D-Belleville), clarifies violations included in the Sex Offender Registry, and prevents arrest records for reckless driving from being sealed before the offender reaches the age of 25. The law goes into effect Jan. 1. House Bill 4590, sponsored by Rep. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) and Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon), adds new information, such as known gang affiliations, to inmate record files housed at the Department of Corrections. The law is effective immediately.

Update: The IL Department of Correction maintains a Questions and Answers area on it’s website to familiarize visitors with department policies and procedures. The new law passed regarding sentence credits will cause IDOC to revise some of the information posted in that section about good time credits. For now, IDOC has updated that section with the following statement:

Please note: in accordance with Public Act 97-0697 (effective 6/22/2012) the above types of credit have been amended along with other changes.  The Department has started examining and identifying policies and/or rules for revisions that may need to be promulgated through the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

This statement is the best indicator so far as to how long it will take IDOC to release any inmates early. Since it states that changes will have to be made, you can pretty much bet that the department will not act quickly to release anyone. It will more likely take until sometime after the November elections before early releases get started.

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

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

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

Quinn Announces Prison Closures In

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

Quinn closing prisons against lawmakers’

“…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

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

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 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.

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

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,


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


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


Well, the IL General Assembly Fall Veto Session is finally over! IL legislators tonight completed Governor Pat Quinn’s job and by reallocating the money in the IL current state budget they worked out a deal to avoid Quinn’s threatened shut-down for seven state facilities and the proposed lay-offs of over 1900 state employees. They also reinstated some funding for mental health and even came up with funds to pay for indigent burials!

Legislators also, fortunately, left Springfield without approving the unwarranted tax breaks for Sears and the Chicago Merchantile Exchange. Too bad that state legislators felt that they had to devote most of this one last day to considering whether or not to give these corporations the tax breaks they are demanding in return for remaining in IL. In the end only 8 legislators voted in favor of tax breaks, so we will see if Sears and CME flee the state or not.

Now, legislators are far from having addressed the serious fiscal problems which the state faces. Averting state closures now is still a temporary fix. Funding will only cover the state budget thru June 2011. We can certainly anticipate a lot more discussion about the state having to close facilities and cut additional staff in 2012. We just hope that Governor Pat Quinn doesn’t again create more chaos and waste everyone’s time and more state money by coming up with another hasty list of “must-do” state closures:

Written by Koehler Staff Tuesday, 29 November 2011 19:31, from IL Senator Koehler’s website:

Springfield – Late Tuesday evening, the General Assembly took action to partially restore human services funding, avert state facility closings, and prevent mass layoffs. They achieved these goals by reprioritizing state spending—not spending additional taxpayer dollars.

“This action is good news for people throughout the state of Illinois, particularly for the families of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled,” said State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria). “During the holiday season, no one wants to worry about finding care for a loved one or the possibility of getting laid off.”

After Governor Quinn approved the General Assembly’s budget last summer, he claimed that he did not have adequate funding to keep all of the state’s mental health and developmental disability centers open. He threatened to close seven state-run buildings throughout the state. This legislation, Senate Bill 2412, allows the facilities to remain operational for the rest of the fiscal year.

It also partially restores funding for mental health grants that go to local mental health centers, alcoholism and substance abuse programs, burial services for the homeless and very poor, homelessness prevention programs, and need-based financial aid for college students.

To pay for these restorations, the General Assembly sustained many of the governor’s budget-related vetoes, shifted money from other state funds, and reduced a number of lower-priority grants.

“I think this budget more closely reflects our state’s priorities,” Koehler said. “It helps protect the people who are least able to protect themselves. And, while I will admit that we may need to explore facility closures in the future, we need to make sure we plan ahead and transfer mental health patients and developmentally disabled people into safe situations. Closing their facilities without a plan in place could result in unreasonable hardship for these people and their families.”

“I think this is the way budgeting should work,” Koehler added. “We set our priorities, re-examined the budget, and then lowered spending in some areas to allow us to pay more in others.”

7 state facilities getting short-term reprieves

Quinn, legislators work out deal to keep Tinley Park Mental Health Center, 6 other sites open through June

(Chicago Tribune article)

There are only three days left in the IL General Assembly Veto Session for 2011. Legislators are working behind the scenes now to prepare for when they return on November 8, 2011. At least one issue; the gambling expansion, seems to be stymied. Although a bill has been drawn up to dumb down the proposed expansion in state-wide gambling in order to address Governor Pat Quinn’s concerns, the absence of slots at racetracks will probably doom the passage of gambling expansion. Quinn claims that racetrack owners will be willing to accept a subsidy in lieu of slots, but it is clear that this is not the case. This result of no compromise will be to kill any gambling expansion, and may be the one Pat Quinn intended from the first by proposing extensive changes to the bill the legislature originally proposed.

Non-action on gambling may free up some consideration time for other issues. The biggest public concern remaining is what will happen to the seven state facilities which Governor Pat Quinn has targeted for closures beginning December 31, 2011, due to “lack of money” to operate them. There have been public hearings state-wide for each of the facilities and a lot of public outrage expressed to the state and to legislators over the haphazard way in which Governor Quinn selected these facilities for closure. Many legislators accuse Quinn of playing partisan politics by selecting mostly downstate facilities located in mostly Republican districts  to close. Critics point out that the Quinn administrations claims of the monetary savings realized by closing these facilities are over-stated and do not include the costs the state will incur having to make alternative placement and treatment plans for the thousands of individuals the facilities presently provide services for. Plenty of people regard Quinn’s initial proposal to close these facilities as a political ploy to try to push the legislature to still try to get his own way and make them agree to borrow more money to cover state budget deficits as he initially proposed at the start of the year. Quinn was hoping to turn public outrage and a time deadline against the legislators as pressure to approve borrowing.

So far, this appears to have backfired against Quinn. There has been plenty of outrage, but so far, most of it is directed at Quinn for using the public as a pawn in his disagreement with the legislature. Legislators are distancing themselves from Quinn and attempting to work around him to come up with the funds needed to operate each of these facilities, for at least the short-term. While everyone admits that some state facility closures may be necessary down the road, no body likes the manner in which Quinn came up with his short list without much input and consideration from others. It is generally agreed that such closures should come only after much discussion and after all other more reasonable attempts to save money are made by the state. That may happen next year or the year after. For now, both sides of the legislature are trying to come up with money to avoid the closures. Quinn vetoed $376 million from the budget sent to him this year by the General Assembly. Instead of looking to override Quinn’s veto, legislators are instead doing Quinn’s job and looking to possibly use those funds to cover the shortfalls in operating the seven state facilities through sometime next year: (Click on each red link to read each of the articles below)

Quinn’s $376 million budget veto likely to be spent elsewhere

We believe that state legislators will be able to pull together enough funding to cover the budget shortage for these facilities and avoid the accompanying layoffs, simply because they know they have little choice. Yet there are other complications which will be unpopular. The money they are looking to use are basically just delayed Medicaid payments into next fiscal year and vetoed school transportation funds. Using this money elsewhere will cost the state a big federal Medicaid match and not be like downstate.

Quinn’s administrative staff is supposedly helping the legislators review the funding sources and figures, but Quinn himself is becoming more outspoken in criticizing the legislature lately and this is not helping his relationship with the legislature and their regard for him:

Quinn says he’s no pal of lawmakers

Quinn earlier indicated that he would work with legislators to try to avoid the prison closures if possible. This appears to have been a PR statement on his part, in early October, when he felt hopeful that he could bring public pressure to bear against them. Now that his power is pretty empty, he has to follow through on his words:

Quinn would consider keeping prison open

Nevertheless, the hasty planning in the closures proposal has become evident in the past month. At least one planned closure plan, for Logan is now being redrawn since the impracticalities in it would make it impossible to implement:

Logan closure plan altered, more prison crowding looms

Quinn’s closure plans are clearly premature and drastic; his putting the horse before the cart. It was only a year or so ago that Quinn made a big display about soliciting the public and state workers to submit information and suggestions to a state website about ways in which the state could save money. Now, Quinn is in the position of having started a cutting process which he may not be able to demonstrate is in fact necessary since he can’t show that these suggestions and other options have been thoroughly explored. The following item appeared just the other day. The question is how many other ways for the state to save money has Quinn tried up to now, and will the state suddenly take up more of these options?

Zipcars to be available for traveling state employees

While the biggest number of layoffs remain in the future, a small number of them are already beginning. Quinn will now be in the position to receive the backlash from these layoffs coming at a time when the economy is still poor and the holiday season is beginning:

Two dozen state workers to get pink slips

Illinois prisontalk (IPT) is critical of anyone spreading rumors about when Meritorious Good Time (MGT) credit is likely to return for IL prisoners. IPT doesn’t want to create false expectations among IL inmates and their families. This past Spring session, however, IPT online forum leaders succumbed to temptation and  disregarded IPT’s own goal. IPT engaged it’s members in a misguided effort to contact legislators to support passage of specific criminal bills in the General Assembly which had no effect on the reinstatement of MGT but only served to toughen criminal penalties on offenders. Fortunately, most of the bills IPT advocated passing in Spring died at the end of the legislative session.

With the general, prevailing, public opinion being anti-offender and pro-punishment, IL General Assembly members need no additional encouragement to toughen criminal penalties and send more people to prison. Instead, legislators and local courts and counties need to understand that no matter how much money we spend housing prisoners and getting offenders off the streets for any maximum length of time, our capacity to hold prisoners in IL is finite, and ultimately they will return to our communities. If they are merely warehoused and all rehabilitation efforts made are only lip-service; then they return to our communities better criminals than when they left with no incentive to change; and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again. IL already virtually tops the list of our nation’s states for it’s incarcerate numbers. At this time of stubborn recession, state taxpayers and society cannot afford to foot this bill.

The IL fall legislative veto session to due to get underway on October 25, 2011. It consists of six short days in which major legislative budgetary issues from the past year still remain to be resolved. Again, during the last couple of weeks, the IPT online forum was abuzz with advice by IPT that new legislation regarding MGT was to be drawn up and passed during the fall veto session. As the message now posted at IPT indicates, this was merely rumor. There is no possibility that any Corrections bills dealing with the MGT issue will be considered at the fall session. As, we have previously advised, no legislative changes will occur to resolve the overcrowding in the IL Department of Corrections (IDOC) or promote any sort of “early release” initiatives until the Spring legislative session in 2012, at the earliest.

We have said that Governor Pat Quinn, retains control over what happens at IDOC and over any departmental initiatives to relieve state prison over-crowding. This remains accurate. Quinn could reinstate MGT in some form, if he chose to. What has become increasingly apparent over time is that Quinn, having taken political heat from first attempting to increase the release of state prisoners, is not going to stick his neck out again on this issue. Consequently, he has not been responsive to pressure to reinstate MGT in any form until he is ready. Moreover, Quinn has demonstrated a habit of extreme rationalization to justify his political opportunism. He has reneged on agreements made to political allies when politically expedient to do so, simply on the belief that he will get what he wants in the short-term and can afford to leave the rest for the courts to sort out down the road. Perhaps this is the legacy of Rod Blagovich, who also operated in the same manner when he was governor; just with more flamboyance.

What this means is that Quinn is unlikely to do anything progressive to resolve prison condition problems and overcrowding until the last minute and even then, only if he is forced to so by lawsuits and legal actions. He will not be willing to compromise. So prison reform advocate groups such those which IPT are allied with are going to have to do more than advocate for the return of MGT; they are going to have to sue the state. We suggest that the sooner they prepare to do so the better!

« on: October 20, 2011, 08:43:24 PM »

Hello members:

For those with their hopes set high that MGT will be reinstated anytime soon this isn’t good news.  It’s time to wipe away the past rumors, pending legislation, and speculations of the restoral of MGT in 2011.  It’s not going to happen.  The past pending legislation wasn’t really legislation that would’ve restored MGT anyway….it was just legislation to toughen up the criteria for those released IF it’s ever restored.  It makes little difference whether it was passed or not.

The ultimate decision lands on Gov. Quinn, who has expressed many times that he’s not about to restore MGT any time soon…if ever.  It’s a political timebomb that he’s unlikely to put himself within arm’s reach again.  He likes his job.

So we’re going to clean the slate and start again in Square 1.  Forget everything that has happened in the past…

Everyone knows and agrees that the IDOC is crowded…this isn’t the first time it’s been overcrowded and it hasn’t exploded yet.  If the IDOC and Quinn were worried about rioting or anything else explosive they have alternatives to release inmates….regardless of MGT.

Just because nothing was resolved in 2011 it hasn’t stopped a handful of activists that are still hoping to move the Governor to restore MGT.  They are preparing to draft legislation that will be introduced in the Spring session…

It’s impossible to get it included in the Fall session of the Legislature.  It must wait until Spring and it’s going to need backing from the public.  This informal group of activists met recently to discuss the best possible plan of action and this will begin with a public meeting to discuss overcrowding within the IDOC…probably in late November or early December.  We will notify you of the date and particulars when they are decided upon.  Encouraging attempts are being made to sign on legislators to sponsor this new bill.

Let me remind you that even with successful legislation Quinn still has the ultimate power to approve the restoration of MGT.

Suggestions are being formulated for the contents of  this bill, including a revision of MGT as it was previously implemented, and the criteria for inmates to receive MGT/SMGT.

There is nothing carved in stone so please don’t speculate or ask a thousand questions….there’s nothing more to tell you.

In the meantime the IDOC may possibly solve some of it’s own problems by finding creative ways to release inmates earlier than scheduled…if so, we know nothing about it and don’t want to hear all the rumors again.  Look what all the rumors have done in the past 20 months?  There’ve been a thousand posts here about it…and plenty of arguments and bickering over something that everyone hopes will benefit our inmates.

If inmates are released early, for whatever reason, that’s something to celebrate.

When MGT was suspended I cautioned everyone here that it would be an uphill battle and that it wasn’t likely that MGT would be restored.  I still stand by that….but there’s always hope as influential people are working on a solution.  When the time is right they will ask for our help here at IPT and we’ll keep you informed how you might help.