Critics bash Quinn on early release of inmates

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2009 7:13 PM

Critics heaped scorn on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday over a secret prison program that allowed hundreds of inmates _ some violent offenders _ to be released early, including some who only spent 11 days behind bars.

An Associated Press report released Sunday showed that more than 850 inmates _ including repeat drunk drivers, drug users and even people convicted of battery and weapons violations _ were released early under the program since September.

This happened because the Corrections Department abandoned a policy that all prisoners serve at least 61 days and gave inmates months of good-time credit upfront.

Quinn ordered a "top-to-bottom" review of the practice on Sunday after seeing the AP report. The Democrat would not say on Monday whether Corrections Director Michael Randle told him about the unpublicized practice, which is separate from an early release program of 1,000 inmates Quinn announced in September to save money in a budget crisis.

"The director of Corrections has broad authority, broad discretion," the Democrat told reporters in Chicago. "Having said that, I'm the governor, I make the final decisions. If I feel that something needs to be looked at and reviewed, that's the way it will be."

But critics and supporters criticized the program. They suggested an examination to determine who's responsible, said if the governor didn't know, he should have, and stressed that inmates entering state prison should stay at least 30 days.

Dan Hynes, who is challenging Quinn in February's gubernatorial primary, demanded a public investigation that begins with Quinn himself, to determine who's responsible for the program and who will be held accountable "on such obvious issues of public safety."

He ridiculed it as another of Quinn's "misadventures in transparency," criticizing the governor for what he claimed were recent attempts to bury information about his administration.

"Given the potential immediate safety risk to communities across Illinois, I strongly encourage the review to be completed and the public made fully aware of its findings within a matter of days," the state comptroller said.

If Quinn, who would not criticize Randle, didn't know before the report appeared, his staff did. Spokesman Bob Reed defended the practice last week, saying in response to questions from the AP, "These offenders were not released early. ... They received some sort of good-time credit."

State law allows the prison director to award up to six months of good-time credit to inmates not accused of seriously violent offenses. Corrections previously required all incoming inmates to serve at least 61 days before receiving good time.

Officials dropped that requirement so they could spare the expense of transferring inmates to other prisons for short stints. And they were awarding the good time upfront, making some inmates eligible for release almost immediately.

Requiring a minimum stay gives an offender a taste of prison and allows officials to determine whether he deserves the credit, said Senate Criminal Law Committee Chairman Mike Noland, D-Elgin.

"On some level, they're a danger to society and we have an obligation to ensure that to some measure the sentence is carried out," Noland said. "The message to the offenders has to be, there's more of this ahead for them if they don't correct their behavior."

Noland said he would be open to discussing legislation setting a minimum state prison stay of at least 30 days. He also stressed the Legislature must close a multibillion-dollar budget gap to ensure proper incarceration practices.

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Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.