Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn reversed a secret policy Wednesday that allowed more than 1,700 inmates to be released from state prison early, some of whom have already been sent back for new offenses, including aggravated battery, weapons charges and assault.
The inmates were set free after an unannounced change in prison practice _ revealed in an Associated Press report earlier this month _ that Quinn now calls a "big mistake." He blamed his Corrections director, Michael Randle, but did not fire him.
The AP obtained and analyzed information that showed about 850 inmates were let out weeks early beginning in September. Corrections stopped requiring them to serve at least 61 days and gave them up to six months' good-conduct credit, or "meritorious good time," immediately upon entering the lockup, before they had a chance to display any kind of behavior.
That meant they spent as little as three weeks behind bars _ including county jail _ and averaged 16 days in the state pen under the plan called "MGT Push." They included violent offenders who committed such crimes as battery, weapons charges and aggravated drunken driving.
"This was a big mistake and I am very disappointed that this occurred. I think it was an error in judgment," Quinn said.
The Democrat said he did not know about the practice until he read the AP account, contradicting his statement two weeks earlier that he was aware of it and that it was well-publicized.
Randle took responsibility for not following the governor's orders to keep violent offenders out of any early release program.
In addition to reinstating the minimum-stay rule, Quinn said he would require prosecutors be told 14 days in advance of an inmate's release, appoint a public safety officer to determine good-time eligibility, and work with the General Assembly to revamp the meritorious good time system.
The AP searched Corrections records and found at least 18 of the parolees were back behind bars. Several ran immediately into trouble after release, according to internal Corrections documents obtained Wednesday by the AP.
_ Derrick King, 48, who was released Oct. 20 after serving about a year in Cook County Jail and 14 days at Stateville of a three-year sentence for robbery. The day after his release, he was arrested for assault, then returned to prison.
_ Alfred Wooten, 40, who spent 13 days in Stateville prison before his release Oct. 15 from a one-year sentence for retail theft. Chicago police arrested him Nov. 17 for criminal trespass, then arrested him again Dec. 2 for domestic battery. His parole was then revoked.
_ Quince Campbell, 25, who was sentenced to three years in prison for weapons violations. He was in Cook County Jail for about a year, released from Stateville Sept. 17 after 13 days, and arrested again Nov. 4 for having a .22 caliber revolver and ammunition.
_ Joshua Paddock, 21, who was sentenced to four years in early 2008 for aggravated battery. Lake County Jail held him about 18 months, he left Stateville Nov. 6 after 14 days, and was arrested later that month for driving without a license. But Corrections did not revoke his parole until after he was arrested Dec. 12 on four charges of domestic battery.
It was unclear whether any of them had an attorney. Quinn spokesmen refused to discuss the parolees and repeatedly told the AP to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. They did not comment Wednesday after Quinn's news conference.
Others violated parole by getting arrested for battery, making, selling or possessing drugs, theft or not following parole regulations.
At the news conference, Quinn pinned responsibility to others _ particularly his Corrections director. Randle appeared alternately stern and glum, at times even shellshocked, as he stood just a few feet away while Quinn criticized his judgment.
The governor also complained that lawmakers gave him a budget without enough money for the prison system, and that they adopted laws that leave him little flexibility on which prisoners get time off for good behavior _ even though good-conduct credit is optional and not required by law.
Quinn maintained Wednesday that he didn't know about the MGT Push program until reading the Associated Press story about it. That contradicts a statement Dec. 16 that he did know about it. Either way, it does not explain why his office defended the policy change when the AP initially asked about it.
Of the 1,718 released early under MGT Push, Quinn contended that 56 had been returned to prison, eight for new crimes: Six for retail theft or drug offenses, one for a drunken driving and one for domestic assault. Spokesmen would not comment on the discrepancy between the governor's numbers and the AP's.
MGT Push is separate from another early release program that Quinn announced in September designed to save $5 million, most of which would be put into community programs to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders. Under that plan about 200 people have been released, but after criticism, Quinn decided to rounded up 18 of the former inmates who were repeat drunken drivers and shipped them back to prison.
Of the 850 released under MGT Push that were part of AP's review, more than 200 were imprisoned on charges related to driving under the influence. Administration officials have not responded to questions about whether they will take any action against those parolees.
A spokesman for Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn's gubernatorial opponent in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary, chided the governor for waiting two weeks to "realize what should be common sense: that a secret early release program for violent offenders is a horrible idea that needlessly threatens public safety."
Associated Press writers Michael Tarm in Chicago and Christopher Wills in Springfield contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS the number of inmates released to 1,718, instead of 1,178.)