Ill. suspends 2nd release program pending review

AP News
Posted: Jan 05, 2010 10:21 PM

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suspended a second early release program for state prisoners Tuesday as he faces unrelenting criticism over violent inmates who were secretly set free after just weeks behind bars.

The newly halted plan was announced in September as a way to cut costs. It is separate from a secret release program known as "MGT Push" that Quinn ceased after it came to light last month.

The Corrections Department confirmed Tuesday night that Quinn stopped the publicized program until he can name a public safety officer to review it. It was intended to send home 1,000 nonviolent offenders early, having them finish their sentences on electronic detention.

But the governor put the brakes on it because of fallout over MGT Push. The Associated Press reported last month that a secret policy change meant inmates with short sentences were no longer held for a minimum of 61 days and were given months of good-conduct credit upfront, before displaying any conduct.

That resulted in offenders _ Quinn announced last week the total was more than 1,700 _ being released after as little as three weeks behind bars, despite committing crimes such as aggravated battery and weapons violations.

Quinn reinstated the 61-day rule and announced prison-system reforms, including naming a public safety officer to oversee early release plans and the awarding of good-conduct time for prisoners, which can shorten their sentences.

"Since that person will be overseeing the program, it only makes sense to suspend it temporarily until that person comes on board," Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said.

Quinn announced the electronic detention plan last fall, saying it would save $5 million, although he would put $4 million into community based programs to try to divert people from overcrowded penitentiaries.

Early prison release programs are always politically prickly, but the electronic detention practice proceeded quietly. About 200 offenders went home.

Then the report on MGT Push brought a storm of criticism, particularly from state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who is challenging Quinn for the Democratic nomination for governor in the Feb. 2 primary. Hynes accuses Quinn of endangering the public and offering "lame" excuses for MGT Push.

Quinn blamed MGT Push on Corrections Director Michael Randle, saying Randle had not followed orders on releasing violent offenders.

The governor appointed a former appellate justice to review the situation with his staff and announced last week he would formalize the 61-day rule. He also said he would appoint the public safety officer, whom Smith said Tuesday will be named soon, along with a safety officer in the governor's office. Corrections says it stopped front-loading good-conduct credit.