Gov. Quinn: Early release program 'very big mistake'

December 30, 2009 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) Some of them have already been sent back to prison for committing new offenses.

He says setting prisoners free to try to save taxpayer money was a "big mistake".

The inmates were released over the last two months allegedly for good conduct. However, 56 of them have already been returned to prison, eight for new offenses that include battery and DUI.

Wednesday, the governor acknowledged the policy was a mistake, but also did not take responsibility for it.

"I did not approve the acceleration, and I think it was bad judgment to do it, and when I learned about it, I suspended it," Quinn said.

Governor Quinn today said it was Illinois Director of Corrections Michael Randle who put the accelerated release program into effect this September, not him.

Built upon a law on the books since 1978 that allows short-term convicted felons to be released early for good conduct while incarcerated, the accelerated program gave inmates meritorious good time immediately upon entering lockup, including felons who were convicted of violent offenses such as battery and DUI.

"There were mistakes made in judgment in the planning. It was not implemented the way the governor directed, and as director of this agency, I take responsibility," Randle said.

Rather than ask Randle to resign, the governor today squarely put the blame on the general assembly for forcing state agencies to cut their budgets this year.

Quinn's Democratic primary opponent, State Comptroller Dan Hynes isn't buying it. He says entire communities have been put at risk.

"The incompetence shown here is staggering. From the very beginning when he denied the program existed, then said he didn't know about it, then said he did. This calls into question his competence and judgment," Hynes said.

"Those inmates served on average 37 days less than they would have, and every single one would have been out by the end of next month, most of them, 80 percent, by today," Quinn said.

Recognizing that the entire early release program has problems however, the governor said the following changes will be made:

  • Prisoners will spend at least 61 days in state prison before being eligible for early release.
  • Local prosecutors will be notified 14 days before releasing an inmate.
  • There will be a review the types of offenses that are eligible for good behavior credit.

The governor called on former prosecutor and Judge David Erickson to review the program and make recommendations.

"It didn't tailor anything to the individual. There was not correctional benefit in terms of rehabilitation, and there was not punishment benefit either way. Either way, it just moved it faster," Erickson said.

The governor says there are no plans to reprimand Director Randle. He is satisfied that this would not happen again.

Moving ahead, the governor appointed retired Judge Gino Devito to the sentencing policy advisory council.

We should also clarify that every single one of the inmates released under the accelerated good behavior program was released under mandatory supervision.

Part of the problem with the program as a whole was the general assembly back in 1978 that established what categories of crimes were eligible for good conduct credit. Some crimes considered violent today didn't even exist back then.

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