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The problems continue at Illinois prisons

Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012

* Mick Dumke at the Chicago Reader takes a look today at Illinois’ innumerable prison problems, including these

(T)he state’s prison population has been inching upward for years. In fact, while diversion programs and drug law reforms have helped shrink the inmate totals in most large states, Illinois has been a national leader in prison population growth, including the biggest increase anywhere in 2010, according to a recent federal report.

Although corrections officials previously predicted a drop in the inmate population, it’s grown from 44,669 in 2005 to 47,504 in 2010 to 48,380 last week. That’s an increase of about 8 percent in seven years. Over the same period, the state corrections budget has grown about 20 percent, to $1.2 billion.

We’re not just talking about violent criminals, either. Since 2005, the portion of prisoners in for nonviolent offenses has remained constant—about 49 percent. That means more people have been incarcerated for offenses like DUIs, thefts, and residential burglaries.

On the upside, fewer prisoners are in on drug charges. On the downside, drug offenses still account for 20 percent of the inmates in Illinois prisons. Nearly 800 of these prisoners are there for marijuana-related offenses.

One reason the state saw the prison population skyrocket so much in 2010 was because of the badly botched early release “push” program that set free violent offenders. The “push” program was abolished, but so was the rest of the early release program and Corrections employees claimed during the year that parole officers were scrambling to put people back into prison so that the governor didn’t have a campaign problem if one of those guys killed somebody.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s chief of staff Jack Lavin claimed the other day that the prison census was declining. But he was using very short-term numbers to justify this claim. Overall, the population has obviously grown a lot. Maybe we should start talking about at least freeing those marijuana convicts.

* Progress Illinois takes a look at the governor’s proposal to close Tamms

Edgar’s Task Force, for instance, made clear that prisoners were only supposed to be housed in Tamms temporarily: “The
 Super‐Max…is
 a
 management
 tool
 for
 addressing
 specific
 security
 problems… 

To 
serve 
its 
purpose, 
inmates 
must 
move 
in 
and 
out 
based 
on 
some 
objective 
classification 
and 
standards.”


The primary purpose mentioned above was to rehabilitate those causing trouble in other prisons. Thus, the Task Force’s report argued, prisoners must be allowed to earn their way out of Tamms based on good behavior: “Inmates would be required to earn their way to progressively less restrictive levels [of confinement], and eventually back into the general prison population… Reviews of inmate behavior would be made every 30 days.” […]

As advocacy group Tamms Year Ten has pointed out, these regulations were either never put in place or never followed. (The group’s flier on the subject, from which the above quotes were culled, is available here.)

Prisoners have been housed at the Tamms facility indefinitely — they have been moved “in” but not “out.” A third of the current inmates have been incarcerated at the supermax prison since 1998, according to Tamms Year Ten. Some of these prisoners have long since reached the highest good behavior “level” described by the Task Force; and yet they have not been returned to the general prison population. Instead, they remain imprisoned in exactly the sort of “long-term isolation” the Task Force warned against.

* Related…

* Some see Pat Quinn’s budget as attack on downstate Illinois: Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft argued last week that the 14 proposed major facility closings are evenly divided by region, with seven in the upper half of the state, including places such as Rockford, Joliet and Aurora. However, Illinois is a state where “downstate” is commonly defined as anything outside Chicago — and just two of the 14 facilities are in the city. By that measure, some argue, Quinn’s proposed cuts show a clear geographic pattern. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he is Cook County-centered,” said Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, who is fighting the proposed closing of the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other facilities in his area. “(Cook County) is his power base, that’s where his voting base is, that’s where his loyalties are.”

* AFSCME launches “No Quinn Cuts” Campaign to protect public services and jobs

* Hundreds rally to stop closure of Dwight Correctional Center

* Dwight rallies ’round DCC

- Posted by Rich Miller        


14 Comments
  1. - Ahoy - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:02 am:

    At the very least we should consider changing the Department of Corrections name to Department of Prisons since there doesn’t seem to be any correcting taking place. The tough on crime ere has been costly and counterproductive. Let us hope that we transition into a new era of rational policy.


  2. - OneMan - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:17 am:

    Don’t know if I would consider Aurora downstate….


  3. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:18 am:

    I wouldn’t either, OneMan.


  4. - Peggy R/Southern - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:34 am:

    The most press that the Bellville ND has given to state govt news in several years has been the recent stories on closing SO-IL prisons and developmental centers. The BND is pretty bad about conveying IL govt news.

    I have heard the AFSCME ads on KMOX in St Louis, which can be heard in much of SW-IL.[gratuitous cheer–Go Cards!]


  5. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:42 am:

    In Chicago, we had a meeting on Monday night that was held to rally support against our office merger. State Rep. Smith was kind enough to attend and lend support, as were others from different organizations, including two universities. DHS wants my office to merge with two other offices in a building that is reportedly not ADA-compliant and may have safety issues. We also had disabled people and representatives at the meeting.

    One of our proposals is to merge offices in an apparently safe, accessible building, such as my current office. We were told the planned merger is not a done deal, and Rep. Smith said he’s trying to work with Quinn’s people on a solution that will be better for the people DHS services.


  6. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:54 am:

    –Nearly 800 of these prisoners are there for marijuana-related offenses.–

    That’s very expensive reefer madness.


  7. - Ray del Camino - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 10:57 am:

    People have to remember that prisons generally are built in sparsely populated areas, which in our case means downstate, however defined (in the case of Tamms, way downstate); these days it also generally means Republican.


  8. - MrJM - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 12:15 pm:

    Many of the problems of Illinois prisons are not due to decisions made within the “prison system” but by legislators who demand more and harsher sentences in order to brand themselves as “tough on crime.”

    – MrJM


  9. - Shore - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 2:45 pm:

    It’s worth noting that Vice-President Biden was in Latin America this week sending the exact opposite message on narcotics-that they should not be legalized and that the status quo on prosecutions should continue.


  10. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 3:53 pm:

    It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. AFSCME and downstaters can’t defend EVERY facility. I’m curious if they will throw one or two under the bus to save others.

    There is no one I know of who wants our true safety net destroyed–or even the Secretary of State’s office, for that matter. The supermax seems to be the one facility that can be closed with a relatively large savings and little if any effect to the rest of the system.

    That’s not true with mental health facilities or transitional centers which alleviate other problems and ultimately save money.


  11. - Wilson Pickett - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 5:25 pm:

    Why not contract a large part (if not all) of it out to privately-run prisons? Over 31 other states are currently doing it because they have found it to be more economically efficient. They also feel that the prisons are now more humanely run for the prisoners.Many of the private prison firms have also purchased several of the existing prison facilities from the state governments so it also gave those states a quick-fix of needed cash. Is Governor Quinn even looking into it?Why not contact other states to ask them how it is working out for them?
    I realize that politically it will pose a problem for the governor with AFSCME but it may be time for him to make the tough decisions on what is for the good of the state of Illinois and it’s citizens rather than what is good for Pat Quinn’s future political career.


  12. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 5:51 pm:

    ==Wilson Pickett: Why not contract a large part (if not all) of it out to privately-run prisons?==

    Politically, as you point out, this is impossible. A lot of costs in prison (mental health care and medical care) are already contracted out but that is more or less a disaster and has put the IDOC under a lot of serious litigation. Overcrowding could be solved fairly easily if anyone wanted to do it and if the public would let them.


  13. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 7:00 pm:

    @Wilson Pickett -

    So, the state gets a big boost of revenue upfront, and then what?

    49,000 inmates is still 49,000 inmates.

    Are we going to give those private companies revenue guarantees like we did for LAZ parking and the Chicago Stadium deal?

    Only a fool would “buy stock” in Illinois’ prison system right now. The population is obviously inflated and unsustainable.

    I don’t think Dumke mentioned it, but Illinois wasnt just the leader in prison population growth. Illinois and Texas were the only two states that saw increases in their prison population. The other 48 states went down.


  14. - wishbone - Wednesday, Mar 7, 12 @ 11:26 pm:

    “It’s worth noting that Vice-President Biden was in Latin America this week sending the exact opposite message on narcotics-that they should not be legalized and that the status quo on prosecutions should continue.”

    Yeah, we haven’t done enough to destroy Mexico.


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