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The prison trend you’re not hearing much about

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* Back during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Pat Quinn suspended both the Meritorious Good Time prison release program after discovering that a new MGT “Push” program was letting violent offenders out of prison way too early. That decision caused a huge spike in the prison population, from 45,750 inmates in January of 2010 to a high of 49,135 inmates last October.

The governor is trying to close several prisons, but that big population increase has been dogging him. So, Quinn has come out in favor of restoring the original MGT program (without the notorious “push”) as long as the General Assembly makes some changes

“I think we definitely want to work with anyone that’s interested in this issue,” Quinn said. “It has to be done very carefully. We studied it in the last several years comprehensively.” Quinn says the program, which was long used by the Department of Corrections until it was suspended in 2010, must be updated to include crimes that were once considered non-violent but are considered violent today.

“There were offenses in the past that were not put in the category of violent offenses by the General Assembly,” Quinn said. “We think that has to be remedied. Things like domestic violence and DUIs.” There are bills in both the House and the Senate that look to reinstate MGT with updated offenses but Quinn says he has yet to see them.

* But, there’s also an interesting twist which is mostly being ignored by the media. The prison population no longer appears to be spiking upward. We see a lot of news stories that are using that 49,000 inmate population figure, but according to the Department of Corrections, the census as of yesterday is 48,264 inmates - about 900 fewer than last year’s high point.

From the IDOC’s spokesperson…

Management of Illinois’ prison population is an ongoing issue that requires both administrative and legislative action. The Department of Corrections continues to work with the involved partners, including ICJIA, local law enforcement agencies, court systems and all four legislative caucuses on ways to manage population numbers while continuing to incarcerate—for safety, rehabilitation, and punishment–those individuals who should be serving prison time.

Last year, we convened continuous discussions to develop policy that deals with population, inmate reintegration and alternatives to incarceration. The issue must be addressed from both a policy and budgetary perspective, and we are continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to find long-term solutions to maintain safe, sustainable prisons.

Also to be noted- the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC) continues to explore sentencing issues, practices and how they impact the criminal justice system as a whole. SPAC is a nonpartisan group of 18 key stakeholders from across state and local criminal justice systems, including legislators, retired judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections and administrators of the court officials, law enforcement, victim’s rights advocates, and academics.

posted by Rich Miller
Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 1:08 pm


  1. Illinois’ incarceration rate is almost 25% higher than New York’s.

    And according to the most recent report from the Dept. of Justice, Illinois and Texas were the only two states with rising prison populations.

    If Illinois is indeed finally catching up with the rest of the states, that’s great.

    Another number to keep in mind: in addition to the nearly 50,000 Illinoisans in prison, there are nearly 70,000 Illinoisans in local jails. While not as expensive as prison, that ain’t cheap compared to substance abuse treatment, community policing, and other crime prevention alternatives.

    Comment by Yellow Dog Democrat Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 1:46 pm

  2. Unfortunately, Republicans tend not to count corrections spending as real spending, which is why the regularly propose bills to require longer sentences and more mandatory minimums, which would add $millions to the correction budget.

    Comment by reformer Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Substance abuse treatment, electronic monitoring and other programs have often been tried prior to a sentence to the Illinois Department of Corrections. Unless it is mandatory prison sentence most first time felons get probation and substance abuse or anger management counseling. How many bites at the apple do these folks get before their danger to their community outweighs their need for counseling?
    In addition county jails are so crowded that they often won’t keep any misdemeanor defendants or Class 3 & 4 felony defendants. The jails and prisons are not over populated with “non-violent” offenders. Generally the inmates have violated the law multiple times or in a big way to land behind bars

    Comment by Generation X Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 2:04 pm

  4. Quinn has a real problem. If you want to close prisons, you are going to have to release inmates.

    Chicagoans have not had much to say about the prison closure plan because it is mostly downstated jobs on the chopping block. Perhaps they and Mayor Emanual should consider that thousands of violent offenders, most of which will head straight to Chicago, will be released.

    Comment by the Patriot Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 3:12 pm

  5. What is the population in the county jails? Are they just not picking up people at county as quickly to keep the state numbers down or what?

    Comment by hisgirlfriday Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 3:18 pm

  6. Since Quinn cancelled the Meritorious Good Time policy the prisons have grown increasingly overcrowded. The budget is stretched and the inmates suffer. Since the MGT program was to release ONLY non-violent offender it was the responsibility of Quinn and the IDOC to select only those eligible. Quinn’s major screwup in releasing the wrong parolees has resulted in 1,000’s of Illinois inmates and their families suffering the results. Last week Quinn’s representative was presented with a petition to restore MGT. It contains nearly 7,000 signatures of Illinoisans asking the Governor to reinstate the program and put aside partisan politics. He needs to make an unpopular decision and stick by it. Or start constructing some new prisons….

    Comment by IllinoisPrisonTalk Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 4:13 pm

  7. Quite the conundrum. Enforce the law and put more people jail. Hold it. Now we are too crowded and it is costing too much. Put the really bad guys away in a special place. No can do, costing too much. Cut staff to save money. Hold it again, ratio of guard to inmate will get way off and injuries (and cost of those injuries) will go up. Only solution, let the non-violent inmates out early. So who is non-violent enough to make the grade? Not too many saints in prison. The choices for MGT worked so well last time. No matter what happens here will create wrong to some group. The screams for longer prison terms should be coming soon.

    Comment by zatoichi Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 4:47 pm

  8. Is MGT the same as day for day good time, where prisoners end up doing about half there original sentence?

    Comment by Fed up Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 5:09 pm

  9. Yellow Dog ….not sure where you have seen a number that indicates 70,000 people in jail in Illinois. It is more like 20,000.

    Comment by Anonymous Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 5:21 pm

  10. SB2621 changes “good time” credit to “sentencing credit” and adds programs to available opportunities for time to be awarded for county and DOC time. That may take off pressure.

    Comment by Really? Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 5:59 pm

  11. You can’t make programs or schooling a requisite for MGT because there aren’t enough programs/classes or money to accomplish that….it’s a great idea….but it’s not feasible and it’s unconstitutional. Just call it what is was intended to be in 1978….additional good time because our prisons are full and we can’t afford to build new ones…overcrowding credit. Stop playing games and let out all the drug users conditional on getting their own treatment program upon release….since IDOC can’t afford that either….

    Comment by IllinoisPrisonTalk Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 6:45 pm

  12. Hay-here’s an idea–since so many of the people in jail are there because of substance abuse issues, why don’t we try to cut funding of treatment and prevention. That way we can spend lots more, and have to build more prisons and let the real bad guys out early also! Its the Illinois way.

    Comment by Easy Rider Monday, Apr 16, 12 @ 11:22 pm

  13. @Anonymous-

    The 70,000 figure comes from DOJ. But I’ll doublecheck…could be they are counting across the year rather than avg population.

    As for the argument that we’re only locking up the truly dangerous: Hogwash. Last time I checked, 1/4 of Illinois’ prison population was nonviolent drug offenses.

    Another surprising fact: half of our “recidivism” rate is for technical parole violations, not actually committing a new crime. It would be cheaper to assign a fulltime social worker to every parole than do what we’re doing now.

    Speaking of prevention, last time I checked there was a six month waiting list to get voluntary drug treatment in Illinois. Wanna take a bite out of crime? Stop telling meth addicts who want to quit to come back in six months.

    Finally, alot of folks attribute europe’s much lower crime rates to gun control and social spending: only partly true. Europe has much shorter prison sentences than here, but they have much more law enforcement presence. Our love for technology has created a 911 policing system that only kicks in AFTER a crime has been committed. We need to step up community policing efforts.

    Comment by Yellow Dog Democrat Tuesday, Apr 17, 12 @ 8:05 am

  14. BTW, this is not a partisan issue. Former GOP US Attorney Dick Thornberg has said pretty much the same thing.

    Comment by Yellow Dog Democrat Tuesday, Apr 17, 12 @ 8:07 am

  15. I think the John Howard association pretty much proved that IDOC’s inmate count is incorrect, way too low.

    Stupid Quinn got rid of MGT only because he wanted to get re-elected. He didn’t do this for the benefit of citizens in Illinois, he did it for the benefit of himself. And now he’s further proving what a self-serving wimp he is by passing the buck to the legislators. Meanwhile many thousands of inmates had to pay for Quinn’s self-serving actions, and the people who work in the prisons are paying too because they have even harder jobs now dealing with the overcrowding. Quinn is an ASS.

    Comment by Timmay Wednesday, Apr 18, 12 @ 11:12 pm

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