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Quinn to state prison chief: Early release was a 'big mistake'
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

More than a dozen men released from prison early after a secret policy change by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration are back behind bars -- most of them accused of new, violent crimes.


Associated Press file

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Published: 12/30/2009 2:03 PM | Updated: 12/30/2009 5:48 PM

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SPRINGFIELD -- The director of the state prison system said Wednesday he made a mistake in speeding up an early release program and his boss - Gov. Pat Quinn - announced that program is finished.

"There were mistakes made in judgment and planning. It was not implemented in the way the governor directed," said state prison chief Michael Randle. "For that I take responsibility."

Quinn said he didn't approve the program, considered it "bad judgment" and stopped it as soon as he learned of it from media reports. He said Randle would remain director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, but let his displeasure be known.

"I have told him in no uncertain terms this was a big mistake," Quinn told reporters at a Chicago news conference where Randle also was in attendance. "He made a mistake here, he takes responsibility for it. It will not be repeated."

At issue is an early release program that ran from September until early December that advanced good-time credit to inmates, so much so that some served just days in prison. The accelerated program was a diversion from previous policy requiring everyone to spend at least 61 days in prison.

Quinn said a total of 1,718 inmates were released under the new provisions that advanced up to six months' good-conduct credit upon entering the door. That meant an inmate sent to prison for a year could be eligible for release immediately, since inmates already received a day off their sentences for each day served.

He said 48 have since been returned for technical parole violations and eight picked up for new criminal offenses.

Having already halted these early releases earlier this month, on Wednesday Quinn said the program has been terminated. "We're going to have a clear policy that someone who comes in will serve 61 days in state prison. That is a rule that must be adhered to," he said.

He noted that even though he thought the program had been a mistake, it had not dramatically altered prison stays, saying the inmates released, on average, had their prison terms reduced by 37 days and 80 percent of those released would have been released by now anyway.

In addition to reversing the release policy, Quinn said local prosecutors will be given 14 days advance notice of an inmate's pending early release under any authorized programs.

The secretive, accelerated early release program was separate from a well-publicized plan to release early and electronically monitor nearly 1,000 nonviolent offenders in order to save money.

At the same time he sought to quell the political fervor over the accelerated release program, Quinn attempted to place overall blame on lawmakers for not approving a tax increase and instead leaving his administration scrambling to make cuts and find savings wherever possible. Quinn maintains more money is needed to protect public safety.

"We have to understand that when you cut the budget - there are severe challenges," he said.

The state prison system's budget for the current years is $1.28 billion. The agency employees 11,000 workers and is responsible for 45,000 adult inmates.

Quinn also called on lawmakers to review the decades-old list of crimes eligible for such time-off credits.