Unlocking cells for "low-level"
criminals is one piece of a two-pronged criminal justice reform that
will cost $4 million, officials said.
Half the money will be spent on electronic monitoring for the
released prisoners. The rest will go toward community-based
programs, such as drug treatment and probation, intended to keep
minor offenders out of prison in the first place.
"We believe that low-level nonviolent offenders may be better served
in the community rather than serving prison time," Corrections
spokeswoman Januari Smith said.
The early release will save $5 million a year in incarceration
costs, Smith said. She added that those released must have a year or
less remaining on their sentences and may not have a violent or
otherwise troublesome record.
In other words, no murderers, no one convicted of sex crimes, no one
with orders of protection against them or a history of domestic
violence, and no one who has violated parole conditions in the past.
Those are tougher rules than are part of existing early release
laws, Smith contended.
Quinn is struggling with an unbalanced budget billions of dollars in
the red. But critics quickly lined up to oppose the idea.
"When people are sent to prison, the general public should have a
sense that those sentences will be fulfilled," said Rep. Jim Sacia,
a Pecatonica Republican and former FBI agent. He said the promised
spending is a "drop in the bucket" for expanding community-based
From 13,000 inmates in 1981, the state's prison population has
exploded to 46,000, although the number has hit a plateau. The
agency projected five years ago there would be 54,000 jailed
residents by now.
The increase is largely attributable to tougher sentences for
low-level drug crimes. Corrections statistics show 69 percent of all
inmates are in prison for nonviolent crimes and 47 percent of those
released each year serve six months or less behind bars.
[to top of second column]
"Alternatives to incarceration are far more effective ways to reduce
crime for the vast majority" of inmates, Pamela Rodriguez, president
of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, said in a statement
released by Quinn.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,
which represents prison guards and other Corrections employees,
blasted the plan. The Quinn administration has pledged to cut 2,600
jobs to balance the budget, and more than 400 layoff notices have
been sent to prison workers.
Prisons won't be safer if hundreds of Corrections workers lose their
jobs, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.
"This is the worst economy of our lifetimes and thousands of
Illinoisans who don't have a criminal record are struggling to find
employment, so it will be a great challenge for felons who are
released early to find jobs," Lindall added.
Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said, "It seems to me they made a
decision to lay off workers and, OK, to justify the layoffs we're
going to have to let people out."
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By JOHN O'CONNOR]
Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills contributed to this
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