An Associated Press analysis of administration budget
documents shows a drop of about 150 positions in the parole
division, or potentially a reduction of more than one-third, a
number the Corrections Department refuses to confirm or refute.
Quinn's proposed budget shows that spending on parolee monitoring
would decline by $26 million and the number of employee positions
would be reduced by 281. But it's not clear if that's all parole
workers or includes other employees. Comparing that number with
other staffing figures, the AP arrived at 148 planned reductions.
Asked for explanations this week, Corrections issued varying
statements: first, that no one would be laid off, and the budget
documents might need to be corrected; then that some field jobs
would be eliminated; then that parole "services" would not be cut,
but without any guarantees on how many employees would provide them;
and finally that attrition would play a role in head count
"While the figures in the budget book may be confusing in regard
to the parole monitoring head count, the department is not reducing
parole functions -- we are reorganizing the division," Corrections
spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.
The changes would be part of a 9 percent cut to the $1.2 billion
prison system Quinn proposes in the fiscal year that begins in July.
He would close two maximum-security prisons and six "adult
transition centers," which help inmates nearing completion of
sentences get ready to re-enter communities.
But there are already far more inmates than there is bed space in
the state's prisons, so the 1,100 residents of those work-release
centers would largely be released and fitted with electronic
monitoring bracelets, increasing workloads for parole officers and,
some fear, reducing opportunities for ex-offenders to get schooling
or drug-abuse treatment.
Quinn's idea raises questions among lawmakers who see the
transition centers as a way to reduce crowded prisons. And the
parole officers' union says caseloads already hit 120 in some areas,
though Corrections officials say the average is half that.
The plans "suggest a reckless executive out of touch with the
critical importance of protecting public safety and preserving good
jobs," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees. He said agency brass warned
the union about the elimination of 200 positions and told it nothing
about a reorganization.
Quinn promised this week at a stop in Chicago's suburbs that the
changes would be carried out "with public safety at all times as our
Solano said "more details will come out as we move this along,"
but he said the shift would mean fewer face-to-face meetings between
parole officers and nonviolent, compliant ex-cons, while increasing
scrutiny of more dangerous parolees. Some employees would be taken
off the street to focus on improved pre-release evaluations that
would identify the most volatile inmates being sent home and
red-flag them for higher parole priority, she said. Others would be
assigned to increased telephone check-ins required of low-risk
parolees, Solano said.
But Corrections pays $6 million a year to a private company that
operates an automated phone-check system, and Solano didn't
immediately respond to a request for an explanation as to why
Corrections employees would be needed for the task.
[to top of second column]
Legislators assigned to find ways to lower the prison population
are frustrated because both Democrats and Republicans agree one
solution would be to find alternatives to prison for low-risk
offenders -- like the transition centers, which would be shuttered.
"I want to make sure that they're being released into some type
of facility where they are being monitored, where they're getting
services, treatment, job skills, opportunities to be productive,
where we can measure what's happening, versus putting a bracelet on
somebody and sending them home," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an
Elmhurst Republican who is part of a group of policymakers seeking
to ease prison crowding.
The prison population has grown rapidly in recent years since
Quinn shut down early release programs for well-behaved prisoners,
which had helped control crowding for decades. He made the move in
reaction to AP reporting about a program Corrections undertook, but
initially denied, to accelerate those discharges, including for
violent ex-cons who committed new crimes.
Lawmakers of both parties have asked him to reinstate it, but
Quinn won't bend.
In addition to six adult transition centers with space for more
than 1,000, Quinn's plan is to close a nearly new but underused
super-maximum-security prison at Tamms and a women's lockup at
Dwight, sacrificing nearly 2,000 more beds.
That's key because Corrections has said most transition-center
residents would go home with electronic supervision, but AFSCME's
Lindall reports that parole officers estimate only about half of
them would qualify, meaning 500 or more would have to return to
prison to compete for already-precious space that would shrink with
Solano said Corrections is counting on all but about 100
transition inmates going on electronic monitoring, with fewer
squeezing back into prison but higher caseloads for parole officers.
There are currently 24,800 parolees, according to Solano -- 66
per agent. The total is down from an average of 30,600 in the 2010
fiscal year, a decrease AFSCME questions. If the number is correct,
AFSCME says, average caseload is 77, based on the number of agents
who have a regular caseload. But the union says the numbers are
typically 90 in the Springfield district and 120 in Champaign.
Research has put the ideal at 35 or fewer. Closing the transition
centers, where soon-to-be-released inmates can get schooling or
drug-abuse treatment, would give parole agents more work in trying
to link parolees on the streets with community services they need.
Corrections promises they will, Solano said.
By JOHN O'CONNOR]
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