Illinois Public Media News
Illinois lawmakers are once again debating a bill that could help ease the state's bursting prison population at a time when there are plans to close several correctional facilities.
But it may take some work to convince Gov. Pat Quinn to go along with the plan in reintroducing a program that he suspended two years ago due to problems surrounding it.
In 2010 Quinn put on hold the state's Meritorious Good Time program (MGT) which reduced the sentences for inmates considered non-violent. Quinn pulled it after he learned that more than 1,000 inmates did not serve the required minimum of 60 days and committed more crimes once back on the streets.
But some saw it as an election year political move.
Since that time, more than 4,000 inmates have been added to the ranks, pushing Illinois' total prison population to 49,000. The state's prison system is designed to handle a mere 33,700.
Some lawmakers and prison advocates are pushing Quinn to reinstate the MGT program to ease overcrowding and making unhealthy living conditions even worse.
"The decision to suspend Meritorious Good Time was the result of an election cycle political firestorm. Good time credits became widely and inaccurately described ... became the ammunition for political attacks between Illinois candidates and branches of government in 2009 and 2010," Malcolm Young, director of prison re-entry strategies at Northwestern University law school's Bluhm Legal Clinic, told an Illinois House Criminal Law Committee meeting in downtown Chicago on Wednesday.
Young supports passage of House Bill 3899 that would reinstate MGT. Chicago Democratic State Rep. Arthur Turner introduced the bill.
"It provides a reasoned, manageable, beneficial framework or approach to the challenge of implementing the good conduct program. It's an approach that would alleviate today's prison crowding crisis and accomplish other public policy goals," Young said.
Quinn's deputy chief of staff, Toni Irving, told the House committee that the old MGT law is no longer valid.
"The statute is outdated and at the time the statute was created, certain offenses that we now consider violent, i.e. DUI, can't be excluded," Irving said. "So, MGT as it currently exists isn't really a sound policy. It would require something brand new."
Irving added that Quinn is reviewing a similar bill introduced in the state Senate (SB2621) but is so far uncommitted to supporting it.
"We are certainly interested in working with the Legislature in making sure that we have a collaborative effort. I think it's super important that the legislature be very involved in this process since it's the legislature also determines the budget for the Department of Corrections and often times these things are linked to programs that are then defunded in the process," Irving said. "There has to be a connection between those two."
The push for early release of certain prisoners will grow if Quinn's plans to shut as many as 14 state juvenile prisons, several adult transition centers and a super max prison to save money as the state addresses budget issues.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman,File)
A panel of experts has told a state legislative committee that Illinois' prisons are bursting at the seams. They say immediate action is needed to reverse growing violence and worsening conditions for inmates and guards.
Legal experts and others who work with ex-inmates today urged support for an Illinois House bill that would revive a way to reduce prison populations through early release for good behavior. But a representative for Gov. Pat Quinn says he will not reverse his suspension of that measure without changes.
Quinn shut down the early release program in 2010 after The Associated Press reported that prison officials had implemented an unpublicized, accelerated version that was freeing criminals in as little as eight days.
A fraternity at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington has been suspended for three years after a student's death in March.
The Pantagraph in Bloomington reports (http://bit.ly/HtLpku ) that school president Richard Wilson announced the suspension in a statement Tuesday. Authorities in northern Illinois say 18-year-old Brandon Landau of New York was at a party in White Pines State Park and died after being found unresponsive with his lower body in a stream and his upper body on a log.
Sigma Pi can appeal the sanctions. It also can request reinstatement in 2015, but would face another four years of probation. Wilson says the university found the fraternity responsible for "serious violations.''
The university's Office of Judicial Affairs investigated the case and it had a hearing before the judicial committee.
Police in Decatur are searching for two suspects following the shooting deaths of a husband and wife Saturday night.
Authorities identified the victims as 34-year-old Freedom Cunningham and his 26-year-old wife, Central Cunningham.
Deputy Police Chief David Dickerson is calling on the public for help solving the crime.
The (Decatur) Herald-Review reports (http://bit.ly/HDivOk ) witnesses described the body of Freedom Cunningham collapsed on the porch of a Decatur home and Central Cunningham's body slumped in a van.
The newspaper reports that no arrests had been made by late Sunday. Police have executed several search warrants.
An Illinois House committee considering the expulsion of a Chicago lawmaker accused of bribery has postponed meeting due to the "possibility of further court action in the criminal proceeding,'' according to a recent letter by the group's leaders.
Members of an Illinois House panel investigation state Rep. Derrick Smith released a letter Saturday.
The committee had planned to meet in the coming days, but they say they'll postpone until later in the month. The letter says postponing allows more time to review and respond to any additional information.
Federal prosecutors claim Smith accepted a cash bribe from a campaign worker who was an undercover FBI informant. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has declined to comment.
Smith didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Fifty-two people have been granted clemency by Gov. Pat Quinn for crimes that date back decades.
Quinn announced Friday that he has expunged the records of these offenders. In most cases, he's also granting full pardons.
The Democratic governor also rejected 136 clemency requests.
Quinn is whittling away at a backlog of 2,500 requests that piled up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Now in prison himself, Blagojevich rarely took any action on clemency.
Most of the people whose requests were granted Friday had committed relatively minor offenses.
Twenty-five involved theft. Sixteen involved drugs. Eight offenses included some kind of violence, such as misdemeanor battery.
The oldest incident took place in 1958, the most recent in 2005.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's effort to ban Illegal synthetic drugs has included collecting more than $50,000 in drugs on Tuesday from Champaign stores.
Madigan's office targeted Champaign and Bloomington-Normal as part of 'Operation Smoked Out.' Illinois is among the states that have banned the bath salts and synthetic marijuana. By far the largest amount - more than 1,800 packs, were seized from the Smoke Shack at 208 E. Green Street. The drugs have a street value of about $44,000. Meanwhile, more drugs valued at $13,000 were taken from Global Tobacco at 202 E. Green.
"With these businesses sitting in the heart of our campus community, keeping our teens and students safe is a priority for our department," said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb. "The Champaign Police Department thanks the Attorney General's office and associated agencies for a proactive approach to removing synthetic drugs from our city streets."
The synthetic drugs are known to contain chemical compounds that mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine.
In the Normal area, about $50,000 in synthetic drugs were surrendered by six tobacco and convenience stores.
"Bloomington, Normal, and Champaign have significant numbers of college students who have been enticed to purchase and use these illegal and dangerous products," said Attorney General Madigan. "Retailers in these college towns should be aware that law enforcement will soon be walking through their front door to ensure that these dangerous, illegal drugs are not for sale."
Madigan's office has proposed legislation to target the retail sale of synthetic drugs.
(Photo courtesy of the Illinois Attorney General's office)
Former Blagojevich Aide Given 2 Year Prison Sentence
A federal judge on Tuesday handed a two-year prison sentence to a close friend and aide of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Ex-Blagojevich Aide Gets Two Years in Prison
A judge has handed a two year sentence to a longtime friend of Rod Blagojevich who stood close to the former Illinois governor as his fortunes rose, but who turned against him after his 2008 arrest.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration is halting work on a juvenile detention center some lawmakers thought was illegal.
Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman Kendall Marlowe said Thursday afternoon that the agency will halt remodeling the Illinois Youth Center at St. Charles "out of deference'' to lawmakers.
The legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability thought the $4 million project was accelerated to accommodate new detainees currently housed at the Joliet youth center. That would violate the closure law.
Quinn plans to close the Joliet center and other state-run facilities to save money. The legislative commission has an advisory say in the matter and suggested halting the work on St. Charles.
Marlowe says the justice agency maintains the work is not illegal but will not start it until plans are finalized.
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