Watchdog: closing prison will likely exacerbate crowded correctional system

Watchdog: closing prison will likely exacerbate crowded correctional system

A prison watchdog group is raising the alarm about Gov. Pat Quinn's move to close the Logan Correctional Facility as part of a growing battle over the state budget.

Shuttering Logan, a medium-security prison that houses some 2,000 inmates, "will likely exacerbate [the Illinois Department of Correction's] overcrowded conditions, jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff, and ultimately cost taxpayers more money," said the John Howard Association, which monitors state prison facilities, in a statement released this morning.

"Without a significant reduction in population, you're going to see inmates in cafeterias, in classrooms," said John Maki, the association's executive director.

The Illinois Department of Corrections at present holds more than 49,000 inmates in a system designed for less than 30,000. "They are as crowded as they can be--they're skirting the line between overcrowded and dangerously crowded," Maki said.

Quinn said late last week that the Illinois General Assembly did not appropriate enough tax dollars to keep Logan, the Murphysboro juvenile prison, three mental health centers and two facilities for the developmentally disabled running this year. If the closures occur, more than 1,900 state workers will be laid off. The potential facilities shutdown and layoffs are expected to be a leading item of debate during Springfield's fall veto session.

Asked if the corrections department is able to house another 2,000 inmates should Logan close, Stacey Solano, a department spokeswoman, wrote in an email that managing the prison population in Illinois must be dealt with "legislatively and administratively."

"This spring, the governor’s office convened meetings with members of all the caucuses to discuss potential policies that address population, inmate reintegration and alternatives to incarceration," Solano wrote. "This issue must be addressed from both a policy and budgetary perspective, and we will continue to work with members of the General Assembly to find long-term solutions to maintain safe, sustainable prisons."

Maki noted the John Howard Association is not saying Quinn should not close Logan--the group advocates for a smaller prison system and population, after all. But he argued that any facility closure must be accompanied by a broader set of criminal justice reform in the statehouse.

"To close a prison, you have to decrease the number of people going to prison," Maki said. "If you don't do that, it's a recipe for disaster."

John Howard would like to see the state adopt a replacement for the Meritorious Good Time program, an early release effort that was ended in 2009 amid a political firestorm over its operation. Maki said many prisoners in medium security facilities, like Logan, previously would have had the chance for early release under Meritorious Good Time. Logan is rated for around 1,000 prisoners but hosts double that number, he said.

Maki also recommended that Quinn take hard look at a parole reform; around 13,000 state inmates in Illinois are in jail not because they were convicted of a new crime but rather due to the fact that they have violated the conditions of their parole. Other states, like Oregon, do not imprison people for parole violations, Maki said.

The state, he went on, should also expand the use of Adult Redeploy, a program that allows counties to divert inmates from the state prison system and work closely with the Illinois Risk, Assets and Needs Assessment Task Force on corrections policy.

Solanos said that corrections has been working with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on Adult Redeploy and noted that the Sentence Policy Advisory Council is "working on sentencing policy" in Illinois, which "will directly impact the population numbers at IDOC."

Photo courtesy of Flickr user -Tripp-.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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