Last year, Illinois boasted of a declining prison population. Governor Pat Quinn had implemented an early release policy for state prisons. Illinois even considered closing a state prison in Vandalia. Then something more important came up than public safety or a state budget, an election.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the reason for the rising numbers of inmates over the last year has everything to do with fewer inmates getting out of prison due to a backlash against a policy change by Governor Quinn that allowed the early release of about 1,700 inmates over four months.
Under fire by an opponent in a heated primary fight, Quinn in January suspended the controversial program, called Meritorious Good Time Push, after news media reports that some prisoners sentenced to short terms of incarceration were freed after as little as a few days in state prison under the program. At the same time, Quinn also suspended the state's regular Meritorious Good Time program, which had been in place for three decades and reduced the prison time of nearly two-thirds of the state's inmates by an average of a few months, reported the Tribune.
As a result, the prison population began rising immediately and has gone up every month since, reaching a peak of 48,731 last week.
With the Illinois Department of Corrections about $95 million behind on its bills, many prison vendors haven't been paid for months. According to the Tribune, fed-up contractors have stopped extending credit to prisons, causing shortages that have led wardens to barter among themselves to stay stocked with essential items like paper goods and soap.
As for Vandalia, the population at the downstate minimum-security prison nearly doubled, rising to 1,700 this fall from 950 last November, reported the Tribune. Now, nearly 100 inmates sleep dormitory-style in a basement area previously closed off by prison officials. The bunks are only about 2 feet apart. This raises serious concerns about security in the prison for both corrections officers and inmates.
Governor Quinn won the election and the state of illinois is saddled with a soaring corrections budget, prison overcrowding and potentially volatile correction facilities. I'm sure the voters of Illinois understood what was at stake when Governor Quinn took the action suspending early release in the midst of a contentious campaign.
To read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-record-prison-population-20101122,0,4611892,full.story