Sunday, August 28, 2011

Illinois Cuts Early Prison Release: Overcrowding Dangerously Out of Control

Last year, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s canceled an early prison release program. The result has been a prison population dangerously over capacity.

According to the Quad-City Times , an August 11 population report shows the prison system with nearly 49,000 inmates, which is about 147 percent over its rated capacity of 33,373 inmates and about 4,000 inmates more than were in the system before the early release program was shut down.

Pushing more and more inmates into fewer and fewer cell can have serious safety and legal implications for Illinois. In recent months, officials changed the way they calculate capacity.

Instead of using an industry standard based on the number of cells, the state is now measuring capacity based on how many beds can fit in a facility. The new capacity for Illinois’ prisons is listed at 51,000 inmates.

The department of corrections abandoned efforts to gain national accreditation after the inmate population began to grow. As part of the American Correctional Association accreditation process, prisons must meet certain specifications for square footage per inmate — a standard that may not be possible for Illinois, given the additional prisoners, reported the Times.

A California Lawyer told the Times, recalculating capacity based on bed space is “very, very irresponsible” because it could lead to numerous problems.

Crowding typically results in more violence behind bars. It also likely means fewer educational opportunities, which already had been reduced because of Illinois’ on-going budget woes. Crowding also has a impact on inmates with mental illness.

According to the Times, the increase in prisoners also has raised concerns about flat or reduced staffing levels of prison guards.

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