Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 13, 2010

Dozens back in prison after state parole crackdown


By JOHN O’CONNOR

AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — More than 100 parolees released from prison early are back behind bars because of an extraordinary crackdown by a Quinn administration stung by denunciations of a secret program that freed 1,700 inmates weeks ahead of time.

The Corrections Department confirmed it has begun “intensive compliance checks” on parolees released under the program known as “MGT Push,” beginning with those who committed violent crimes.

State records reviewed by The Associated Press show that the department has picked up 110 of the parolees in the last ten days, most of them serving sentences for unlawful weapons charges or battery.

They’ve likely gone back to lockup for violating terms of their discharge, but officials will not comment on the reasons or say how many have been apprehended.

The recent spate compares with 57 MGT Push parolees put back in lockup from the time the MGT Push release started, in September, through the end of the year.

All parolees still on the street are being required to follow strict new regulations — far stricter than anything seen before by law enforcement officials familiar with the Illinois’ parole system. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the regulations publicly.

The new rules require parolees to verify where they are and what they’re doing through daily phone calls to an automated statewide parole system, according to a copy of the form parolees must sign. The form says they must visit a parole office — in some cases, hundreds of miles away — twice a week, and refrain from drinking liquor or having any alcohol at their homes.

One of the law enforcement officials said the rules were unprecedented, adding that routinely, parolees who have committed more heinous crimes have fewer requirements to follow.

Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said Wednesday she isn’t certain that all of the MGT Push parolees have to adhere to the strictest of the guidelines, but all face more severe rules than typical.

By making the parolees walk a straight line, the Quinn administration simultaneously improves public safety and reduces the chance of a public relations debacle that would follow a horrendous crime by one of the released prisoners.

Gov. Pat Quinn is fending off vicious attacks from political opponents over the program, particularly from state Comptroller Dan Hynes, his challenger in the Feb. 2 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Officials did not immediately respond to a question about how much the compliance checks are costing.

MGT Push was a cost-saving program in which Corrections dropped a long-standing requirement that inmates serve at least 61 days before being eligible for up to six months’ of good-conduct credit, or “meritorious good time.”

The Associated Press revealed the program’s existence in mid-December. Quinn immediately suspended it, appointed a team to study the issue, then reinstated the 61-day rule and announced other reforms on Dec. 31.

Quinn’s staff initially defended the program when asked about it by the AP. After the AP report, the governor said he knew about MGT Push in advance but still halted it. Later, he said he was unaware of it and blamed the “big mistake” on Corrections Director Michael Randle.

The new rules apply to MGT Push parolees “to ensure public safety,” Smith said. She added that the administration “is aggressively monitoring this entire population” and that it “will continue unabated.”

Parole agents are visiting each of the offenders, starting with those convicted of violent crimes, Smith said. Then they must check on them, unannounced, twice per month.

Some of the MGT Push parolees are going back to prison for testing positive for drug use or even just smelling of alcohol, transgressions that rarely land someone back behind bars, according to the law enforcement officials.

State records show that through Wednesday morning, 110 had gone back since Jan. 4, mostly for violent offenses. Forty-two returnees had been convicted of unlawful use of weapons and 17 for domestic or aggravated battery, according to an AP review. Others who have landed back in prison committed such crimes as repeat drunken driving, theft and financial fraud.

Smith declined to comment on the reasons the parolees were returned to custody and refused to say whether there were more than 110 back in cells, citing the “ongoing law enforcement proceeding.”

Officials have acknowledged that by the end of December, 57 of the parolees had been returned to prison, nine for new crimes and 48 for technical parole violations.

The AP reported last week that at least 17 of the 48 rule-breakers had been accused of new, violent crimes, including attempted murder and armed robbery.