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Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010 01:27 pm

Should Quinn be held accountable for botched early prison release program?

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Gov. Pat Quinn was quoted by the Associated Press last week as saying he's answered all questions about his administration's controversial, secret and completely botched early prison release program, so he's done talking about it.

I beg to differ.

I called the Department of Corrections soon after I saw that quote and asked a few questions
that I've never seen asked.

For instance, state Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican candidate for governor, claims that Corrections Director Michael Randle has said he had informed the governor about the so-called "Meritorious Good Time Push" program, which let attempted murderers and other vio
lent types out of prison early — several of which were then re-arrested for violent crimes. Gov. Quinn, however, has said that he didn't know about the program until he read about it in the newspapers. How does the director explain the discrepancy, I wanted to know.

I also asked whether the word from inside was true that Director Randle had made himself the department's direct conduit to the governor. How often, on average, did the two men talk every week, I asked.

And, most importantly, if Gov. Quinn is telling the truth that he didn't know about this disastrous and now suspended MGT Push plan, what reason can Director Randle provide for his failure to inform the governor?

Not one of those questions were answered. I received an e-mail pointing me to an audio file of the governor's press conference during which he talked
about how things got so out of hand. But none of my answers were found in Quinn's comments, except that the governor reiterated he did not know about MGT Push, and that it was a mistake and that he had killed the program.

Quinn did make some good points in his presentation. For instance, inmates released unde
r the program, beginning in mid-September, would've all been out of prison by this month anyway.

But the governor also spent much of his time laying the blame on the General Assembly for the debacle. Quinn claimed that the director's hands were tied because state law required that some pretty nasty convicts must be eligible for early release. While partially true, this was an accelerated early release program, and the respon
sibility for that acceleration — and the crimes committed during the early release periods — must fall on the administration, and ultimately on Quinn himself.

We need more answers about this botched operation, regardless of what the governor says. Quinn has stonewalled tough questions while answering only those
that he can spin — and he isn't doing a very good job of that, either.

If Quinn and Director Randle won't provide more answers, then the General Assembly must act by holding hearings with full subpoena powers.

Another Republican running for governor, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, is also pressing for an investigation. Dillard wants the entire legislature to sit as a "Committee of the Whole" with full subpoena powers to get to the bottom of this mess.

"Governor Quinn and his administration continue to provide vastly different stories about these programs including who made the decision to authorize the early release, why violent criminals were included in the program, and why the MGT program was secretive," Dillard was quoted as saying in a press release.

AFSCME, the union which represents prison workers, also wants a bipartisan probe in
the form of a "a special joint-task force, including legislators from both parties and both chambers, to answer urgent questions about the administration of the corrections department.

Full hearings with subpoena powers are probably the last thing the Democrats who control the General Assembly want, particularly in an election year. But this botched program literally endangered the lives of Illinois citizens. At least one prisoner released early was subsequently
arrested for shooting somebody — and that's just what we know of. The whole program was concocted and conducted in secret, and details have been few and far between.

For six years, Illinois endured the Rod Blagojevich administration, which made a bad habit of keeping things secret, blaming the General Assembly for its own mistakes and wrecking almost everything it touched. This early release program and its aftermath look more than just vaguely familiar.

When Pat Quinn took over after Blagojevich was impeached and ousted, he said he would be different, that he believed in accountability and transparency in government. Quinn's behavior on this issue, however, is downright unacceptable.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and the capitolfaxblog.com.
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