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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010 04:54 am

Prison reform advocates lament Randle’s departure

Group says former director’s reforms should continue

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Michael Randle
A group of prison reform advocates says the recent resignation of the state’s corrections director is unfortunate, but the reforms he quietly enacted should continue.

The unnamed group, which includes state legislators, religious congregations and activists, sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn on Sept. 8, calling on Quinn to support the reforms implemented by former Illinois Department of Corrections director Michael Randle.

On Sept. 2, Randle resigned as IDOC director, saying he was leaving to seek “other opportunities.” Randle had served in that capacity since May 14, 2009, drawing criticism during his term for the early release of nearly 2,000 prison inmates through IDOC’s former MGT Push program. Developed under Quinn, the now-suspended program allowed inmates to earn 60 days of good time credit before serving a single day in prison – meaning many inmates served only a few days or weeks in prison before being released. The issue became a political liability for Quinn during an election year, with Quinn’s opponent, Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, calling for Randle’s ouster.

But the controversial prisoner release was not Randle’s largest impact on the department, says the prison reform group, whose letter to Quinn says Randle had undertaken a series of important reforms in the department before his resignation. During his time as director, Randle created special units to rehabilitate and train inmates over age 50, began overhauling the department’s obsolete computer system and worked to improve the “crisis of medical neglect” that sometimes resulted in prisoner deaths, according to the reform group.

“The open letter … expresses the dismay and disappointment that many individuals and organizations felt about the resignation of the first true reformer the IDOC has had in a generation,” says the coalition of four Democratic state representatives and a state senator, all from Chicago, as well as 40 other groups and individuals involved in prison reform. “We believe it is important to highlight the excellent work that Director Randle started, and to demand that it continue. We also want Gov. Quinn, or any future governor, to know that we are all very engaged in the future of corrections in Illinois, and that we do not take these decisions lightly.”

Randle also saved an estimated $2.5 million by creating the Employee Cost-Savings Suggestion Program, saved an estimated $5 million in overtime expenses by hiring 700 new corrections officers and saved on transportation costs with a pilot program to allow teleconferencing between inmates with HIV and Hepatitis C and doctors, according to the letter. The group cites Randle’s commitment to programs such as Redeploy Illinois, which attempts to reduce recidivism by sending offenders to community-based treatment centers instead of state prisons. This approach “avoid(s) the high costs and poor outcomes that come from incarceration in state prison for relatively minor offenses,” the group says.

The day after Randle’s resignation, Gov. Pat Quinn announced former assistant director Gladyse Taylor would take over for Randle as acting director of IDOC.

 “Gladyse Taylor brings a wealth of management experience to lead the Department of Corrections,” Quinn said in a press release. “Gladyse is a true public servant with a track record of improving public safety and developing programs to reduce recidivism. I am confident that Gladyse will further my mandate that the public’s safety must always come first.”

Sharyn Elman, spokesperson for IDOC, says Taylor will continue Randle’s reforms.

“Whatever is currently suspended or terminated will continue to be suspended or terminated as far as early release programs are concerned,” Elman says. “We continue to graduate cadets as part of the strategic plan to address (overtime costs) and that will continue as well.”

Illinois’ prison system holds about 47,000 inmates in 27 prisons statewide. [See “Illinois prisons: Standing room only” March 4, 2010.] Illinois has a recidivism rate of more than 50 percent, meaning more than half of inmates who leave Illinois prisons return within a year.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

To read the open letter to Gov. Quinn on prison reform, click here.