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Quinn Defends Prison Closures Amid Overcrowding Complaints

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 22, 2013 4:40PM

Despite complaints of overcrowding and estimates from the Illinois Department of Corrections that the prison population will increase this year, Gov. Pat Quinn defended his decision to close two prisons and several other correctional facilities. According to the Chicago Tribune, Quinn said of the Tamms supermax prison closure, "I made the decision to close it. And I think Illinois is better off because we did."

To deal with the overcrowding, IDOC plans to use gymnasiums at more than half a dozen prisons across the state to house inmates. Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 told the Tribune, “What this means is that prisons that were already overcrowded and dangerous are going to become even more overcrowded and dangerous.”

Gov. Quinn had hoped a redesigned good behavior program would help to ease the overcrowding. According to the Daily Herald, Quinn told reporters Wednesday that his early inmate release program was being carried out “right now.”

"We had to follow the blueprint that’s outlined in the law, and I think we will do very well if we go forward right with that,” he told the press. A spokesperson for the governor did not give an official timetable and IDOC spokesperson Stacey Solano said officials are still reviewing inmate files.

The early release program should award good behavior credits to inmates who participate in drug rehabilitation and job training programs. However, transition services can be few and far between and most are overtaxed. Chicago Now reports some inmates transitioning from the Tamms supermax to Pontiac prison lack adequate mental health care to transition from solitary confinement to the general population. Others who had said they had been unfairly placed in disciplinary segreation still lack adequate heat and cleaning supplies. A hunger strike by some prisoners in disciplinary segregation has entered its third week.

At present, the Illinois prison system houses nearly 49,000 people. According to the John Howard Association of Illinois, the system was built to handle only 34,000. John Maki, exeutive director, told the Tribune, “The (state) just does not have adequate bed space right now. The math will catch up to you.”

Considering the majority of people in Illinois prisons are non-violent criminals, it might be time to reevaluate exactly who we send to prison and why in the first place.