Gov. Pat Quinn tried to distance himself today from an early prison release program that became a political bombshell a little more than two weeks ago.
On Dec. 13 the Associated Press reported that the Illinois Department of Corrections was crediting new prisoners with “meritorious good time” which had allowed some offenders to get out of prison in less than three weeks.
Quinn immediately suspended the early release program, which was designed to get people out of overcrowded prisons. He eventually admitted that he knew, at least to some extent, about the good time credit.
Wednesday afternoon Quinn’s communications staff fired off lengthy press releases to tell how the administration is overhauling the program. You can read it here.
The heart of the press release is meant to keep the prison releases from becoming a big issue in the Feb. 2 primary election. That is done in a few ways:
• The opening paragraph points out that the Meritorious Good Time program was established by statute in 1978.
(Translation: Hey, the governor can’t be blamed for a program in place for 31 years.)
• Judge David Erickson has done a comprehensive evaluation of the program and helped craft the administration’s overhaul.
(Translation: A criminal justice expert is helping put things right.)
• “On average 1,718 inmates served 37 days less than they would have under the prior 61-day meritorious credit program. Even under the 61-day meritorious credit program, 1,392 inmates (81 percent of those 1,718) would have been released by Dec. 30 and all would have been released by the end of January 2010.”
(Translation: Wow! Under all those numbers, anyone can see that most prisoners weren’t getting out way, way early. Aren’t these great statistics?)
Now, despite the obvious intent of deflecting blame with his press release, Quinn deserves credit for doing the right thing immediately after the problem came to light and putting an expert in charge of fixing things.
It is unlikely that this issue will grow big enough to hurt Quinn in the primary election on Feb. 2. Challenger Dan Hynes is just too far behind in the polls. But Quinn’s people are going to do their best to keep this issue under control so that if there are other blunders, the cumulative effect won’t cost their guy the election.