Governor Quinn’s decision to close Illinois prisons has raised overcrowding problems to epic proportions. It all began In December 2009 when the Associated Press reported that IDOC had released about 2,000 prisoners early through a program called MGT (Mandatory Good Time) Push. At least one inmate released early committed murder after his release. As a result Governor Quinn stopped MGT Push and all other prisoner early release programs.
In February 2012, Governor Quinn presented a remedy to Illinois budget issues by closing 14 prisons and juvenile justice facilities. The closings, according to Quinn’s budget office, will result on saving the state nearly $62 million. The Illinois prison system, originally built to handle approximately 33,000 inmates (before closings), is currently housing over 48,000 inmates. The legislature had previously sent Quinn a budget that included enough money to run the prisons and other health facilities, but the governor vetoed that money. In December 2012, an Alexander county judge lifted an injunction which gave the governor the go ahead to begin the prison closures. Unions that represent the prison guards as well as civil liberty watch dog groups stated that the judge disregarded obvious safety concerns that will arise from added overcrowding due to closures.
Below is a partial list of incidents that have occurred within this year due to overcrowding:
- Staff assault at Jacksonville Corrections;
- Staff assault at Pinckneyville Corrections;
- Inmate suicide at Graham Correctional;
- The first of two serious staff assaults at Menard;
- Staff assault at Henry Hill;
- Staff assault at Graham Corrections;
- One-on-one inmate fight with injuries at Graham;
- Staff assault at Graham;
- Serious staff assault at Pontiac requiring surgery for guards injuries;
- Pontiac reporting nearly daily fights in East and West houses of segregation due to double occupant cells that were formerly single occupant;
- Decatur is reporting three to five flights per week between female inmates, as more inmates arrive from Lincoln in preparation for Dwight closure;
- Inmate found dead in segregation cell at Menard, IDOC calls the death “suspicious,” while union staff say the inmate was murdered by his cell mate;
- Tamm’s inmates now living in Pontiac go on hunger strike due to living conditions.
Sadly, but undoubtedly, these incidents are a warning of events that will occur do to overcrowding. Since the closings have begun, inmates are residing in gyms at Graham Correctional as well as other prisons. Men and women that are already in unfamiliar surroundings cannot be packed in like sardines in an effort to save the state a buck or two. Many inmates are suffering from undiagnosed mental conditions and the actions taken by Governor Quinn have set the stage for a tragedy of epic proportions. Simply re-implementing the MGT in its “new” package will not fix the problem with overcrowding. The state of Illinois is in desperate need of a full judicial overhaul, starting with the local arresting officer all the way to the IDOC director. Other states have learned how to decipher violent repeat offenders from the kid with a bag of weed. Yet Illinois maintains the lead for the incarceration of non-violent offenders.
History has shown, to those interested enough to look, that nothing good can come from prison overcrowding. Similar conditions led to the riot at the Oklahoma State Prison at McAlester on July 1973. The uprising erupted into one of the worst prison riots in U.S. history. Oklahoma governor David Hall refused to sign parole recommendations of men due to be released. The stubbornness of the Governor led to overcrowding and with too few officers were left to handle the inmates, civil rights were violated, tempers flared and violence ensued. If something isn’t done soon, IDOC will take its own place in the history books.