Prison Closings Must be Supported by Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Pat Quinn has announced that he plans to shut down seven state facilities to address a significant budget shortfall. The closings include two correctional facilities: IYC-Murphysboro, a minimum-security boys’ facility with a population of approximately 60 youths, and Logan Correctional Center, a medium-security adult prison with a population of almost 2,000 men.

While the Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) other facilities can safely absorb IYC-Murphysboro’s population, the decision to close Logan is far more complicated. Currently the Department of Corrections (DOC) houses almost 50,000 inmates in a system designed to hold a little more than 33,000. Without a reduction in Illinois’ prisoner population, JHA believes that closing Logan will likely exacerbate DOC’s overcrowded conditions, jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff, and ultimately cost taxpayers more money.

To avoid these unintended consequences, Governor Quinn and the General Assembly must bolster on-going reform efforts and implement the measures that other states have used to successfully reduce their prison populations safely and cost-effectively. JHA recommends the following actions:

  • Transfer IYC-Murphysboro to DOC. While IYC-Murphysboro only has the rated capacity to house 150 people, DOC needs the space more than DJJ.
  • Increase the number of programs that inmates can use to earn time off their sentences.
  • Enact a safe replacement for Meritorious Good Time, the early release program that was suspended in 2009 and led to an increase of almost 4,000 inmates.
  • Advocate for the statewide adoption of Adult and Juvenile Redeploy Illinois, an efficient and cost-effective state-funded program that helps counties to use community service to treat low-level offenders.
  • Implement RANA (Risk Assets Needs Assessment), a diagnostic tool mandated by the Illinois Crime Reduction Act that will help DOC prepare inmates for release and reduce their likelihood of returning to prison.
  • Punish technical parole violators with alternatives to incarceration through graduated sanctions, used effectively in the past. Illinois has a recidivism rate of more than 50 percent. There are approximately 13,000 inmates in DOC who are incarcerated not because they were convicted of a new criminal offense but because they did not fully comply with the conditions of their mandatory supervised release.
  • Expand the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarcerating low-level, non-violent offenders.
  • Create the possibility of parole for elderly prisoners. Almost 6,500 inmates in DOC custody are 50 years or older—known to be an age that makes it unlikely they will commit another crime.
  • Invest the resulting savings in community-based programs for youths and adults that reduce crime and decrease recidivism. As Illinois’ Sheridan Drug Prison and other states like Texas have shown, the only way to sustain prison reduction is through diversion and reentry programs that provide treatment and job training. Evidence shows that these programs are not only less expensive than incarceration, but they are also more effective.

JHA will continue to monitor Governor Quinn’s prison closure plan. We hope that Illinois will follow in the footsteps of states like Texas, Ohio, and New York which have found that a combination of sentencing reform, alternatives to incarceration, and rehabilitation not only helps cut out-of-control state budgets, but also decreases crime and reduces recidivism.

John Maki
Executive Director