Benefit of inmate release not immediate

By Editorial Board

In an attempt to address the ongoing budget crisis in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn has approved the early release of 1,000 inmates from the state prison system to save an estimated $5 million. Only low-level, non-violent offenders serving the last year of their sentence qualify for this release, and those chosen will be required to wear electronic ankle bracelets that monitor their whereabouts for the duration of their sentence.

Although state officials put the saving at $5 million, Quinn is allocating $2 million to monitor the released inmates, to provide parole officers and rehabilitation services. Also, an additional $2 million will be spent to help prevent low-level offenders from entering the state prison system in the first place by providing expanded services to communities, such as drug prevention programs.

Releasing 1,000 inmates early won’t save the state a large amount of money immediately. But hopefully by funding programs designed to divert people from entering prison, a substantial amount of money will be saved in the long term.

However, the state needs to look at this measure more comprehensively and realize the complete ramifications of this action to make sure it is carried out effectively.

There needs to be accountability for monitoring the released inmates and the state needs to make sure the reform measures stick. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois has 400 parole officers responsible for 30,000 parolees, a 1-to-75 ratio. Cautions need to be taken to make sure there is an adequate number of parole officers needed to carry out the reform plan.

If releasing inmates early proves to be effective, it could be the start of a larger trend to reform the prison system in Illinois, something that is greatly needed not only to cut costs, but also to prevent the legal system from being clogged with low-level offenders.

Money that is saved from releasing these offenders could be used to reform Tamms Correctional Center, the notorious super-maximum security facility located in southern Illinois. Using the funds saved to concentrate on more violent offenders would be much more beneficial than wasting thousands of dollars on small cases where the inmate serves less than one year in prison.

Quinn’s move to release inmates early could be greatly beneficial to the state of Illinois, perhaps sparking a complete overhaul of the current prison system. But if it’s going to work, the state needs to understand the implications and make sure it’s done with accountability in mind.