Thursday, October 28, 2010

Report: 'MGT Push' got a bad rap

By Jamey Dunn

A report released today claims the media and politicians wrongly vilified the now infamous “Meritorious Good Time Release Push [MGT Push]” program and exaggerated the program’s affect on public safety.

The report, issued by the Northwestern University School of Law, claims the program — which awarded prisoners “good time” credit at the beginning of their sentences, causing some to spend only weeks in jail — was in line with previous steps taken by the General Assembly to combat overcrowding and rehabilitate criminals through community-based programs when possible.

From the report:

Even before [Corrections Director Michael] Randle’s arrival in June 2009, Illinois policymakers had been considering ways to reduce the number of short-term prisoners. The Illinois legislature expressly endorsed the concept of keeping a significant portion of this group out of prison altogether by passing the Crime Reduction Act of 2009.

The report was written by Malcolm Young, director of the Program for Prison Reentry Strategies with the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law. He says the media and politicians mischaracterized the program by dwelling on the more sensational aspects and characterizing it as secret.

But he concedes that the complexity of the sentencing process and criminal justice system make it difficult to give a program like MGT Push context when explaining it to the public. “There’s two difficulties for the media on criminal justice issues. One, its very emotional for people. It produces a gut reaction. … The second is, it’s difficult to understand and explain.”

From the report:

While “MGT Push” was hardly secret, it also was not announced with a press conference. The Department treated “MGT Push” as what it was: an administrative change in a practice that was unsupported by law, the result of which was to credit prisoners with ‘good time’ to which they were entitled without an arbitrary 60-day delay and to reduce the cost of putting the Department through an expensive classification process, the outcome of which was irrelevant for prisoners soon to be released in any event.

Young — who is a member of the Quinn Administration's Illinois Adult Corrections Advisory Board but says he is not paid for his service and has never met the governor — said those aware of the program should have seen the controversy coming and done more to explain the need for early release to the public. “Those of us who heard [of MGT Push] or knew about it or talked about it, we’re guilty, too — of not really anticipating what the emotional trigger was or how it could be exploited.” The report accuses Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration of “bad public relations” during the public scandal that ensued.

Young said he is disappointed that the backlash has resulted in early-release programs being shut down in Illinois instead of creating a debate on the best way to fix the correction system with the goal of rehabilitating criminals and reducing crime rates.

Republicans question the results of the Northwestern report, citing a scathing report issued by Judge David Erickson and members of Quinn’s own administration.

“[Those who wrote the] Erickson report had inside and in-depth knowledge of the Department of Corrections,” said Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Sen. Bill Brady, the Republican candidate for governor. “The bottom line is, what [Erickson] found was 1,700 inmates were secretly released — many after only serving days in prison. That is a problem. That is a public safety risk.”

Young’s report is critical of Erickson's findings. It also alleges that cutting early release programs may actually harm public safety because criminals whose sentences are reduced spend the time they would have spent behind bars under supervision back in society. The logic is that criminals who serve their full sentences would have to fend for themselves on the outside sooner after release and would be more likely to resort to crime.

Young said that MGT Push set the state back in terms of trying to address overcrowded prisons and rehabilitate felons through community-based programs when appropriate “In retrospect, it wasn’t worth it. It cost a huge amount. But the problem is not that someone tried to implement something as modest as MGT Push. The episode shows us that at any point in time, it would be very difficult to put in place any reform in Illinois that visibly shortens or reduces prison sentences.”


Alan Mills said...

The real problem, ignored by BOTH candidates fro Governor, is that the Illinois prison system is grossly overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded. Anyone who has any familiarity with the prisons knowns that some reform is required. The only choices are let people out, or raise taxes. This is an important issue, deserving of serious debate. Demonizing Randle for trying something that was not 100% perfect chills that debate. If the standard for judging reform is whether it is 100% successful, then no reform is possible--afterall, the current "failure rate" (i.e., recidivism rate) is over 50%.

Let's all hope that a real debate, with real policies of reform, will begin on November 3rd!

stephen said...

Young has done a major service here in presenting the facts about "early release". Shame on Brady and others for trying to scare people about the whole thing! You'd have thought that Willie Horton-type tactics would not play in Illinois in 2010, but the press and much of the public has bought into the lies. MGT was a REPUBLICAN plan, and successful for decades until demagogues caused it to be cut. Shameful!

Anonymous said...

Brady's campaign is dead wrong--there is no evidence that this was a public safety risk, and in fact, ending the program may have caused a public safety risk. They need to read this report to understand why.

One of the most appalling and discouraging parts of this tale of perpetual misinformation is actually the Erickson report. This former judge had no corrections background and seemed amazed that inmates receive day-for-day good time, something that judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants all understand--and take into account in sentencing.

This new report notes: "Almost no one noted that while generous in its criticisms, the Erickson report failed to report a single case in which an inmate released under MGT-Push was a) released contrary to law; or b) caused harm or injury to another person during the days in which the prisoner was in the community due to MGT-Push."

Mark A. Clements said...

Governor Patrick Quinn is a joke and has been a joke. Former Illinois Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle was force to resign from his post by Quinn. Both the Illinois House and State Senate were seeking out ways to correct overcrowding within Illinois prisons. Randle was appointed as IDOC Director to create programs and to correct the overcrowding within Illinois State prisons. Neither was successfully done, mainly because Governor Quinn decided to chance his approach because of political pressure in regards to a prison early release program which could not have even been implemented without his consent. Because this early release program was rescinded some Illinois prisons are sleeping on floors and the one's who will have to pay settlements once these inmates file law suits will be the tax payers of Illinois. Quinn, took office only because Rod Blagojevich was impeached and accused the former Governor of not doing his job when it came to Executive Clemency petitions and correcting Illinois prison problems. Quinn has done nothing in these two area's since taking office. Today there is well over three thousand executive clemency petitions that sit on his desk and Illinois prisons have gotten worst mainly because their is no rehabilitation in them. If any one step's down, I believe it should be QUINN.

Mark A. Clements,
Campaign to End the Death Penalty &
National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression & Jail Jon Burge Coalition

Anonymous said...

we need are love ones home please give them there good time back the word good in prison is very big in prison

Anonymous said...

it is obvious not to send home the inmates that have life sentences, or that are sentances 20+ years, 10+ years, 5+ years, Let the inmates that need little time left, 5 months, 4 months to their parole date FREE, especially if this was their first offence if they go back in for the same offence or have a bad record then obviously they need to st there a little longer....but those that need a few months, send them home on parole, monitoring devices etc. LOWER OUR TAXES and send those inmates HOME!!

MS. NOLOVE said...

I feel it is not right that the Men & Women who are lock up should have to pay for the mistake that the people in office make. They did their's time for the crime and they should come home to their's love ones that are waiting on them, they was told they will be home after 61 days with the good time. Now they are suffering for you'll mistake, that not fair to them or their's love ones waiting for their to return home.

Anonymous said...

Honestly pat quinn is being inconsiderate. How about u start thinking about others 4 once? I bet if he spent a week in prison he would change his mind quickly. The "over a dozen" people went back to jail.. but what about the other 1000 people? It is rediculous how he is making everyone else suffer over what like what 13 people did? Even if those guys served the other 6 months in jail they would of still went back to jail because that's the kind of people they are. Why blame the ones who truely made a mistake and learned from it. Coming from me.. someone who use 2 get arrested a lot and after spending a month in jail I turned my life around and havnt been in any kind of trouble since. So stop thinking about yourself and see the kindness in these peoples hearts. They can change.