When Gov. Pat Quinn suspended two early release programs -- "Meritorious Good Time" (MGT) and "Meritorious Good Time PUSH" (MGT Push) -- for prison inmates late last year, criminal justice reformers cried foul. Their concerns, it turns out, were warranted.
Both early release programs were rolled back, if you'll recall, after the media and fellow politicians charged Quinn with carelessly releasing hardened criminals into Illinois' streets to save the state a few dollars. In October, Malcolm Young, director of the Program for Prison Reentry Strategies at Northwestern's Bluhm Legal Clinic, wrote in a lengthy report that "nearly all of the charges against the program are false." Still, the policy remains unchanged. And since Quinn discontinued MGT and MGT Push, Illinois' (already bloated) prison population has grown by roughly 3,500 inmates.
The problem is only going to get worse with time. Using a formula that estimates the impact of policy changes on prison size, Young says Illinois' inmate population could surge from about 48,500 to 54,000 by June 2012 if the status quo is maintained. Here's a graph provided by the law professor:
What does this expansion cost? With the help of Young, the Reader's Steve Borgia calculated that the early release suspension would add $158 million to Illinois' balance sheet between now and July 2012. And that's just the dollars and cents:
The toll isn't just in dollars. Besides more reliance on lockdown and fewer rehabilitative programs, the consequences of prison overcrowding include increased barriers to health care for prisoners, greater spread of infectious disease, and more mental breakdowns and suicides.
In early October, during the height of the campaign season, Quinn said that restarting either early release program was not on his "radar screen." When the corrections bill hits his desk, he might want to reconsider.