SPRINGFIELD — A secret program allowing the early release of Illinois prison inmates nearly sunk Democrat Pat Quinn’s first run for governor four years ago. Now it has resurfaced in his bid for re-election.
With each candidate attacking the other on their management records, Republican Bruce Rauner has aired a 30-second television spot about the 2009 policy that Quinn terminated after it was reported by The Associated Press.
More than 1,700 inmates — including hundreds convicted of violent crimes — spent only weeks or even days in prison in 2009. Officials in Quinn’s Corrections Department dropped a long-standing policy to require a 60-day stay in the state penitentiary before an inmate was considered for good-conduct credit on his sentence — and then initially refused to acknowledge it when asked about the change.
Quinn ascended from lieutenant governor to governor in 2009 when his now-jailed predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, was impeached on corruption charges.
The Rauner ad is short on specifics and generalizes in areas. For example, it refers to a sexual assault charge that was never formalized, and wrongly suggests that inmates serving time for murder were released early. In turn, the Quinn campaign’s response to the Rauner ad suggests that the governor ended the policy more decisively than he did.
RAUNER’S CLAIM: “230 criminals, secretly released early by Pat Quinn.”
FACTS: After the AP reported in January 2010 that the initial Corrections list included hundreds of inaccurate names of inmates let go and obtained a correct list of 1,745, its analysis found 230 had been convicted of violent crimes or those involving weapons.
RAUNER’S CLAIM: “Sex offenders, wife beaters, convicted murderers.”
The AP found no one released early was serving a sentence for murder. One had been convicted for conspiracy to commit murder. Seven had been previously convicted of murder, but the corrections department at the time said it had to follow court decisions restricting good-conduct considerations only to an inmate’s current conviction — not past violence.
Two were convicted of criminal sexual abuse and one for failing to register as a sex offender. Thirty-eight were put away for domestic battery.
RAUNER’S CLAIM: “What happened after Quinn freed them is unthinkable. Sexual assault of a minor, violent domestic abuse and more senseless murders.”
FACTS: The AP found several cases of freed inmates later charged with domestic abuse. At least one is serving a life sentence for a Peoria County murder after early release.
The sexual assault of a minor involves Darrell G. Bracey, 27. After his early release, Bracey, who went back to prison for battery, admitted having sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to Naperville police, but said he thought she was of age. Prosecutors didn’t pursue the charge, saying the victim’s family was not cooperating.
QUINN RESPONSE: In a fundraising email to supporters, Quinn campaign manager Lou Bertuca responded that “Gov. Quinn didn’t authorize a single early release. In fact, the very day he found out about the program, he shut it down.”
FACTS: It’s true that Quinn suspended early release within hours of the AP’s report, and permanently terminated it at the end of that month. But two days after the article, Quinn said he had known about the program and claimed it had been well-publicized, but wouldn’t say why he was halting it. The next day, he said then-Corrections Director Michael Randle had not followed specific instructions to bar violent offenders from early release.
When he formally ended the good-time program Dec. 30, 2009, Quinn said he hadn’t known about the program until reading the AP account.
JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer