Virus Outbreak Illinois

Protesters in their cars circle the Thompson Center honking their horns and demanding those incarcerated in state prisons be released amid the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Republicans have stepped up their demands that the Pritzker administration release more information about inmates being furloughed or granted early releases from state prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also requested the governor consult more with the General Assembly about granting such releases.

“As a co-equal branch of government, we shouldn’t have to wait and learn of all of this from media reports,” Rep. Avery Bourne, of Morrisonville, said during a video news conference on Monday. “We should not have had to learn from a media report that between March 2 and April 10, there were 1,300 prison inmates who were released through executive action. As a co-equal branch of government, we should have known about this ahead of time.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order April 6 allowing the Illinois Department of Corrections to grant medical furloughs to inmates beyond the standard 14-day limit.

But he also has used his executive authority to commute the sentences of 20 inmates since declaring a state of disaster on March 9, according to the Prisoner Review Board, and IDOC has used its administrative authority to grant early releases to hundreds of inmates to reduce the prison population and the risk of exposing both inmates and prison staff to the virus.

Pritzker estimated that more than 1,300 inmates had been released since he issued the disaster declaration, although he said he did not have an exact number when asked at his news conference this week.

Pritzker said previously that his goal was to release inmates who were incarcerated for relatively low-level offenses and people who were nearing the end of their prison term anyway.

But Rep. John Cabello, of Machesney Park, said the releases have gone far beyond those criteria to include 47 people convicted of murder, including at least two who had decades left on their sentences.

“We need to make sure that the victims’ families have been notified,” he said of when a prisoner is released. “And I sure hope that none of these people re-offend because I will hold this governor personally responsible if any of these folks re-offend and hurt somebody else, and I would sure hope that the rest of the state does that as well.”

But IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said in an email that crime victims and local law enforcement agencies are being notified of the releases.

“State’s attorneys receive an email notification when an incarcerated individual is released early,” she said. “Victims are notified by the Prisoner Review Board and the [Automated Victim Notification] system sends notifications to those who register.”

Nevertheless, Republicans argued that the administration should consult with them more about decisions to grant early release and, at the least, explain the criteria being used to grant clemency and early releases.

IDOC spokeswoman Hess noted that the department has statutory authority to place offenders on electronic detention or award earned “discretionary credit” in order to reduce an inmate’s sentence. A list of all of the discretionary credits granted since March 1 – 945 in all – is posted on the IDOC website.

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