GOP Senators seek records related to early release from prisons

(The Center Square) – Several Republican state senators filed public records requests with the Illinois Department of Corrections after they say the governor didn’t respond to a formal letter for more information about the release of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the GOP are looking for names and other details of inmates released during the pandemic. Illinois Department of Corrections officials said they will provide responsive records.

State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, joined others in requesting the information. He said small businesses were forced closed, and their employees who can’t work because of the governor’s stay at home orders, are struggling.

“It’s very troubling for many to learn that while these businesses are closed, the doors of the prisons are being opened for child murders,” McClure said.

The John Howard Association said “while elected officials decry the release of someone who committed murder decades ago as a present public safety threat, data reflects that the recidivism rate of people convicted of murder is the lowest of all crime categories.”

When asked if he was releasing convicted murderers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that he has the authority to pardon and commute sentences.

“I do commute sentences,” Pritzker said. “The contention that I am looking at and actually do commute sentences, that’s an accurate depiction.”

McClure said the public has the right to know who was released, what crimes they were convicted of and where they’re released.

The ACLU of Illinois said releasing names of prisoners released during a pandemic was “playing politics with public health” and “Illinois prisoners are dying because they are held in conditions that often are unsanitary and rarely allow for social distancing.”

McClure said because of the lack of response from the governor’s office, there’s no way to tell if those being released are for “compassionate care.”

“I don’t have a list of all the [prisoners] that have been furloughed, released, commuted, etcetera, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis,” McClure said. “So for them to make statements about compassionate release and etcetera, that is obviously not the case in all these cases.”

McClure said they’ll let the process play out before determining their next steps.

“The Department is taking vigorous steps to protect men and women in custody, as well as Department staff, from COVID-19, including thoroughly reviewing those who are eligible under the law for early release,” IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess said. “The Department, after individualized review and with an emphasis on maintaining public safety, is utilizing statutory procedures available to release offenders who do not pose a risk to their communities.”

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