|Early release worries understaffed parole agents|
|By illinoistimes.com - Patrick Yeagle|
Illinois -- As Gov. Pat Quinn mulls a bill to allow early release for inmates in state prisons, parole agents who monitor ex-offenders say the program would add to their already burdensome caseload.
In late March, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill allowing the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections to award inmates credits toward their prison sentences. Quinn previously suspended early release in late 2009 citing public safety concerns, and lawmakers responded with a measure to build more safeguards and flexibility into the program.
But some parole agents worry that letting more inmates out of prison will endanger public safety because there aren’t enough agents to adequately monitor even the existing parolees. An IDOC report from 2010 showed there were about 28,000 parolees that year and a ratio of one agent for every 80.4 parolees. That works out to about 349 parole agents statewide. IDOC’s website currently says there are about 26,000 parolees.
Calls to IDOC seeking comment were not immediately returned.
James Simmons, a parole agent in Chicago, says agents act as both law enforcement and counselors, providing accountability and guidance for ex-offenders. Without that influence and help, parolees are more likely to commit further crimes, he says.
“If we don’t see these people, they go unchecked,” Simmons says. “It can be a nightmare. It’s difficult for them to find jobs, so they revert back to what they know best: drug dealing, hustling, the criminal way of life.”
The 2010 IDOC report shows 8.6 percent of inmates admitted to prison that year were former inmates who went back to prison for committing new crimes, while 29 percent were inmates who violated the terms of their parole.
Simmons says some parole agents are working without vehicles, instead relying on rides from other parole agents to check up on their assigned parolees. He says the Illinois State Police have started allowing parole agents to use their vehicles as a short-term solution.
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