by Jeff Fleischer(Medill News Service, October 15, 2002)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday outlined plans for the state parole system that he said would make Illinois safer by decreasing the number of repeat criminals.
“I’m outlining new steps to close gaps in the state’s parole system, to give Illinois parole agents additional support, more colleagues, and advanced power,” Blagojevich, currently a U.S. congressman representing Chicago, said at a downtown Chicago news conference.
Blagojevich said the parole system is an issue because Illinois will release about 35,000 convicts in the next year, which would be “the highest number of people on parole in state history,” Blagojevich said.
Based on past recidivism rates, this could mean a sharp increase in the number of repeat offenders, he suggested. “More than one third, 36 percent of offenders, were returned to prison within three years of their release,” he said, citing Illinois Department of Corrections statistics.
Blagojevich’s plan includes doubling the number of state parole officers, requiring more meetings between parolees and officers, increasing treatment for drug offenders, and streamlining the ability of officers to sanction parole violators. He said those sanctions could include electronic monitoring and stricter curfews for parolees.
“We have to take action to stop this revolving door of recidivism,” Blagojevich said.
While the number of state parole officers has already doubled during the administration of Republican Gov. George Ryan, Blagojevich said the state “desperately needs more parole officers.” The candidate also criticized the track record of his Republican gubernatorial opponent, Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan.
“Jim Ryan’s record on the growing parole crisis in Illinois has been exactly the same as his record on investigating license-for-bribes, on his record for failing to negotiate a better discount on prescription drugs for our seniors, or his failure to fix the child-support collection mess,” Blagojevich said. “Mr. Ryan’s record is a record of inaction, failure and missed opportunities.”
Terri Hickey, a spokeswoman for Jim Ryan’s campaign, said the Blagojevich plan would be cost-prohibitive for a state facing severe budget problems.
“Any time you can increase parole officers you’d like to,” Hickey said. “But where’s the money going to come from?”
Blagojevich said his proposals would cost “in the neighborhood of $25-to-$27 million,” but he believes the programs would at least partially pay for themselves, as fewer repeat offenders would mean fewer new trials and reincarcerations.
“In this particular case, I think we can not only find the money, but can also save money in a modest way,” Blagojevich said. “If you invest more in parole officers [who] keep tabs on ex-offenders, the evidence is clear that [fewer] of the ex-offenders will actually become recidivists.”
With clemency hearings for all Death Row inmates starting Tuesday, Blagojevich reiterated his support of a pardon for Rolando Cruz, but said he opposes a blanket commutation for all Death Row inmates.
“I oppose Gov. Ryan’s effort for a blanket commutation. I think it is the wrong way to fix a broken system,” Blagojevich said. “I do support the idea of reviewing all of the cases — that’s obvious.”
Blagojevich criticized his opponent for not publicly supporting Cruz’s efforts for a pardon.
“We all know Rolando Cruz was innocent, and yet Jim Ryan insists that he did nothing wrong and refuses to support a pardon,” Blagojevich said. “So I call on Jim Ryan to change his position.
“If he doesn’t want to acknowledge the mistake, fine,” Blagojevich said. “Let him at least acknowledge that Rolando Cruz deserves a pardon.”