Early-release inmates accused of violent crimes

Prisons Secret Release
Gov. Pat Quinn, right, announces on Dec. 30 that he's reinstating a policy requiring all state prison inmates to serve 61 days before becoming eligible for good-conduct time off. Looking on is Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle. M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When Gov. Pat Quinn halted a secret early prison release program last week, he acknowledged that 56 of the freed inmates were already back behind bars — 48 of them for violating rules of their parole.

What he didn't say was that those broken rules included at least 17 allegations of violent crimes, including attempted murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault of a police officer, according to Associated Press interviews and reviews of both public and internal Corrections Department documents.

One offender who's back after he was released under the program known as "MGT Push" allegedly shot his victim in the leg. Victims of nine others who earned return trips to the penitentiary contend they were battered.

Seven parolees are back in lockup for crimes involving guns or other weapons.

Two who returned after arrests on domestic battery allegations could have been picked up by the Corrections Department earlier, following busts for less serious crimes, but were not.

The cases represent new problems for Quinn, who already is facing intense criticism over MGT Push — so-named because it refers to giving prisoners "meritorious good time" credit.

The program, and how much Quinn knew about it before The Associated Press revealed its existence in December, have become major issues in the governor's race. The primary union for prison guards and parole officers this week issued the latest call for a legislative investigation.

Trouble with the law
MGT Push involved secretly changing a Corrections policy that required inmates to stay a minimum of 61 days. Inmates also were given as much as six months' time off for good conduct as soon as they arrived, before they had a chance to display any conduct, good or bad.

That made inmates — some of them violent — eligible for release in as little as three weeks, including county jail time. Quinn has stressed that even without MGT Push, discretionary awards of good-conduct credit would have qualified them for release in another month or two.

When he reinstated the minimum-stay policy and announced other reforms on Dec. 30, Quinn said eight MGT Push parolees were back in prison serving sentences for new crimes including domestic battery, aggravated drunken driving, theft and drug charges. A ninth was returned for a new drug sentence the next day.

The remainder of the 56 he labeled "technical violations" held over parolees' heads for not following the rules.

Spokesman Bob Reed said Quinn wasn't trying to mislead anyone about the conduct of the inmates who had been released early. Quinn was not told that those technical violations included allegations of serious crimes, he said.

"The governor worked with the best information he had at the time," Reed said. He stressed the new offenses are accusations, not convictions.

Variety of offenses
Documents and police reports show allegations of new crimes against 21 of the 48 parolees, with 17 accusations of violence, including:

  • Anthony Finley, 21, arrested in Chicago nine days after leaving prison for allegedly shooting a victim in the thigh. He is charged with attempted murder and nine counts of battery and weapons charges. Finley, who has pleaded not guilty, had been sentenced in 2008 to three years for a drug charge. He spent a little under a year in Cook County Jail, was transferred to state prison and was released three weeks later, on Oct. 10.
  • Eric Hicks, 24, arrested Nov. 23 for allegedly using a gun to rob a pedestrian in Chicago of cash and a cell phone. He faces an armed robbery and other charges and has pleaded not guilty. Hicks had been sentenced in 2008 to three years for attempted robbery, served 14 months in county jail and was paroled Oct. 6 after 14 days in state prison.
  • Timothy Warren, 38, arrested Oct. 10 in Chicago when a search of his home turned up a .32-caliber handgun and two pit bulls. He is charged with two counts of unlawful use of a weapon and has pleaded not guilty. He had been paroled 11 days earlier after serving just six months of a two-year sentence for a similar weapons charge, with just under five months in county jail.
  • Alfred Wooten, 40, arrested Dec. 2 on domestic battery allegations after police saw him knocking a woman to the ground and striking her head. The charge was dismissed Dec. 16 when the accuser did not appear in court, but it could be reinstated, according to the Cook County State's Attorney's office. The arrest alone is a parole violation and enough to keep Wooten locked up. He had been paroled Oct. 15 after serving just 54 days — 13 in state prison — of a one-year sentence for retail theft.

Back behind bars
Wooten is one of the two criminals accused of battery who could have been returned to prison earlier. Police arrested him Nov. 17 on suspicion of criminal trespass to a vehicle, but internal Corrections documents indicate officials decided not to pick him up on a parole-violation warrant.

The other is Joshua Paddock, 21, paroled Nov. 6 as part of MGT Push after serving a stint for aggravated battery. He was arrested Nov. 19 on a traffic violation but was not returned to prison. Zion police arrested him Dec. 17 and charged with four counts of domestic battery.

That earned him a trip back to prison. He has not appeared in court to answer the charges.

According to the Corrections documents, the victim contends Paddock stripped her, kicked her, choked her and dragged her across the pavement and back into a hotel room over the course of four hours.

Decisions to revoke parole are made individually on each case, said Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith, adding that officials may also stiffen a parolee's restrictions instead of taking him back to the pen.

The Associated Press has repeatedly requested details of the 56 returnees since Quinn's Dec. 30 statement. The agency finally produced a document Thursday, confirming the AP findings.

It shows 13 offenders went back to prison after going AWOL from parole or failing to comply with regulations, testing positive for drug use or moving to another location without permission. Fourteen spent little if any time on the street because they failed to find or keep an approved place to live.