A look at the state's Prison Furlough Program

CONTROVERSY has come to the state's Department of Corrections inmate prison furlough program. Authorized by the General Assembly, the limited-release program—one of 44 in the nation—has stirred debate following allegations by Bernard Carey, state's attorney for Cook County. He charges that "vicious criminals are being freed to roam the community." Carey's case is supported by instances of furloughs being given in one case to a convicted "hit-man" for organized crime; in another case, a convict imprisoned for attacking his wife was released and is alleged to have killed her while on furlough.

99.4 per cent success
Allyn Sielaff, state director of corrections, defends the program by pointing to one of the best records in the nation—a 99.4 per cent success rate since the program began in the fall of 1969. Sielaff says, "Imperfection in predicting human behavior will make some failures on furlough inevitable. On the other hand, for each failure there will continue to be hundreds of successes though they are less dramatic, less visible and less newsworthy." Department of Corrections official statistics give weight to Sielaff's claim. From the time of the program's inception through the end of 1974, 8,802 prisoners have been placed on the furlough program for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) To visit home and family for such reasons as serious illness within the family.

(2) To obtain medical services not available within the prison.

(3) To participate in an educational program related to gaining an understanding of the causes and prevention of crime.

(4) To make contact for employment upon parole or other release.

(5) To attend the funeral of a family member.

According to a Department of Corrections document, "Facts About Furloughs," 39 prisoners have "violated the Administrative Regulations as to the time of return" to the prison, and only 10 have been "arrested and/or (are) suspected of involvement in a new criminal offense."

Behind Carey's charge and the defense of the program by Sielaff is the larger question about what we expect from our prison system and what it can deliver. Prisons have traditionally been expected to perform a Jekyll and Hyde function for society. Prison is a place in which people convicted of serious crimes pay their debt to society in total segregation from the community. At the same time, a prison is a place in which serious efforts will be made to rehabilitate, so that upon release the exoffender will follow a law-abiding life. The problem, of course, is that these expectations are often contradictory since it is hard to punish and rehabilitate prisoners simultaneously.

Warehousing function
Another more immediate purpose not often discussed in polite society is the warehousing function of prisons. A criminal justice system overwhelmed with arrests, court cases, and rising crime rates increasingly looks to the prison as a place to stockpile those who are poor risks for probation or other community-based solutions. Very few people working in the system view our maximum security prisons as places which can either effectively punish or rehabilitate. Indeed, the rate of prisoners returning to state prisons for repeat offenses (35 to 45 per cent according to one accounting method) has long since led to the conventional wisdom that prisons are most effective at preparing first offenders for lives of crime.

With police, courts and probation systems overwhelmed by numbers, prison authorities have been desperately looking for alternatives. Ironically, the work-release and furlough concepts were partly the result of the recognition that continued stockpiling of society's felons was in itself dangerous. The odds favored their return to criminal behavior once released. In Sielaffs words, "Furloughs help reduce, recidivism. Offenders are less likely to return to crime after release from, prison if they have a decent job, residence and family situation. Secondly, a furlough program is essential to, prison reform. It permits leaves for emergencies, bridges reentry into society, aids in parole decision-making, relieves homosexuality in prison and improves inmate morale."

It is probably too early to know definitively whether Sielaff is correct, about the benefits of the furlough system. What can be said with certainly is that the lockup and retributive mentality of an earlier era did not effectively, punish or rehabilitate in ways that served public safety. The recidivism (relapse into repetition of committing crime) is powerful testimony which supports this finding.

The system of parole has combined with the move away from warehousing, to add stimulus to the furlough program. Under an indeterminate sentencing structure such as Illinois has there is periodic review of a prisoner's behavior to determine if he is a good risk for parole before the full sentence served. For example, a sentence of 5-10 years for armed robbery almost always assures release on parole within three and one half years—assuming the individual has stayed out of trouble white in the penitentiary.

Bans Mattick, director of the Center for Research in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle,

198 /Illinois Issues/July 1975

The larger question behind prison furloughs is what we expect from our prison system and what it can deliver

is quoted in the Chicago Daily News (January 3, 1975) as saying that the furlough program is "a way of enabling a man to test freedom in a graduated way while he is still under effective control by the state. We know is going to be eligible for parole, and this is a good way to test how he tolerates freedom." Mattick went on to point out that "98.9 per cent of all persons who enter prison are going to be released eventually." For Mattick and other criminologists, the furlough is an effective device for gradually reintegrating the convict into a society in which he has already had trouble.

Administrative discretion
Very few of the critics of the program are opposed to furlough and work-release programs in principle. Certainly State's Attorney Carey disavows such a view. Carey argues that the present law estiblishing the program in Illinois grants too much administrative discrection to the state Department of Corrections. He is seeking changes in the law (Illinois Revised Statutes, chapter 38, section 1003-11-1) to reduce that discretion.

There is no doubt that the present law contemplates substantial discretion in the administration of the program. Within the statutory purposes for which a furlough can be granted, the director may choose who will participate, weather the prisoner will be accompanied during the furlough, the period of time to be granted for the furlough; and the frequency with which an inmate will be granted furlough. According to Department of Corrections figures, at any given time approximately 30 inmates are on furloughs lasting an average of 48 hours.

Furloughs are granted after an 11-steps review process within the Department of Corrections. In addition, special review and screening procedures have already been established before furloughs are granted to people convicted of Class I felonies, which are the most serious and violent crimes. Another safeguard built into the program's administration, according to "Facts About Furloughs," is the filing of "certain information on all persons approved for furlough fifteen days in advance to state's attorneys, and places such information in LEADS (Law Enforcement Agency Data System) which may be assessed by law enforcement officials."

In late March of this year, the department established a new minimum advance notice of pending furloughs of 25 days. In addition, revisions to the administrative procedures governing the program call for special concern and caution when considering furloughs for inmates previously involved with organized crime "who may attract undue attention, or those who are serving a sentence for murder . . . ." Finally, the revisions seek to make clear the circumstances which require that a prisoner be escorted while on furlough.

Nonetheless, Carey has discussed draft legislation with Sen. John Graham (R., Barrington) which would reduce the Department of Correction's discretion in administering the program. At the time of this writing, the proposed bill would shift authority to grant furloughs and work-releases from the Department of Corrections to the Pardon and Parole Board, although the board would act on Department of Correction's recommendations in all cases. The Department of Corrections also expects to see language introduced either in the Graham Bill or in another, denying furloughs to Class I felons, and to enact into law many of the department's current administrative guidelines. It is unclear what effect these proposed changes will have on the number of furloughs given, although officials within the Department of Corrections are sure they will be reduced.

The Walker program
In perspective, the prison furlough is but one example of a variety of reform devices which modify a centuries-old system in deep trouble. Recent initiatives by Gov. Dan Walker to alter the court services, probation and sentencing procedures in Illinois will profoundly alter the system. If enacted, the Walker program will reshape Illinois' answer to the question of what we expect from our prison system and what in fact it can deliver. Among other changes, parole as we know it will be ended, since indeterminate sentences will be abolished in favor of so-called flat-time sentences. Prisoners will serve the statutory limit of their sentence with one day off for each day of trouble-free incarceration. One estimate predicts that the governor's plan will double Illinois' adult prison population. What place, if any, there will be for furloughs under such a system remains unclear. In the end, the General Assembly will have to decide whether the current system with its halting efforts to reform and change or a dramatic new approach is most likely to provide a higher level of public safety.

A national debate
Until this question is answered, the debate about furloughs will continue. The current administration will probably continue the furlough system until mandated to do otherwise. Sielaff has support for this position from the American Corrections Association (ACA) whose executive director communicated the ACA's support for the furlough program in a letter to Gov. Walker last September 6. In addition, the Adult Advisory Board of the Illinois corrections department has recently reviewed the furlough program in Illinois and concluded it was "conservatively run and well managed." Besides, there does not appear to be any substantial support within the current legislature to scrap the furlough program, despite Rep. Ronald E. Griesheimer's (R., Waukegan) House Bill 606 which would abolish furloughs. The question will be what modifications, if any, to adopt while the larger issues raised by Gov. Walker's proposals are debated. The debate promises to be conducted in national as well as state forums since the issues touch the administration of every prison system in the country. 

Chairman of the Illinois Eaw Enforcement Commission and vice chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, he received his Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University and has worked in federal, state and local levels of government.

July 1975/Illinois Issues 199

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