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Almost 4,000 inmates released from IL prisons, 64 convicted of murder

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces a shelter in place rule to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, during a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

ILLINOIS (WREX) — After calls from state lawmakers and a Freedom of Information Act Request from Illinois Senate Republicans, the Illinois Department of Corrections releases a list of every inmate released from state prisons since March 1.

On that list are almost 4,000 inmates that had their sentence commuted by either Gov. JB Pritzker, were released by the Illinois Department of Corrections, or were at or near the end of their sentences. According to court records, some of those released were convicted of violent crimes — 64 of them for murder, three of them convicted here in the Stateline.

It is the most expansive list of inmates released from Illinois prisons since the pandemic started. Last week, 13 WREX reported on 16 offenders that were commuted by Pritzker after documents were sent to us. This new list released by IDOC shows a much larger number of inmates and violent crimes.

According to Governor Pritzker's office, he has only taken clemency actions on 20 requests since March 1. The vast majority of the list, according to the governor's office, have completed or were near the end of their sentences. Roughly 900 were within 180 days of the end of their sentence, were nonviolent offenders and were given some kind of credit for good behavior, according to the governor's office. Some even may have passed away, according to the governor's office.

Pritzker has defended his move to commute sentences multiple times at his afternoon press conferences. He continuously says most inmates were near the end of their sentences.

"I think some of you may know and understand, because I've said it many times from this podium. I want to keep the risk to people across the state as low as possible," Governor Pritzker said at the podium on Tuesday, April 21. "The risk of COVID-19 and the risk from somebody who has done something wrong in their past."

What is not clear is why these inmates are being released and if it is related to COVID-19.

"Please note that neither the Governor nor the Prisoner Review Board have commented upon the reasons why any individual has been granted or denied a request for Commutation of Sentence," Jason Sweat, Chief Legal Counsel for the Illinois Prisoner Review Board said in an email to 13 WREX when asked about a specific inmate.

Nonetheless, some local lawmakers, Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea and Winnebago County State's Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross have all spoken against the move to release inmates.

"It is very concerning that we would allow violent felons and murderers who have committed heinous crimes back out in the public, and early from sentences," Chief O'Shea said in a phone interview on April 21.

In a statement sent to 13 WREX on Monday, Hite Ross said her office is having trouble notifying victims and families of victims before inmates who committed crimes are released.

"... The granting of such furloughs under Governor Pritzker’s Disaster Proclamation triggers my obligation to notify the victims pursuant to the Rights of Crime Victim’s Act and the Illinois Constitution," Her statement said. "The lack of appropriate notice to my office regarding the early release of these individuals hinders my ability to notify victims and family members in a timely manner. As Winnebago County State’s Attorney, I will continue to oppose the early release and furlough of violent offenders back into the Winnebago County community,"

State Rep. John Cabello — (R) Machesney Park, has been calling for the state to release more information for weeks. He originally released a list of names of inmates who had their sentences commuted, one included a man convicted of a Rockford murder who was serving 25 years in Dixon Correctional Center, Brian Harrington.

"The administration is showing that they do not want to be transparent in any way, shape or form, especially when it comes to murderers now," Cabello said.

Including Harrington, the list released Tuesday shows more convicted murderers from the Stateline have been released. They include James Price, who was sentenced to 55 years for a murder in Stephenson County. IDOC records show he was in custody starting in January 1992. Eugene Flint was sentenced to more than 75 years for a murder in Winnebago County. Records show he was in custody for that charge in September 1983. Finally, Howard Dunn, who was sentenced for murder. The list shows he was discharged, but according to the family of the man he murdered, he died in prison.

In an email, Lindsey Hess, IDOC Public Information Officer, sent the average number of daily inmates released by IDOC. It shows a lower daily release average for the first three weeks of March. Then, it ticks upward in the last week of March through mid-April.

IDOC daily release average broken down by week. These numbers represent inmates released for any reason.

To read the full list of inmates released, click here.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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