By John O'Connor
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Dozens of parolees, including one imprisoned for his part in a 2008 murder, have disappeared after they were set free as part of a secret early release program, according to documents acquired by The Associated Press.
The parolees were let go as part of the "MGT Push" plan that Gov. Pat Quinn shut down in December after The Associated Press revealed it. While the public has not been told when they take off, the agency said Wednesday it would change that.
MGT Push has embarrassed Quinn as he runs for re-election, although the Democratic governor has tried to blame Corrections Director Michael Randle, saying he didn't know Randle was going to release violent offenders. The administration ordered parole agents in January to begin "intensive compliance" checks on the released prisoners.
More than 50 MGT Push parolees are currently on the lam, according to documents from Corrections obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by The Associated Press.
While many who go astray are picked up within days, some absconders have been gone for months. Those currently on the list have been missing an average 136 days, or 4.5 months, according to the AP analysis.
"Our teams are working full-time to apprehend these offenders," Corrections Department spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said.
Corrections seeks help from local and federal police in tracking down the convicts, although most are found by parole agents. The public has not been told they are missing, and the agency's website lists their status as "parole" _ the same as for the thousands of parolees whose location is known.
"It's dangerous. People could be hurt," said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a crime victims' advocate with IllinoisVictims.org.
Elman initially said the list changes too rapidly for the agency to be able to accurately report parolees who are on the run. Then Wednesday, she said the agency was developing a way to update parolees' status.
Quinn's office would not comment.
The secret MGT Push plan was meant to reduce the prison population by giving discretionary good-conduct credit _ known as "meritorious good time" _ to offenders as soon as they arrived at prison. They were rewarded for good conduct even before they had a chance to show they could follow the rules.
Hundreds of violent criminals were among 1,745 released weeks early. Some spent as little as seven days in prison.
When the "intensive compliance checks" started, many of the people released under MGT Push were sent back behind bars for minor rule-breaking: Failing to make a daily telephone check-in, having beer in the house, not being home twice on the same day when agents came knocking, documents show.
But dozens are missing.
They include Curtis Nelson, 21, who was released three months early on a three-year sentence for mob action. Unarmed, he accompanied two armed men in a June 2008 shootout in Sauk Village that killed a 20-year-old man, according to the Cook County State's Attorney's office.
Nelson has been missing since April 24, when he bolted a community treatment center where he'd been enrolled because of his continued drug use.
Among a dozen other missing parolees with violent histories is Michael Watkins, 53, absent since Feb. 5. Watkins was set free six months early on an 18-month stint for aggravated drunk driving. In the mid-1980s, he was sentenced to nine years for attempted murder, home invasion and burglary.
The number of absconders is probably greater than 50 because the AP data is two weeks old, and Corrections doesn't automatically report when an inmate goes missing.
Also, it doesn't include parolees who have been deported or turned over to immigration authorities because they are suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could deport or release them, the agency doesn't automatically notify Corrections, so prison officials consider them missing unless they get calls from the parolees.
Some on the list may have been apprehended but are being held in county jails; the agency doesn't report them as in custody until they're in state prison.
Lawmakers sent legislation to Quinn last month that would require information on parolees to be posted on the Internet within three days of their early release.
It should have included a requirement that missing parolees be labeled, said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, minority leader of the House Judiciary Committee for criminal law.
"Victims have a right to know where these people are, and the public isn't being made aware of that," Reboletti said. "The governor doesn't want the embarrassment of the public finding out that the people he released early and put on parole are missing."
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