The Illinois prison system is grossly overcrowded. So why would the state keep an inmate in prison past his release date, when it could free up badly needed space?
The answer is that the inmate, Kevin Teichen, must register as a sex offender, even though nearly everyone agrees that he poses no danger to anyone.
Teichen was convicted of having sexual relations with an underage 16-year-old girl. He was eligible for parole last month. But because his parents live within 500 feet of a preschool, he can’t go back home. And because he has nowhere to go, he remains in the Taylorville Correctional Center.
"There's over a thousand people just sitting in prison because they don’t have a place to live," said Teichen’s father, Walt Teichen. "The reports show he is not a sexual predator, and does not have a profile toward younger kids."
Kevin Teichen was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder 10 years ago. His adoptive father, an Elmhurst insurance broker, said Kevin’s judgement is impaired, and he has trouble making good decisions.
"He has no impulse controls," the elder Teichen said. "It's permanent brain damage. It’s nothing that can be corrected by medicine of therapy."
Indeed, an expert on Fetal Alcohol disorders wrote a letter on Kevin's behalf to Gov. Pat Quinn last year.
"Individuals with this condition do get in trouble because they don't understand legal boundaries," wrote Dr. Natalie Novick Brown, a doctor based in Everett Washington. “They typically learn from their (prison) experiences.”
"Kevin Teichen," she concluded, "is not likely to reoffend."
But the Illinois’ sexual predator law provides no exceptions. The law says that registered sex offenders cannot live within 500 feet of a school. And when the Elmhurst Police Department measured the distance from the corner of the Teichen’s lot to a nearby preschool, that distance came up as 452 feet. That puts the house 48 feet inside the exclusion zone.
Pointing at a red brick house two doors away, Teichen noted that his son could legally live as his neighbor, but could not move back into the family home.
"He could live two doors away. He could sleep two doors away, get up in the morning at six o'clock, come over here to have coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, watch TV, have a snack at night, walk back to the house at 10:30 and go to sleep, and that's legal," he said.
Dupage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said the law does not give him any discretion to grant the Teichens an exemption.
"That’s something that needs to be handled by the General Assembly," Berlin said. "I can’t make an exception for him, or anybody else, because where do you draw the line? Who do you make exceptions for, and who do you deny the exceptions to?"
“There probably are some cases that are more egregious than other cases. But the law has to apply equally to everybody," he said.
Teichen disagrees. He contends Illinois' one-size-fits-all law is counterintuitive to the protection it attempts to provide. The law, he argues, should be risk-based, not a broad brush which applies to everyone, regardless of the crime.
His own state representative disagrees.
"We have to have a bright line test," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Addison Republican. "We cannot have a hodgepodge of laws that allow some individuals to be in a protected zone, while others are not."
Still, others have joined the chorus that some kind of reform in the law is needed.
"When we paint all offenders with the same brush, we lose the effectiveness," said John Maki of the John Howard Association, a prison reform group. "We need to propose a better solution."
Maki notes that by some estimates, upwards of 90% of sex crimes take place between family members.
Kevin Teichen is scheduled to be released next summer, and his father says he is trying to find somewhere for him to live which would provide the structure experts say he needs.
"They'll release him and they don’t care where he lives. But he still couldn’t live at home."