Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn now says he knew ahead of time that his prison system planned to release inmates early but wouldn't say whether he was aware it meant some violent criminals would get out after just a few days behind bars.
The Chicago Democrat wouldn't explain Wednesday why he halted Corrections Director Michael Randle's practice after The Associated Press reported that hundreds of inmates -- including some convicted of domestic battery and weapons charges-- got out early.
Quinn suspended the program Sunday after seeing the AP report, and initially would not say whether he was informed of a secret change in custody policy before it began in September. Now he says not only did he know, Randle publicized it.
"The plan I heard from Director Randle, I want to make sure it's carried out where public safety is the paramount consideration," Quinn told reporters in his Capitol office. "I'd rather have a careful review, from top to bottom, than just carry on."
That examination, by Randle and Quinn chief of staff Jerome Stermer, will be completed in "a short period of time," the governor said.
The AP reported that more than 850 offenders have been released early since September after Corrections secretly dropped a policy -- the agency says it was informal -- requiring everyone to serve at least 61 days before becoming eligible for good-conduct time off.
The apparent change in Quinn's explanation brought a sharp retort Wednesday from state comptroller Dan Hynes, who is challenging the governor in February's Democratic primary election. Hynes spokesman Matt McGrath blasted Quinn's "bumbling response and verbal contortions."
Hynes challenged the governor to publish a list of all prisoners released under the program, their crimes, the rationale for release and where they're now living.
"To continue to stonewall and hide behind a forthcoming report is an unacceptable risk to public safety," McGrath said.