Among the perquisites of political power, state lawmakers can use their legislative offices to make inquiries with the Illinois Department of Corrections on behalf of inmates who want to be moved to other prisons.
While many inquiries in support of transfers are legitimate—perhaps a well-behaved inmate wants to be closer to a sick or elderly family member who can’t travel long distances—several gang members and politicians we interviewed say that the perk is sometimes misused as a valuable favor that legislators offer gang leaders in exchange for their help.
Chicago filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records of all the prisoner transfer inquiries made by the 45 state representatives and state senators whose districts are in Chicago. As it turns out, IDOC does not keep a centralized database of such requests. It did, however, produce a stack of more than 630 handwritten request forms, some barely legible, filed from May 2005 to August 2011. (The documents represent a fraction of the requests. Transfers requested by phone or in person typically go unrecorded.)
Because IDOC declined to provide prisoners’ gang affiliations, citing potential security risks, we asked two veteran Chicago gang investigators to review a list of inmate names from the legislators’ request forms. The investigators estimated that at least 75 percent of the inmates on the forms had strong gang affiliations. By our tally, roughly 87 percent of their crimes involved murder, guns, or drugs—the most common gang-related offenses.
“It’s surprising the amount of people who are being transferred around,” says one of the investigators. “More surprising are the crimes these individuals have committed and their backgrounds. They’re killers.” Many, in fact, are top gang leaders. ”You’re not talking about individuals who have no juice,” he adds. “You got shot-callers, chiefs.”
Typically, prisoners want to be transferred to lower-security facilities—which offer more privileges and amenities. And because violent gang members with long sentences often end up in higher-security prisons downstate, moving closer to Chicago is also a big deal to them. Ultimately, prison administrators have discretion over which inmates receive transfers and where they get placed, but inquiries made by state lawmakers often receive special consideration, say two former state representatives.
William Delgado, a state senator who filed the most transfer inquiries (see below), staunchly defends them. “It would be derelict and un-Christian not to do it,” he says. “That’s part of the rehabilitation process.” He says he intervenes only at the behest of family members with incarcerated loved ones, not the inmates themselves. “I’m just there for the parents, the loved ones, the children, the grandchildren. Don’t confuse me for a political pimp.”
Similarly, La Shawn Ford, a state representative who filed the second-largest number of requests, says he tries to help the families of inmates cut through bureaucratic red tape. “It’s all about making sure that the families get their due process and that their inquiries are not ignored,” he says.
LAWMAKER: Sen. William Delgado
2nd District, Northwest Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 133
LAWMAKER: Rep. La Shawn Ford
8th District, West Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 65
LAWMAKER: Sen. Jacqueline Collins
16th District, Southwest Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 47
LAWMAKER: Sen. Mattie Hunter
3rd District, South Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 47
LAWMAKER: Sen. Donne Trotter
17th District, South Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 31
LAWMAKER: Rep. Monique Davis
27th District, Far South Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 29
LAWMAKER: Rep. Esther Golar
6th District, Southwest Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 28
LAWMAKER: Rep. Eddie Acevedo
2nd District, Southwest Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 26
LAWMAKER: Sen. James Meeks
15th District, Far South Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 26
LAWMAKER: Rep. Marlow Colvin
33rd District, South Side
NUMBER OF INQUIRIES: 24
… and below, the prisoners they helped
RONNIE “MAD DOG” CARRASQUILLO, 53, a founder of the Logan Square–based Imperial Gangsters, fatally shot a Chicago police officer in 1976 and was sentenced to 200 to 600 years. In June 2008, Delgado supported Carrasquillo's request to be transferred from Hill Correctional Center to Dixon, a lower-security facility closer to Chicago. The transfer was denied.
HENRY “JUNE BUG” BROWN, 54, a reputed prince of the Gangster Stones with a long rap sheet, was sentenced to 45 years for his role in the 1995 abduction and torture of a West Side man. For two days, Brown and three others sicced a pit bull on the man, burned him with heated butter knives, and poured bleach and salt in the wounds. In October 2010, Ford’s office e-mailed an IDOC staffer inquiring about a transfer for Brown from Lawrence, a medium-security prison. The request was denied. Brown was later moved to a maximum-security prison in Pontiac for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
FELIX “FUNNY” BARRIERA, 26, a reputed governor of the Maniac Latin Disciples, was arrested in 2005 for selling heroin and for illegally possessing a gun. He was sentenced to six years at Jacksonville Correction Center, a high-minimum facility. In 2007, Barriera wanted to be transferred to a lower-security prison in East Moline, about two hours closer to Chicago. His request was denied, even after Representative Luis Arroyo petitioned IDOC. In 2008, Barriera tried again. This time, Representatives Eddie Acevedo and Daniel Burke contacted IDOC on his behalf, and his transfer went through. (Acevedo did not respond to requests for comment; Burke did not recall making any inquiries on Barriera's behalf.)
MILTON “MUPPET” MUNTANER, 45, a reputed chief of the Maniac Latin Disciples, was sentenced to 50 years for his part in killing a man during a 1985 robbery over a drug deal. He is still active in the gang from behind bars, say investigators. Yet in May 2007, Representative Maria Antonia Berrios (who is not on the list above) inquired about Muntaner's transfer from Danville Correctional Center, a high-medium-security facility, to Logan, a medium-security one. On the report, a prison official noted that Muntaner was the leader of the Maniac Latin Disciples. Still, the request was approved. (Berrios did not respond to requests for comment.)
Source: Illinois Department of Corrections. Note: data are from May 2005 to August 2011.
Photography: (legislators) courtesy of Illinois General Assembly; (mug shots) courtesy of Illinois Department of Corrections