SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Gov. Pat Quinn turned Thursday to the assistant director of Ohio's prison system to run the Illinois Department of Corrections, an agency struggling to manage overcrowded prisons with a shrinking staff.
Michael Randle offered few hints about he will handle that challenge if confirmed by the state Senate. But he did suggest the department must do all it can to help inmates prepare for life on the outside instead of simply warehousing people.
"It is important that we also give offenders opportunities to change their lives through providing effective rehabilitation programs," Randle said, praising drug treatment programs at two Illinois prisons.
Randle, who turns 43 next week, is currently assistant director at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. A Chicago native, he served as a warden at Ohio prisons, oversaw the department's industrial program and worked with mental health services.
"Michael Randle is the best of the best," Quinn said at a news conference to announce his nominee.
Randle would replace Roger Walker, a former sheriff who ran the Corrections Department throughout the tenure of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Illinois prison systems were designed to hold about 34,000 people. They now house one-third more than that, or 45,000 people, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
At the same time, the number of employees has plummeted by 25 percent since 2001 as the state has encouraged staff to retire but hasn't filled vacancies. The state forces employees to work 60-80 hours a week to fill the gaps, AFSCME says.
"There simply isn't enough staff to run them safely," said union spokesman Anders Lindall.
Staffing and forced overtime is a concern, Randle said.
"Anytime you ask staff to work 16 hours a day over and over and over and over and over again, it does become a challenge," he said. "It becomes a lot more difficult to be as alert as you should be. Let's face it, in this business it is about being alert."
Quinn said he wants Randle to conduct a complete review of the department's prisons and the best way to run a corrections system in the 21st century. That review, he said, includes the "supermax" prison at Tamms, where the most dangerous prisoners are housed in isolation under the strictest security. Critics say the conditions are unfair.
The Senate Committee on Executive Appointments will review Randle's nomination. At least one member likes what he sees so far.
Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago, said the Illinois department has plenty of high-quality administrators of its own, but Randle has wide experience at the top levels of a major state's prison system.
"I always welcome a breath of fresh air, someone who may have a different perspective for Illinois," Delgado said.
Associated Press Writer John O'Connor contributed to this report.