Illinois Reinstates Updated Early Release Program

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — After a hiatus of a few years, government leaders in Illinois are reinstating a form of early release program to help address an overcrowded prison system. The state’s original early release procedures were in place for nearly 40 years, from 1970 to 2009, when democratic Governor Pat Quinn suspended the program after an Associated Press (AP) article indicated some inmates were being released after serving a prison sentence of only a few weeks or even days in some cases.

The AP reported in 2009 that 1,745 inmates were released within weeks after beginning their prison sentence, including a very public case where a man was convicted of assaulting a woman in 2008 but only spent 14 days in prison before being arrested the day after his release, on suspicion of committing another assault.

Despite the expediency of the political moment, ending the program led to other negative results, when the prison population grew by 4,000 inmates in the few years since the governor’s decision. This change, along with a pre-existing overpopulation issue, left the state with 49,000 inmates in a system intended to house 33,000.

The updated good behavior program comes with a few changes. All inmates must now serve at least 60 days of their original sentence before being released, and department of corrections representatives argue that the new rules give them more discretion to include various factors, like a history of violence, in their deliberations on when to release an individual inmate. The previous law allowed the department to covertly waive the 60-day minimum for some inmates to deal with overcrowding, but the state general assembly has since passed a law closing that loophole.

The governor signed the new program into law after the legislature approved it last spring. A legislative committee approved rules governing the program this week, paving the way for the program to be put back into action. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents many of the state’s correctional officers and related employees, has voiced the opinion that this move is part of an ongoing trend where Governor Quinn continually fails to take law enforcement seriously enough. The union has already voiced concerns about other recent measures the governor has taken, such as closing the Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax male prison, and the Dwight Correctional Center, a women’s facility.

AFSCME spokesperson Anders Lindall told the AP, “Given the Quinn administration’s record of reckless closures, employee layoffs, inattention to overcrowding and its previous early release fiasco, we are extremely cautious about the prospect of a good-time program implemented by this administration.”