Early-Release Plan Deserves Approval

Article excerpt

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suffered a nasty political sting early in his administration when poorly considered adjustments to the state's early-release system for prisoners resulted in violent offenders returning to the streets and committing high-profile crimes long before their sentences were due to expire. So, he may be understandably reluctant to reinstate a program beset, he said at the time, by "lots of flaws" that were "systemic" and "long-standing." He needn't be.

In the two years since Quinn placed a moratorium on the so-called Meritorious Good Time program, lawmakers and prison watchdogs produced a new approach to early-release that addresses a key statement in a report the governor commissioned on problems with the early-release system. That report, headed by Judge David Erickson, called for the Department of Corrections to "fundamentally change its attitude and approach" to early-release.

"These programs should not simply be population pressure release valves; they must be, first and foremost, a means to incent and reward good conduct ...," the report said. "This will not only benefit the individual inmate but also the community he or she will re-enter."

Senate Bill 2621, approved by both houses of the General Assembly last week, aims to do that by allowing the state to consider all aspects of an inmate's criminal history when determining whether to grant early release, by making a broad range of educational and social programs available for inmates to earn early-release credits and by requiring the state to document and publish its reasons for granting early release. …