CHICAGO, Ill. (IRN) – A burgeoning prison population may force Illinois to bring back an early release program and the idea is being pushed by a prison reform group.
Meritorious Good Time was in place in the Illinois Department of Corrections for 30 years. It allowed low-level offenders to get out of prison up to six months before their sentences expired, if they had behaved well in prison.
It was suspended two years ago when it became a campaign issue in the Democratic primary for governor, in particular because there had been a rule requiring anyone who ended up in the Department of Corrections to serve at least 60 days, and that rule was waived under a so-called MGT-Push program to relieve overcrowding in prison.
Many offenders serve much of their time in county jails, either as they await adjudication of their cases, or even post-sentencing if the state system is not ready to accept them.
Now, John Maki, head of the John Howard Association of Illinois, says Meritorious Good Time should be reinstated, because the result is overcrowded prisons.
“Six months might not seem like a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot if you’re in prison, but again it’s also a lot if you’re housing more than 48,000 people and you need to free up space because more people are coming in.”
The stated capacity of the Illinois prison system is 34,000.
Maki says the overcrowding is acute at medium and minimum-security prisons, which house the offenders who had been eligible for Meritorious Good Time. The serious offenders – those who committed murder, sexual assault and gun crimes – were not eligible for early release under the program.
The Illinois House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take testimony today (Wednesday) on prison overcrowding.