In a recent post, Progress Illinois summarized Judge Erickson’s report on Meritorious Good Time and MGT PUSH, two early release programs that Governor Quinn suspended late last year. More importantly, Progress Illinois then noted the need to reinstitute some form of good time release:
Getting good time release right is crucial. Over 46,000 inmates are incarcerated or monitored by Illinois' DOC, a population which has almost tripled since 1978, when the initial version of the MGT program was created. Providing incentives for well-behaving inmates to return home early (often under state supervision) is both humane and a cost-effective way to lower the state's unsustainable crime rate and prison budget. But the program won't work unless the public trusts that the state is taking proper caution when it awards the credits.
An effective early release program should also be paired with larger comprehensive reforms, like better criteria for evaluating offenders and substantive sentencing and anti-recidivism reforms (including reductions in mandatory minimum sentences). Overcrowding and recidivism are equally serious public policy problems that deserve comparable attention. (In April, the joint legislative hearing held in Chicago by four Illinois House members was a good start.)
Every year, Illinois releases roughly 32,000 people from prison early. Within three years, 17,000 of those offenders are back behind bars. In our criminal justice system, there's no such thing as a risk-free release from prison. The state shouldn't let this latest controversy fall out of the headlines before some deeper structural questions about incarceration and crime are also debated.
JHA believes MGT and MGT PUSH were designed as safe, cost-effective early release programs that got ensnared in election year politics. Nevertheless, now that they’re gone, it’s critical that we find something to replace them—and soon.
Since Governor Quinn suspended early release programs late last year, Illinois has added more than two thousand inmates to its prisons, the equivalent of a large prison. This increase has brought the state’s total population as of August 16 to 47,704, a record high.
Facing a $13 billion deficit, Illinois cannot afford to sustain this kind of overcrowding.