What you need to know about SB 2621

SB 2621 is a piece of criminal justice reform legislation that passed the Illinois Senate and House in the spring 2012 legislative session and was signed into law by Governor Quinn in June 2012. This is a significant victory for both the John Howard Association (JHA), which was the primary proponent of the bill, and for safe, smart, and cost-effective prison reform. The new law will establish a responsible early release program to ease prison overcrowding that will replace Meritorious Good Time (MGT), the 30-year-old good conduct credit program that was suspended in early 2010.

What will SB 2621 do?

As of May 2012, Illinois housed more than 48,000 inmates in a prison system designed for about 34,000. While almost every facility struggles with its population, the worst crowding is in the state's minimum and medium security prisons, which house mostly low-level offenders. This kind of crowding endangers not only inmates, but also the thousands of staff that work in the state's correctional institutions.

SB 2621 will address these problems by authorizing the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) to award up to 180 days of Sentence Credits to low-level offenders for completing educational programs, taking part in community service, or demonstrating good behavior. This is a standard tool that prison systems across the country use to control behavior and encourage participation in programs that reduce recidivism.

How is SB 2621 different from MGT?

SB 2621 will mandate several key improvements designed to protect public safety, including the following:

  • SB 2621 will authorize DOC to consider an inmate's entire criminal history when awarding Sentence Credits, which includes prior offenses, “any history of conviction for violent crimes as defined by the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act,” the "facts and circumstances of the inmate's holding offenses," and the "potential for rehabilitation." Under MGT, such consideration was impossible.
  • SB 2621 will authorize DOC to award Sentence Credits for completing a broad range of programs in county and state custody, from GED classes to life skills courses. MGT recognized only a limited number of programs and excluded county jail programming from consideration.
  • SB 2621 will require DOC to publish a public report detailing how it awards Sentence Credits. This requirement will provide an exceptional level of transparency to ensure DOC is awarding Credits in a way that is consistent with the bill's intent and the promotion of public safety. MGT lacked a comparable level of transparency.

Will every inmate be eligible for 180 days of Sentence Credits?

No. While SB 2621 will authorize DOC to consider offenders' criminal histories in awarding Sentence Credits, it will also limit and exclude a host of offense. See See Rules and Regulations for Early Release, 30 ILCS 5/3-6-3 (from Ch. 38, par. 1003-6-3)

How long will it be before DOC is ready to start awarding Sentence Credits?

Before SB 2621 goes to the Governor, it must be certified by both the House and Senate. Once it is certified, the bill must be sent to the Governor within 30 days. When the Governor receives the bill, he will then have 60 days to sign it.

Once SB 2621 is signed into law, DOC will have to create and promulgate new administrative rules that will govern its application.

How many inmates would receive Sentence Credits?

As of now, that number is unclear--but it will likely be a smaller class of people who received MGT based on the new factors DOC will be able to consider when awarding or denying Credits.

Who supported SB 2621?

SB 2621 had significant bi-partisan support in the General Assembly. In the Senate, it passed 55-1 and was sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), Thomas Johnson (R), Michael Noland (D), John J. Millners (R), Mattie Hunter (D), Pamela J. Althoff (R), Annazette R. Collins (D), and William Delgado (D). While he was not an official sponsor, Senate President Cullerton played an essential role in passing the bill.

In the House, SB2621 passed 68-50 and was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D), Jim Sacia (R), Kelly M. Cassidy (D), Arthur Turner (D), Kimberly du Buclet (D), Rita Mayfield (D), La Shawn K. Ford (D), Esther Golar (D), Eddie Lee Jackson, Sr. (D), Scott E. Penny (D), Charles E. Jefferson (D), Karen May (D), Naomi D. Jakobsson (D), and Monique D. Davis (D).

Supporting organizations include: John Howard Association, Metropolis Strategies, ACLU of Illinois, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, A Safe Haven, Appleseed Foundation, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), Protestants for the Common Good, Roosevelt University's Institute for Metropolitan Affairs, Roosevelt's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, Safer Foundation, TASC, Youth Advocate Programs, Coalition for Prison Reform, Illinois Prison Talk, and League of Women Voters of Illinois.

Updated June 22, 2012