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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 06:27 am

Administration claims no more early release

Brady’s Republicans attack Quinn on ‘good time’ rules

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Republicans are hammering Gov. Pat Quinn on early prisoner release programs, but their claims are raising eyebrows at the Illinois Department of Corrections.

According to a press release from the Illinois Senate Republicans, Quinn continues to secretly release thousands of inmates from prison before they’ve served their time, despite Quinn’s claims that he suspended all early release programs in December 2009. But IDOC spokeswoman Sharyn Elman says all early release has been halted, calling the Republican claims “political posturing.”

“It’s absolutely not true,” Elman says. “Gov. Quinn halted early release in its tracks.”

In December 2009, the Associated Press reported that IDOC had released about 2,000 prisoners early through a program called MGT Push. The program was separate from four other early release programs IDOC used at the time to reduce costs and lower its burgeoning prison population. MGT Push did away with a previous IDOC practice of waiting until an inmate had served 61 days in prison before awarding them good time credit, allowing some inmates to be released after serving only a few days or weeks of their sentences. At least one inmate released early committed murder after his release, and the program quickly became a campaign issue for Quinn, who stopped MGT Push and all other early prisoner release programs shortly thereafter. Senate Bill 1013, which took effect Jan. 15, banned good time credits.

Many prisoners had received good time credits before the programs were halted, however, and they continue to be released as their remaining prison time is completed. Since July 19, IDOC has released 2,072 such inmates from state prisons, according to the department’s website. The Republican group, which includes Sen. Kirk Dillard of Naperville, Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst, DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, characterizes those releases as part of a continuing MGT program. They accuse Quinn of lying about the program’s suspension and say that IDOC can and should revoke any good time credits already given.

“This is a discretionary program, and as both the governor’s own MGT investigatory panel and our own legal review have concluded, the state is under no obligation to continue to release prisoners early simply because they happened to be in prison last December,” Dillard said in the press release.

“There is no early release and no MGT program,” Elman insists. “All inmates being released with credits earned those credits before the programs were revoked, and it’s illegal to revoke those credits now.”

Meanwhile, the Republican group cites an Aug. 13 report on the MGT Push program by retired Chicago judge David Erickson, claiming the report declares MGT revocable. It’s not so cut-and-dried in the report, however.

“The department’s position has been that this section permits it to revoke Statutory Good Time, but not MGT Credit,” Erickson’s report notes. “The accuracy of this position is unclear. Under our reading of the statute, good conduct credit for meritorious service is a sub-class of good conduct credit and, like Statutory Good Time, is revocable.”

The law in question seems to deal specifically with revocation when a prisoner has committed a crime in prison, not when the entire early release program is suspended. Though Erickson is a former judge, his report is not a court ruling and does not have the force of law.

Sen. Dillard ran against Sen. Bill Brady in the Republican primary for governor, but now supports Brady’s election bid. The Fraternal Order of Police has also endorsed Brady.

“The Quinn administration has trouble with the truth, not only when it comes to early releasing prisoners, but on other issues as well,” Dillard told Illinois Times via telephone.

Elman says the prison population has risen from 45,000 around the time early release was suspended to about 48,000 now.

“Pat Quinn took substantial steps to address peoples’ concerns,” Elman says. “The department has already begun to implement the reforms suggested in Judge Erickson’s report.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

See the list of inmates released since Senate Bill 3411 passed on July 19, requiring IDOC to list early releases on its website: http://www.idoc.state.il.us/subsections/search/CNER.asp

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