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Illinois Prisons Shave Terms, Secretly Release Inmates

By Anna Deem in News on Dec 13, 2009 6:45PM

Recently, The Associated Press learned about a secret change in policy by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's prison system that has repeat drunk drivers, drug users, and people convicted of battery and weapons violations serving less than three weeks' time behind bars. Records analyzed by the AP show that 850 inmates since September have been released weeks earlier than they ordinarily would be in a new practice called "MGT Push," or "meritorious good time." It turns out the prison system is saving money by ignoring a policy that requires inmates to serve at least 61 days and is instead awarding them discretionary good-conduct credit as soon as they enter prison, which means some prisoners have enough good-conduct days to be released almost immediately.

According to the reports obtained by the AP, some prisoners that were released early include Antoine Garrett, previously convicted of armed robbery and illegal firearms possession by a felon, who got a one-year sentence after police saw him drop a bag of cocaine on the street, but spent only 21 days in jail. Or how about Jorge Bogas, who spent only 18 days behind bars, for aggravated driving under the influence after he hit two cars while driving the wrong direction on Interstate 57.

"When an individual who was supposedly sent to prison shows up less than a month later, what are the people in the community saying, what is the victim thinking?" said Winnebago County's top prosecutor, Joseph Bruscato, to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Charles Fasano, a prison monitor for the John Howard Association, said to the Sun-Times that tough-on-crime policies of the past three decades are responsible for prison overcrowding. He supports the early release but wishes lawmakers would confront the overcrowding issue, specifically long sentences for minor crimes such as drug possession. "We want to get everyone off the streets, but we don't have the money," he said. "You can't have it both ways."