In 2009, the state's Department of Corrections (DOC) sought to reduce its prison population and cut spending by waiving the 60-day waiting period before prisoners who had demonstrated good behavior were let out under an early release program called Meritorious Good Time (MGT). MGT Push, as the quicker early release effort was called, however became a political liability for Gov. Pat Quinn after the AP reported that some of the inmates let out of prison under MGT Push had what the press service described as "violent" records
and committed additional crimes after their release.
The backlash for Quinn was swift. Bill Brady, his opponent in last year's gubernatorial election, repeatedly criticized Quinn for the program. The issue eventually cost the highly regarded ex-DOC chief Michael Randle his job. And Quinn ended both the MGT and MGT Push programs in early 2010. In August, former
Judge David Erickson released a report panning the Illinois Department of Corrections' oversight of MGT
Push, calling it a "mistake" that presented "dangers to the public
Progress Illinois has noted the flaws in that rhetoric before. And the full impact of ending the early release programs is being felt at DOC facilities across the state. In short, as a recent, two-part series the Bloomington Pantagraph shows, the end of the early release programs has ballooned Illinois'
prison population, pressuring staffers and straining state spending. The Pantagraph found that by Feb. 14, the state housed 48,760 inmates, putting it dangerously close to the maximum capacity of 52,000. In 2009, the good-time credit program reduced daily prison population by nealy 8,940 inmates, a reduction DOC will not benefit from without the program. A regional director for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the union that represents prison workers told the Pantagraph, "We are bursting at the seams in every facility in the state of
Without MGT and MGT Push, DOC desperately needs an alternative solution. The department's chief of staff rightly pointed out, "The Department of Corrections doesn't have the luxury of saying
‘no' to inmates sent to it." DOC's acting director, Gladyse Taylor, says she and her staff are close to developing a plan.
A follow-up editorial by the Pantaraph said that Quinn "did what he had to do" in ending the two programs, but that keeping the convicts who have demonstrated good behavior in prison has its consequences too. The editorial advocates for a revamped early release program that should include, among other things, "a comprehensive review of who needs to be in
prison and who would be better served in an alternative