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Illinois governor suspends early-release program for inmates

Some inmates freed after 11 days

By John O’Connor
Associated Press / December 15, 2009

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Governor Pat Quinn has suspended a prison program that allowed repeat drunk drivers, drug users, and people convicted of battery and weapons violations to serve less than three weeks’ time behind bars.

Records obtained and analyzed by the Associated Press show that since September more than 850 inmates were released weeks earlier than they ordinarily would be. The Corrections Department was saving money by abandoning a policy that requires inmates to serve at least 61 days and awarding them discretionary good-conduct credit immediately upon entering prison.

That means some prisoners had enough good-conduct days to qualify for release almost immediately - before they demonstrated any conduct at all. The inmates were kept at the department’s prison processing centers and released after as few as 11 days.

Jorge Bogas spent just 18 days behind bars for aggravated driving under the influence after he hit two cars, hospitalizing one motorist for weeks, while driving the wrong direction on Interstate 57. Bogas sat five days in Cook County Jail, was transferred to the processing center at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, and released 13 days later.

Antoine Garrett, previously convicted of armed robbery and illegal firearms possession by a felon, got a one-year sentence after Chicago police saw him drop a bag of cocaine on the street as they approached, but spent just 21 days locked up.

“That’s outrageous,’’ said Joseph Birkett, a state’s attorney in DuPage County whose office convicted 22 people released early since September.

“Good-conduct credits are intended to be awarded to those people who demonstrate through their behavior that they merit those credits.’’

On Sunday, Quinn ordered an exam by his chief of staff and Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle.

“The public’s safety always comes first,’’ Quinn said in a statement. “A top-to-bottom review of this program will make sure that we never waver from this all-important goal.’’

The practice is called “MGT Push,’’ for “meritorious good time,’’ according to a memo.