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Revamped early-release prison plan moves to House
By nwitimes.com - John O'Connor AP Political Writer (0) Comments
Published: 05/29/2012

SPRINGFIELD | A top Illinois lawmaker said the state faces a stark choice: Let low-level, well-behaved criminal offenders out of prison early or watch a judge order the state to "start churning people out." House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie said Monday that Illinois could be headed for a California-style prison-crowding lawsuit as a committee approved a revamped early-release program 7-1, sending it to the House floor.

Shaving time off prison sentences for good conduct has been viewed as politically risky since a 2009 early-release debacle that nearly cost Gov. Pat Quinn the election. But, proponents said, it is necessary to make a dent in a prison system with 14,000 more prisoners than it was designed to house.

One supporter calls it "triage" for the troubled Department of Corrections. Sen. Kwame Raoul, who steered the measure to approval in the Senate last week 55-1, said strong legislative support would give Quinn political cover to resume a now-retooled and modernized program.

The plan offers inmates more opportunities to earn good-conduct credit while giving the corrections director more power to prohibit an early out for violent criminals, Currie said. The legislation retains a 60-day minimum state prison sentence that was at the heart of the scandal and written into law as a result.

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California's correctional congestion amounted to unconstitutional punishment and ordered its population reduced by 30,000 in two years. Currie warned of a similar fate at home: Since Quinn shut the door on early release, Illinois' prison population has grown by several thousand inmates, to 48,000 in a system designed to hold about 34,000.

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