Illinois’ Meritorious Good Time Program May Soon Be Making a Comeback

Illinois' state prison system may be nearing a tipping point. As of April 2012, the system held 48,620 people incarcerated in more than 50 facilities. The problem is that the current system is only set up to accommodate 33,700 inmates.

Already 144 percent over capacity, Gov. Pat Quinn is set to close 14 Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities. Little wonder that Illinois lawmakers are trying to resurrect the state's old Meritorious Good Time (MGT) program.

For 30 years, Illinois used the MGT program to control the prison population by giving well-behaved, non-violent inmates the chance for early release after 60 days of incarceration. In 2010, Gov. Quinn suspended the program after learning that over 1,000 inmates had not served their required 60 days and were back on the street committing new crimes.

The Aftermath

Since MGT was suspended, the Illinois DOC population has increased by 4,000. Now, with budgetary issues in the spotlight, lawmakers are introducing bills to try to reinstate the MGT program. Around 70 percent of Illinois inmates are imprisoned for non-violent offenses, such as drug offenses. About 50 percent of Illinois inmates serve six months or less behind bars.

The program is simple logistics. People make bad decisions and commit crimes. Courts continue to send them to prison. Moving the non-violent offenders through the system to do their time and get out, opens beds for the continual flow of inmates.

Critics of the program claim that categorizing prisoners as non-violent based on their conviction alone does not adequately screen for those who are truly violent or mentally unstable and pose a risk to the community.

If charged with a crime a Naperville criminal defense attorney can explain your options. The possibility of early release through the MGT program may again be available in the near future.

The State of Illinois has a real problem on its hands. Only time will tell what lawmakers actually do about it. However, action must be taken quickly as continued overcrowding only strains finite resources and weakens the overarching purposes of the criminal justice system.