Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday defended the Illinois Department of Corrections after an inmate who was released from prison early under a reworked good time credit program was charged with murder.
The Democratic governor called the situation "tragic" but said corrections officials followed the law when they released Joshua Jones from prison five months before the end of his four-year sentence for dealing cocaine.
Jones initially was scheduled to be released from state custody in October but was paroled May 3 after corrections officials determined he was eligible for early release based in part on his good conduct behind bars. Authorities say that Jones shot and killed Marvin Perry during a dispute in Decatur on Aug. 15.
The program Jones was released under is known as the "supplemental sentence credit," which allows inmates in jail on non-violent convictions to be released up to six months early by earning credit for things such as completing drug treatment classes. The policy was an initiative of lawmakers who wanted to replace a similar program that Quinn ended in late 2009 after it was discovered that thousands of inmates had been released after only a few weeks in custody to cut costs.
The issue became a flash point in Quinn's 2010 Democratic primary battle against opponent Dan Hynes, which Republican challenger Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington picked up on that fall. Quinn eventually acknowledged the release program was a "mistake" but placed the blame on his handpicked corrections chief, who later resigned.
On Wednesday, Quinn sought to isolate himself from any political blowback this time around by noting that, although he signed the revamped release program into law, he did so only after it passed the legislature with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans.
Brady, who is making another run at the governor's office, voted in favor of the legislation. So did fellow Republican governor candidate Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.
"The statute was followed precisely according to law," Quinn said following an unrelated event. "It is an important law in order to maintain, I think, civil justice and public safety, that we carry it out to the letter. And it was carried out to the letter. But this was a tragic matter."
Jones is being held in the Macon County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail. A state corrections spokesman argued the case is an anomaly, saying while 17 inmates released early under the program have returned to jail, only Jones has been charged with a violent crime.
Spokesman Tom Shaer said that of the nearly 8,000 inmates eligible since the program started in February, about 1,600 received credit toward release. Shaer said in addition to an inmate's conduct behind bars, officials also weigh other factors, including criminal history. Inmates must serve at least 60 days in prison before they are eligible for the program and credit can be revoked at any time.
Shaer said Jones underwent a review by six levels of corrections personnel, including a counselor, his warden and the chief public safety officer. Jones' release and subsequent murder charge under the new good time credit program was first reported by The Associated Press.
John Maki, executive director of the prison watchdog group John Howard Association, said the early release program already is one of the more conservative of its kind. He said such programs are vital to maintaining safe and secure prisons by giving inmates an incentive to behave.
"We knew this day was going to come, and it will come again," Maki said. "We can't expect these programs to be perfect. Well designed and well implemented, yes. But not perfect."
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