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Quirk in Illinois sentencing is counterproductive

A quirk in Illinois sentencing laws means some nonviolent prison inmates can’t trim their sentences by getting a GED or undergoing drug treatment, but some violent criminals can.

That’s because state sentencing laws are a hodge podge collection that’s been assembled piecemeal over the years without much overall research or reflection.

An example: At one point, the Legislature decided that people convicted of the most serious offenses – Class X crimes – aren’t eligible to get good time for GEDs or drug treatment. At another point, the Legislature added some nonviolent drug crimes into the Class X category.

The result? Nonviolent Class X prisoners convicted of drug crimes can’t knock off a little from their sentences by getting a GED or drug treatment.

That seems to run counter to sensible prison policy. Don’t we want to encourage people behind bars to try to improve themselves? Don’t we want to reward good behavior? If we sometimes let people out early because prisons are running out of space, why wouldn’t we want to do that for more positive reasons?

The amount of time knocked off a sentence isn’t huge. A prisoner can get two months of good time for a GED. Good time for drug treatment can vary.

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