04/12/2012 03:15 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2012

Illinois Prison Overcrowding: State Lawmaker Pushes For Early Release Program's Return

With Illinois on the brink of closing some 14 of its correctional facilities amid already widespread reports of overcrowding, a state lawmaker is pushing to reinstate a controversial early inmate release program.

A proposal, House Bill 3899, introduced late last year by state Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago) would allow for non-violent offenders who have already served at least 60 days of their sentence to be released as long as they meet certain criteria while imprisoned. A similar bill, SB2621, has also been introduced in the state Senate.

John Maki, who heads the John Howard Association of Illinois, supports the return of the state's "meritorious good time" (MGT) program, which Gov. Pat Quinn eliminated two years ago in the midst of his Democratic primary.

"Six months might not seem like a lot," Maki said, CBS St. Louis reports. "It's a lot if you're in prison, but again it's also a lot if you're housing more than 48,000 people and you need to free up space because more people are coming in."

According to the Associated Press, Illinois currently imprisons 48,620 people, which is 144 percent more than the spaces' overall capacity of 33,700 individuals.

The state's prisons stand to become even more crowded given Gov. Quinn's proposal to close 14 state correctional facilities, including the controversial Tamms Correctional Center, a maximum security facility.

The Illinois House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the matter Wednesday.

Malcolm Young of the Northwestern University School of Law's Bluhm Legal Clinic who supports the proposal to bring back the state's MGT program, told the AP, "The picture we have is of a system that because of the sheer number of individual prisoners jammed into facilities designed for far fewer -- sometimes by half -- it's beyond the capacity financially or in terms of personnel to deliver the services to maintain the facilities."

Toni Irving, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Quinn, said, according to WBEZ, that bringing back the MGT program as it was originally conceived is out of the question due to its failure to recognize crimes like DUI as violent.

"We are certainly interested in working with the legislature in making sure that we have a collaborative effort," Irving continued, according to WBEZ. "I think it’s super important that the legislature be very involved in this process since it's the legislature also determines the budget for the Department of Corrections and often times these things are linked to programs that are then defunded in the process."

Quinn dismantled the state's MGT program in 2009 after reports that good-time credit was accelerated for about 1,700 inmates, some of whom were shortly arrested after their release for other, sometimes violent, crimes.