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Early Release Program under fire

SPRINGFIELD -- A man accused of a Decatur murder two weeks ago was part of an early release program from an Illinois prison.
SPRINGFIELD -- A man accused of a Decatur murder two weeks ago was part of an early release program from an Illinois prison. Joshua Jones is accused of shooting Marvin Perry. Jones was released from prison in May, after serving 19 months of a four-year sentence. WCIA-3's Steve Staeger tells us more.

The Department of Corrections says it's doing everything correctly, and a spokesman says there's really no way the department could predict this would happen. Still, it's raising questions about the debated program.

When Joshua Jones was sent to a state prison in 2011, he only went on a drug conviction. At the time of the crime, cops caught him with a weapon, but a prosecutor offered a plea to drop weapons charges while Jones pleaded guilty to drug charges.

So when the state reviewed his case, Jones appeared to be a good candidate for the new Early Release Program. Director of Communications Tom Shaer says only non-violent offenders are eligible.

"Because his previous involvement had not been with violent crimes, committing a violent crime, he was eligible for the supplemental sentence credit review."

So Jones was released, only 19-months into his four year sentence. Three months later, Jones is now in jail accused of killing Perry earlier this month. Shaer says they could not possibly predict such a crime.

"Everything indicated that he was a good candidate for the supplemental sentence credit."

State Senator Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) has fought against early release for years, and says this is exactly what's wrong with the system.

"This is never someone that, in my opinion, should have been let out early to begin with. He had done a crime, and he'd been sentenced and he should have served the complete sentence."

Even though Jones was never convicted of a gun crime, Rose says the Department of Corrections should have considered he had one. But D.O.C. says the system works.

"In this case, there were no mistakes made. So we don't believe that there's anything that could have been done differently in this case."

"If we're going to have programs that are going to let people out early, then you have to be prepared for exactly what happened here," Rose concluded.

For its part, the state says 1,600 people have been released early since March, and only 20 have returned to prison. But this isn't the first time early release has been in the headlines.

In 2010, the state's Meritous Good Time Push Program came under fire after a paroled inmate was charged with murder. The governor suspended the program. State lawmakers made some changes and the new Early Release Program started up this spring.

So, some wonder if early release is a good idea. Prison advocates say, "yes." They say it's a way to encourage good behavior and inmate participation in programs which may help them learn new behaviors. State leaders say the main goal of the program isn't to relieve overcrowding, it's to prevent recidivism.
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