A new law in Illinois aims to give former inmates a better chance to succeed outside of prison and reduce the likelihood that they’ll be sent back.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed Senate Bill 423, a unanimously passed measure that overhauls the state’s mandatory supervised release program, formerly known as parole.
“Our current supervision system too often operates unfairly, with rules that make it simply a revolving door back to jail,” Pritzker said at a bill signing ceremony in Chicago. “In fact, more than 25% of people who are released from prison in Illinois end up back behind bars, not because they’re recidivists, but instead for a noncriminal technical violation.”
Under Illinois law, every person sentenced to prison for a felony conviction must serve a certain amount of time on mandatory supervised release after completing their prison time. The length of that supervision varies based on the seriousness of the offense, and during that time the offender must comply with certain conditions and make regular contact with their parole officer.
Some of the most common conditions are that they do not possess a firearm, they do not use drugs, they submit to urine tests, and they allow their parole officer to search them and their residence. Failure to comply with conditions of release can result in being sent back to prison.
The new law, however, provides that urine tests can only be ordered if there is reasonable suspicion of illicit drug use and the basis of that suspicion is documented in the Department of Corrections’ case management system.
It also provides that as long as the offender is in compliance with all other terms of their release, the Prisoner Review Board “shall,” rather than “may,” reduce the length of the supervision by 90 days if the offender earns a high school diploma, bachelor’s degree, career certificate or vocational technical certificate while on supervised release.
The new law, which will take effect Jan. 1, also provides for remote check-ins with parole officers, standardizes the timeline for officers to review cases and encourages them to recommend early discharge for people who demonstrate success in their release.
Pritzker was joined at the bill signing ceremony by rap artist and activist Meek Mill, a former inmate and parolee who cofounded the REFORM Alliance, which advocates for criminal justice reform.
“When I was on probation, the system did much more to hold me back than help me succeed,” he said in a statement. “And my experience is just a reflection of millions of other stories that go untold. So it’s an honor to be a part of making the system work better for families in Illinois and across the country.”