SB3233: Earned Discretionary Release

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The Unified Code of Corrections is amended by changing Sections 3-3-3 and 3-5-1 and by adding Section 3-3-3.1 as follows:

(730 ILCS 5/3-3-3)

(from Ch. 38, par. 1003-3-3)Sec. 3-3-3. Eligibility for parole or release.

(a) Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1 and exceptExcept for those offenders who accept the fixed release date established by the Prisoner Review Board under Section 3-3-2.1, every person serving a term of imprisonment under the law in effect prior to the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1977 shall be eligible for parole when he or she has served:

(1) the minimum term of an indeterminate sentence less time credit for good behavior, or 20 years less time credit for good behavior, whichever is less; or

(2) 20 years of a life sentence less time credit for good behavior; or

(3) 20 years or one-third of a determinate sentence, whichever is less, less time credit for good behavior.

(b) Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1, no Noperson sentenced under this amendatory Act of 1977 or who accepts a release date under Section 3-3-2.1 shall be eligible for parole.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 3-3-3.1 and exceptExcept for those sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment, every person sentenced to imprisonment under this amendatory Act of 1977 or given a release date under Section 3-3-2.1 of this Act shall serve the full term of a determinate sentence less time credit for good behavior and shall then be released under the mandatory supervised release provisions of paragraph (d) of Section 5-8-1 of this Code.


(Blank).No person serving a term of natural life imprisonment may be paroled or released except through executive clemency.

(e) Every person committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 and confined in the State correctional institutions or facilities if such juvenile has not been tried as an adult shall be eligible for aftercare release under Section 3-2.5-85 of this Code. However, if a juvenile has been tried as an adult he or she shall only be eligible for parole or mandatory supervised release as an adult under this Section.

(Source: P.A. 98-558, eff. 1-1-14; 99-628, eff. 1-1-17.)

(730 ILCS 5/3-3-3.1 new)Sec. 3-3-3.1. Earned Discretionary Release; parole hearings; sentences of 20 years or longer; life imprisonment; early release.

(a) Notwithstanding to the contrary any provision of this Code, Article 122 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963, Article X of the Code of Civil Procedure, or Section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a person serving a term of imprisonment in a Department of Corrections institution or facility is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release and a parole hearings under this Article if he or she has served the lesser of:

(1) a term of imprisonment of at least 20 years;

(2) 25% of his or her sentence; or

(3) the minimum term of imprisonment for the most serious offense for which the person was convicted.A person serving a term of natural life imprisonment is eligible for Earned Discretionary Release and a parole hearings under this Article after serving a term of imprisonment of at least 20 years. A person seeking early release under this Section may petition the Prisoner Review Board in the same manner as a person eligible for parole under Section 3-3-2.1 of this Code and the parole hearing(s) shall be conducted as otherwise provided in this Article and the Open Parole Hearings Act unless otherwise provided in this Section.

(b) Veterans, as defined in Section 10 of the Veterans and Servicemembers Court Treatment Act, who have been honorably discharged are eligible for additional sentence credit as determined by the Prisoner Review Board.

(c) A needs assessment instrument shall be used to evaluate every committed person described in this Section at the time of his or her admittance to an institution or facility of the Department for the offense or offenses that resulted in the person’s sentence in order to determine the risk factors and identify goals or behavior that the committed person needs to achieve or change in order to be released.

(d) Each committed person eligible for Earned Discretionary Release under this Section on the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly shall receive a needs assessment within one year after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly.

(e) Victims have the right to be present and involved in the initial outlining of the goals for a committed person described in this Section. Victims may have input into the goals that must be achieved by a committed person before the committed person may be released. The needs assessment instrument shall be the primary factor for determining what goals a committed person must accomplish before being released. Each interested party may have meaningful input before the determination of the petitioner’s final goals.

(f) On the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly, prior evidence of the petitioner’s participation in rehabilitative programs shall be added to the petitioner’s master record file under Section 3-5-1 and shall be considered at the petitioner’s parole hearing(s).

(g) The source code of any needs assessment instrument under subsection (d) shall be made available to a panel composed of representatives from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council for periodic review for racial, religious, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic biases.

(h) The Department has a duty to provide rehabilitative programming for each committed person described in this Section.

(i) A committed person described in this Section may not be barred from rehabilitative programming because his or her anticipated release is not in the near future.

(j) A committed person described in this Section during any period of his or her imprisonment in a Department institution or facility has the right to engage in rehabilitative programming after meeting with a counselor and developing an individualized plan of rehabilitation which shall be made available to the Prisoner Review Board prior to the parole hearing(s).

(k) On the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly, each correctional facility shall comprehensively evaluate how well it facilitates relationships between committed persons in its custody and their family members. This includes, but is not limited to: visiting hours and procedures, phone call protocol and costs, letter writing, and other factors deemed relevant by the Director of Corrections.

(l) Every committed person described in this Section shall have the right to legal representation at his or her parole hearing(s). If the committed person cannot afford legal counsel, free legal service representatives may be utilized.

(m) Every committed person described in this Section may attend and testify at his or her parole hearing(s).

(n) Every committed person described in this Section, shall be provided full and complete access to his or her master record file at least 60 days prior to any parole hearing(s). The committed person has a right to challenge any false, misleading, or otherwise inaccurate information contained therein. The Department of Corrections shall establish an expedited process for committed persons to challenge such false, misleading, or otherwise inaccurate information so that it can be removed prior to any parole hearing(s).

(o) Nothing in this amendatory Act of the 101st General Assembly guarantees release. It only guarantees the opportunity of the committed person to present evidence at his or her parole hearing(s) to demonstrate his or her rehabilitation before the Prisoner Review Board and to seek Earned Discretionary Release.

(730 ILCS 5/3-5-1)

(from Ch. 38, par. 1003-5-1)Sec. 3-5-1. Master Record File.

(a) The Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice shall maintain a master record file on each person committed to it, which shall contain the following information:

(1) all information from the committing court;

(1.5) ethnic and racial background data collected in accordance with Section 4.5 of the Criminal Identification Act;

(2) reception summary;

(3) evaluation and assignment reports and recommendations;

(4) reports as to program assignment and progress;

(5) reports of disciplinary infractions and disposition, including tickets and Administrative Review Board action;

(6) any parole or aftercare release plan;

(7) any parole or aftercare release reports;

(8) the date and circumstances of final discharge;

(9) criminal history;

(10) current and past gang affiliations and ranks;

(11) information regarding associations and family relationships;

(12) any grievances filed and responses to those grievances; and

(13) other information that the respective Department determines is relevant to the secure confinement and rehabilitation of the committed person.

(b) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (n) of Section 3-3-3.l, allAll files shall be confidential and access shall be limited to authorized personnel of the respective Department. Personnel of other correctional, welfare or law enforcement agencies may have access to files under rules and regulations of the respective Department. The respective Department shall keep a record of all outside personnel who have access to files, the files reviewed, any file material copied, and the purpose of access. If the respective Department or the Prisoner Review Board makes a determination under this Code which affects the length of the period of confinement or commitment, the committed person and his counsel shall be advised of factual information relied upon by the respective Department or Board to make the determination, provided that the Department or Board shall not be required to advise a person committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice any such information which in the opinion of the Department of Juvenile Justice or Board would be detrimental to his treatment or rehabilitation.

(c) The master file shall be maintained at a place convenient to its use by personnel of the respective Department in charge of the person. When custody of a person is transferred from the Department to another department or agency, a summary of the file shall be forwarded to the receiving agency with such other information required by law or requested by the agency under rules and regulations of the respective Department.

(d) The master file of a person no longer in the custody of the respective Department shall be placed on inactive status and its use shall be restricted subject to rules and regulations of the Department.

(e) All public agencies may make available to the respective Department on request any factual data not otherwise privileged as a matter of law in their possession in respect to individuals committed to the respective Department.

(Source: P.A. 97-696, eff. 6-22-12; 98-528, eff. 1-1-15; 98-558, eff. 1-1-14; 98-756, eff. 7-16-14.)

Section 97. Severability. The provisions of this Act are severable under Section 1.31 of the Statute on Statutes.


No One Should Have To Die In Prison By Joseph Dole

Every year people die in the custody of Illinois Department of Corrections, the vast majority due in part to overincarceration.

COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions. They die lonely deaths for no other reason than incarceration politics, and in a vain attempt to satiate the insatiable appetite some people have for revenge.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others have recently voiced support for early releases of “non-violent offenders,” and insinuate that this shows they still consider public safety as the main priority. Not only is this insufficient to address mass incarceration, but if public safety is the main priority, then they should have no problem releasing “violent offenders.”

That’s because people convicted of violent offenses have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.

The thousands of people currently serving long sentences are doing so due to racism, fear-mongering, dehumanization, political exploitation, and the false promise that harsher sentences are needed to deter crime.


Joseph Dole Is An Incarcerated Writer, Co-Founder & Policy Director Of Parole Illinois



After collectively spending nearly 90 years in prison, Freddy Butler and Oliver Macklin will soon be heading home.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf officially commuted their sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The men will spend at least a year in a halfway house before being released on parole.

Butler, 72, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1970. He has been incarcerated for more than 50 years. The Board of Pardons recommended his commutation.

Macklin, who is 63, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986. He was recommended during the same session. The board must vote unanimously to recommend someone for a commutation.

Since the tough-on-crime era, the number of people serving life without the possibility of parole has ballooned.



The Long Term is a hand-drawn animation developed by artists serving long term sentences.

The video uses personal narrative and research to describe the scale and impact of long term sentencing policies. The work tells the stories about the fear of dying inside, the feeling of being programmed by prison and the impact on family life, from the perspective of 11 artists serving life or long term sentences.

The Sentencing Project reports that 1 in 9 people in prison are serving life sentences, and 1 in 7 have sentences of fifty years or more.

People locked in, or headed to, maximum security prisons are marked for death-by-incarceration.



We need to revisit and replace “the extended death penalty,” known officially as life without parole.


Those who receive life sentences with parole eligibility return to prison for another violent crime at a rate of only 1.2 percent. Though LWOP inmates, by definition, cannot present any evidence of rehabilitation to a parole board, it’s reasonable to expect that ending life without parole sentences would not unleash a new murder wave.

Restoring parole eligibility to all convicted murderers would encourage inmates to keep their disciplinary records clean and to participate in educational and vocational programs to improve their chances of successful re-entry into their communities and job markets.



Responding to recent shootings, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown declared that “violent felons” need to “stay in jail longer.”

If he means that pretrial detainees must be jailed longer, this is unconstitutional. You can’t delay someone’s trial to jail them longer.

If he means that people convicted of violent crimes must stay in prison longer, this is equally ignorant. In Illinois, if someone commits a murder with a gun, he or she faces a minimum 45-year sentence, which the person is unlikely to outlive.

What makes Brown think that increasing that sentence will make a difference?

Brown’s outworn “tough on crime” rhetoric betrays his disregard for the failure of punitive deterrence and the real social needs of marginalized communities. Another police officer, Patrick Skinner, stressed in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “the rhetoric and the tactics and the aggression of war have no place in local police work.”

Yet Brown invokes the same aggressive approach and demonizing labels used by his predecessors and politicians for the past 40 years, which have proved ineffective in preventing crime and disastrous for marginalized communities.

Curiously, Brown hasn’t called for harsher prison sentences for violent police.

People (including those in uniform) need to be held accountable for their actions. But extreme punishment is a failed and racist policy. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and yet our cities have some of the world’s highest crime rates.

Illinois stands out for extreme sentencing laws, which have sent thousands of Illinoisans — over 70% of whom are people of color — to prison for the rest of their lives.

To bolster past politicians’ “toughness,” these people have been permanently torn from their families and communities.

Communities have sent a clear message: no more law enforcement “toughness” or swaggering sound bites. They want real solutions for families who are both victims of violence and caught in cycles of incarceration.

Brown’s burying of these concerns with knee-jerk rhetoric underscores why the Chicago Police Department must be defunded. Plans for shifting resources to social and mental health services and community renewal and for reopening closed schools, all of which have proved to prevent crime, would be much more inspiring.

— Joseph Dole, policy director, and Shari Stone-Mediatore, managing director, Parole Illinois



In prison, having a cellmate you get along with is a rarity, but for Anthony Ehlers and James Scott, who have been cellmates for nearly five years at Stateville Correctional Center, they were one another’s family.

“He and I were a big odd couple to be best friends,” Ehlers, 48, wrote in a letter about Scott.

“Guys used to make fun of us. We didn’t care. I’m sure it was kind of weird, he was a short, bald, dark-skinned Black guy, and I am tall, and very white. But, we were inseparable.”

In March, when Ehlers felt body aches, a sore throat, dry cough and a loss of smell and taste, he worried he had been infected with COVID-19, and worse, that Scott would get sick too. He was right.

While Ehlers survived the virus, Scott did not.

Raul Dorado, 41, said when he first saw fellow prisoners exhibiting symptoms, the prison was not yet on lockdown.

“I noticed that many more than usual were sick,” wrote Dorado, who has been at Stateville since 2000. “Some said things like, I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s kicking my ass!”

“I feel fragile, like a porcelain plate slipping out of a child’s hand,” wrote Dorado about his mental state. “Disposable, like a bent spork.”



After spending more than half his life behind bars, George Mullins can tick off what he sees as sorely needed programs: economic literacy, conflict resolution, learning how to recognize trauma and triggers, connecting with family, positive reinforcement.

It’s too easy to languish otherwise, watching each year roll by like heavy fog.

A quote from Bryan Stevenson, president of the Equal Justice Initiative, struck a chord: “You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

We cannot create a system that serves people adequately—people suffering from trauma, people who are victims of violence themselves—we can’t serve them if we’re not listening to them. Not just listening to them, but centering them.