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Pathways to Release

There are few meaningful pathways to release for people who enter prison in Illinois. We are trying to change that.


In 1978, Illinois abolished the discretionary parole system, and remains one of just sixteen states today with no opportunity for people who are incarcerated to earn parole or early release. Since 1978, the Illinois prison population has exponentially increased from roughly 6,000 people to almost 30,000 in 2022. While the abolition of parole is not the only factor in the increased prison population, it has contributed to increased sentence lengths and, subsequently, over incarceration.

In 1998, Illinois passed so-called, “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which restrict the ability of many people who are incarcerated to earn time off their sentences. This often means individuals sentenced after 1998 serve double the time as someone sentenced for the same offense before these laws. Prior to these laws, people incarcerated in Illinois could proactively earn time off their court-appointed sentence through good behavior and participation in prison programming.

“Truth in sentencing” combined with “tough-on-crime” policies—such as automatic transfer laws and mandatory firearm enhancements— prevent judges from using their discretion and considering the individual circumstances of a case. Judges are restrained from deciding appropriate sentences on a case-by-case basis and are instead forced to enact extremely long sentences. Especially with the abolition of parole, these policies have converged to create increasingly long prison sentences, yet there is little to no evidence that longer sentences reduce crime or improve public safety.

When properly implemented, parole and other programs for early release save money and reduce future crime. Parole costs the taxpayer ten times less than incarcerating someone for the same amount of time. Additionally, studies have shown that individuals released on discretionary parole are up to 16% less likely to be rearrested than those released through non-discretionary programs. Parole supervision is one of the key strategies used by the government to assist system impacted individuals in their reintegration into society. Parole helps prevent recidivism by not only monitoring and sanctioning those who breach their conditions of release, but also by providing access to treatment and behavioral programs to address parolees’ needs.

Our Work in securing pathways to Release

Restore Justice supports efforts to give rehabilitated people more avenues to earn their release. Currently that means restoring Illinois to its pre-1978 parole-for-release system, rolling back “truth-in-sentencing” laws, and creating opportunities for people serving extreme sentences to have their sentences reviewed.