SPRINGFIELD -- The suspect in the recent fatal shooting of a Decatur man was released from an Illinois prison five months early as part of a revamped out-for-good-behavior prisons program, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Prosecutors allege Joshua A. Jones, 28, shot Marvin E. Perry in the chest Aug. 17, about two months before Jones was scheduled to be released from prison. The tragedy represents a rare problem for a largely effective early release program restarted last spring after scandal shut down an earlier version for three years.
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Jones served 19 months of a four-year sentence for drug-dealing and left the Vandalia state prison May 3. Macon county officials won't say what led to the shooting of the 22-year-old Perry. Jones is next due in court Sept. 5.
"Obviously, we can't predict when people will choose to put themselves in confrontational situations and what choices they will make in those moments," Corrections Department spokesman Tom Shaer said.
The revamped early-release program took effect in March, a little more than three years after Gov. Pat Quinn halted it following disclosures about the quiet release of more than 1,700 inmates within weeks or even days of arriving at prison. The AP reported at the time that they included hundreds of prisoners convicted of violent crimes or with violent histories.
Experts saw no cause for alarm with the charge against Jones. Early release programs are critical for their ability "to influence prisoners' behavior, reduce recidivism, and control crime." John Maki, executive director the prison watchdog John Howard Association, said.
"Even the very best correctional program -- no matter how well designed or implemented -- cannot prevent all violent crime, which is often unpredictable," Maki said.
After shutting down all early-out programs for three years, a revised, stricter plan was approved for non-violent offenders by Quinn and lawmakers last spring that overall appears to be less problematic.
Records analyzed by the AP show that since March, more than 1,600 inmates have been let go up to six months early under what's called "Supplemental Sentence Credit," and no more than 20 have been returned to prison for violating parole -- just over 1 percent.
"The results of this program are due to the very strict review process," Shaer said.
It appears that five were later discharged from their sentences after the Prisoner Review Board evaluated their cases, but Corrections has not responded to AP public-records requests seeking information about the 20 cases.
Early release is a decades-long practice used by state prison chiefs to keep statewide population crowding under control while ostensibly rewarding inmates' good behavior, positive work history or educational pursuits behind bars.
Shaer said all the proper rules were followed in the case of Jones, who was spending his first time in prison. When asked whether the Vandalia warden and his staff signed off on Jones' release, Shaer would not discuss internal discussions but said Jones "was approved for the SSC after multiple stages of close review."
Jones had been convicted of the manufacture and delivery of crack cocaine, heroin and hydrocodone in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison. Originally charged with armed violence when police found him with a gun, Jones agreed to plead guilty to the drug charges in exchange for having the gun counts dismissed, according to Macon County State's Attorney Jay Scott, whose predecessor prosecuted the case.
Jones also was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in 2009, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge and was sentenced to 18 months' conditional discharge and fined $500, according to Macon County circuit clerk's records. He did not serve prison time for it.
Court records also indicate that Perry, the shooting victim, was sentenced to 18 months in state prison in April 2010 for a felony weapons charge.