Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 93CF173 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
This case requires us to determine whether a prison inmate serving consecutive sentences for a Class X felony conviction and some other, non-Class X felony is eligible for enhanced good-time credit against that portion of his sentence attributable to the non-Class X conviction (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(4) (West 1992)). We hold such an inmate is not eligible for enhanced good-time credit against any part of his aggregate sentence.
In April 1996, plaintiff, Terry S. Duke, brought this action pro se against defendant, Odie Washington, the Director of the Department of Corrections (Director), seeking to establish his eligibility for enhanced good-time credit pursuant to section 3-6-3(a)(4) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Code) (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(4) (West 1992)). Duke was serving a 35-year sentence for a 1984 rape conviction, a Class X felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 11-1), consecutively with a 2½-year sentence for a 1993 conviction of possession of contraband in a penal institution, a Class 3 felony (720 ILCS 5/31A-1.1(b) (West 1992)). In October 1998, the trial court ordered the Director to consider Duke eligible for enhanced good-time credit against that portion of his sentence attributable to the Class 3 felony conviction. The Director appeals from that order, and we reverse.
The following facts are undisputed. In 1984, Duke was convicted of rape and sentenced to 35 years in prison. (Duke was also convicted of attempt (rape), deviate sexual assault, indecent liberties with a child, unlawful restraint, robbery, and aggravated battery, and sentenced on each of these crimes. However, only his 35-year sentence on the rape conviction is pertinent to the issue on appeal). In April 1993, Duke was still serving that sentence in the Pontiac Correctional Center when prison officials found cannabis on his person and in his prison cell. As a result, the State charged Duke with two counts of possession of contraband in a penal institution, a Class 3 felony (720 ILCS 5/31A-1.1(b) (West 1992)). Duke pleaded guilty to both counts, and the trial court sentenced him to 2½ years in prison on each, to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to his existing sentence (730 5/5-8-4(f) (West 1992)).
In May 1996, Duke filed a grievance with the Department of Corrections (Department), claiming that he had not received enhanced good-time credit for his participation in prison programs during 1993 and 1994. He contended that even though he could not receive enhanced good-time credit against his Class X sentence, he should be eligible to receive those credits against his Class 3 sentence. The Department denied the grievance, concluding the sentences on Duke's Class X and Class 3 convictions merged into a single period of incarceration and Duke was ineligible to receive enhanced good-time credit against any portion of that incarceration because of his Class X conviction.
In October 1996, Duke filed a pro se complaint styled "Petition of Mandamus," naming the Director the sole defendant and seeking a declaration that the Director's interpretation of Duke's eligibility for enhanced good-time credit was incorrect. In May 1997, the Director filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming that it was substantially insufficient at law (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1996)) because section 3-6-3(a)(4) of the Code disallowed the allocation of enhanced good-time credit to any person, such as defendant, who was convicted of a Class X felony.
In October 1998, the trial court conducted a hearing on Duke's complaint and the Director's motion, in which Duke acknowledged that the Director had broad discretion to deny Duke enhanced good-time credit even if he were legally eligible for such credit. However, Duke indicated he was not seeking an order requiring the Director to give him enhanced good-time credit. Instead, he sought only a declaration that his previous conviction for a Class X felony did not make him ineligible to receive those credits against that portion of his sentence attributable to the 1993 Class 3 felony conviction.
At the end of the hearing, the trial court entered a written order, which stated, in relevant part, that the Director "shall consider petitioner to be eligible for compensatory good-time credit for participation in [Department] programs notwithstanding the fact that part of his present sentence originally was a Class X offense. Said credit shall only apply to that portion of his sentence represented by his Class  conviction ***."
A. The "Petition for Mandamus"
As an initial matter, the Director points out that the issuance of a writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, discretionary in nature, and appropriate only where the party seeking it can establish a clear right to the requested relief, a clear duty of the responding official to act, and clear authority in the responding official to comply with the writ. People v. Latona, 184 Ill. 2d 260, 277, 703 N.E.2d 901, 909-10 (1998). Because Duke conceded during the hearing on his complaint that the Director had broad discretion to grant or deny enhanced good- time credit even to those inmates who were eligible for it, and because Duke's original pro se pleading was styled as a petition for mandamus, the trial court's order appears at first glance to be a writ of mandamus that did not meet the requirements for such relief. However, a more careful examination of the record reveals that not to be the case.
Here, even though Duke styled his complaint as a "petition for mandamus," no confusion ever existed that Duke was in fact merely seeking an interpretation of the relevant statute to determine his eligibility to receive enhanced good-time credit. The parties and the trial court all treated Duke's "petition for mandamus" as if it were a complaint for a declaratory judgment, and we deem such treatment consistent with the liberal construction normally given to pro se pleadings. See Murillo v. Page, 294 Ill. App. 3d 860, 864, 690 N.E.2d 1033, 1038 (1998) (affording a liberal construction to prisoner's pro se civil rights complaint). The order ...