The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Harsher Sentencing Guidelines For Gun Offenders Clears IL Senate Amid Criticism

By Stephen Gossett in News on Apr 7, 2017 4:23PM

Getty Images

A bill heavily lobbied by the Chicago Police Department that would create more stringent sentencing guidelines against repeat gun offenders has cleared a major legislative hurdle. The somewhat contentious bill cleared the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 35 to 9.

Under the parameters of the bill, which was proposed by Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, judges' sentencing guidelines would jump from the three to 14 years for someone caught more than once with an illegal gun to seven to 14 years. At the same time, judges would be allowed to veer from the guidelines if they can illustrate a reason.

Chicago top cop Eddie Johnson was in Springfield early last month pushing hard for the legislation, which passed the Senate this week in a revised form. It only eeked out committee in March, 6-5, despite high-profile support from other Chicago officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Raoul praised the vote, but the bill is still not without controversy. Opposition from left-leaning lawmakers some criminal-justice experts persisted even as the bill advanced.

Democratic Sen. Jackie Collins, of Chicago, said, via NPR:

"Locking up more people is not the solution to gun violence. What is needed is economic development, police reform, and stopping the flow of illegal guns in communities ravaged by deep concentrations of poverty and hopelessness."

And even though judges technically have a way out of the harsher range, the bill could still lead to higher prison populations. “It means that if you are looking at a presumed sentence of seven to 14 years, you are incredibly motivated to plead guilty to an offense that carries a lower sentence, even if you would otherwise defeat the charge," Stephanie Kollmann, policy director at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern, told Chicago magazine last month.

Simultaneously, the bill contains several measures that spring from a bipartisan effort to reduce mass incarceration, including diminished "drug-free" zones. But in the face of opposition from Gov. Rauner's office and law enforcement, the revised version that passed the Senate chamber also removed language that allowed for some more lenient drug punishment. "Police contended drug sales fuel gun crimes, and Republicans said decreasing prison time for convicted dealers would send the wrong message as a heroin epidemic grips the suburbs," the Tribune reports.