The Illinois Senate has passed a bill that would lengthen prison sentences for repeat gun offenders in the Prairie State.
Senate Bill 1722, seen as an attempt to reduce gang-related gun violence in Chicago, calls for the doubling of sentence for some repeat gun felons.
The bill calls for increasing criminal sentences in the range of 3 to 7 years to a range of 7 to 14 years, while still giving judges the authority to stray from sentencing guidelines based on other circumstances. Judges would still have to explain why they were doing so.
“If this saves one life, just one life, I think it’s worth it,” said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) during debate in the Illinois Senate.
The bill has also garnered support from the Chicago Police Department.
“Using a spear to pinpoint the individuals that are driving the violence on our streets, this bill would ensure that the arrests officers make are followed through upon to keep violent criminals out of our communities,” said Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson in a statement.
However, detractors to the bill have said it is not the answer to the crime plaguing the nation’s third-most populous city.
“Tougher sentencing is not new, and the evidence shows it hasn’t worked,” wrote Curtis Black for the Chicago Reporter. “Since 2000, Illinois has increased its penalties for gun offenses six times (including establishing, then increasing, mandatory minimums) and now has some of the harshest punishment in the nation. The number of weapons offenders in Illinois prisons is three times higher than in 2000.”
However, the bill also contains criminal-justice-system reforms that were aimed at decreasing the prison population, which include shrinking “drug-free” zones from 1,000 to 500 feet, applying increased penalties for selling drugs in protected areas, such as schools, only if the crime is committed during school hours, and removing public housing from the category of protected areas.
Opponents of the bill have also called for better policing of Chicago neighborhoods as well as investment in the communities.
SB1722 was filed on February 9, and passed the Senate on April 6 and was then introduced into the House, with Rep. Jim Durkin (R-82nd District) as its chief House Sponsor. It has received its first reading and was referred to the Rules Committee.