Proposed law on gun sentencing tweaked

December 11, 2013 (CHICAGO)

A state representative from suburban Chicago is leading the effort.

The west suburban state lawmaker, working closely with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has a plan to make room in county jails and state prisons for gun criminals.

"We're not just going to be tough on crime, we're going to be smart on crime," said State Rep. Mike Zalewski, (D) Riverside.

Zalewski is the point man in Emanuel's effort to get Illinois law changed to set mandatory minimum sentences for people who break gun laws. But the measure stalled in Springfield when opponents argued it would only worsen overcrowding in local jails and state prisons.

"Mandatory minimum sentences in and of themselves do not work," said Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st Ward.

"So we're going to try to make sure we're smart and we're balanced, and that's my plan," said Zalewski.

To lower inmate populations, Zalewski has filed new bills to increase the threshold for felony theft from $300 to $500, to expand the use of electronic monitoring for those on bail and to require that suspects arrested for possessing small amounts of heroin and cocaine be released on their own recognizance.

"If you do some of these things, you potentially reduce the population in the Cook County Jail and the Illinois Department of Corrections," said Zalewski.

"I think this will definitely lessen the opposition toward the mandatory minimums," said Brookins.

"I support re-balancing. People that are in for minor infractions shouldn't be serving time," said Emanuel.

The mayor said he hopes the so-called smart crime bills will make room available for more convicted gun criminals.

"It's not about putting how many people you put behind bars. It's about putting the right people behind bars, and those are the violent criminals," said Emanuel.

The mayor said he is hoping to get a vote on the mandatory minimums bill next year. The measure was stalled by a procedural move engineered by opponents who wanted a more comprehensive approach.

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