SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois Senate proposal to increase prison sentences for repeat gun offenders would help curb the city’s rampant gun violence, Chicago’s top law enforcement officer said Thursday.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson appeared before the Senate’s Criminal Law Committee to support the measure, which would direct courts to lengthen penalties for repeat gun offenders within the existing sentencing limits of current law. Judges could still hand out lighter sentences to those charged with possessing weapons illegally, but they’d be required to publicly explain mitigating factors behind their decisions.
“What we’re trying to do is create a mentality, a culture of accountability,” Johnson said.
The committee endorsed the measure with a 6-5 vote, sending it to the Senate floor.
Chicago recorded 767 homicides last year. Johnson said the vast majority of victims were young black men killed by guns.
Johnson believes the plan will not only do more to keep violent offenders off the streets, but also discourage potential criminals from picking up guns illegally in the first place. He told lawmakers “the people that pull the triggers” are following the issue closely.
“They tell me they make the decision to pull the trigger because they don’t fear our judicial system,” he said.
Critics argue research hasn’t shown that tougher sentencing laws mitigate gun violence and that more arrests are costly — both to the state and to the communities into which former convicts are eventually released.
But Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, one of the measure’s sponsors, contends the change will lead to fairer, more individualized sentencing while also getting guns out of criminals’ hands.
He described work on the proposal with Democrats and Republican leadership in the House along with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office as promising.
The proposal also includes reforms aimed at reducing prison populations that would decrease the severity of certain drug offenses and increase access to rehabilitative programs that allow inmates to shave time off their sentences. Many of the plans stem from recommendations made by Rauner’s criminal justice reform commission.