Critics: Illinois Mandatory Minimum Bill Could Swell Prisons and Worsen State's Deficit

Illinois Mandatory Minimum Bill

As the Illinois starts to put pension reform behind it and move on to other pressing issues, lawmakers are considering increasing penalties for certain gun possession felonies as a way to curb the high rate of gun violence in Chicago and some other pockets in the state.

The proposal on the table, HB2265, is for increasing minimum prison sentences for felons or gang members found in possession of a gun as well as first-time offenders charged with aggravated use of an unlicensed weapon. The bill, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel among others, was scheduled for a vote in the state House last month, but later postponed for the next legislative session. The House will reconvene in the spring and potentially revisit the bill as early as January.

The mandatory minimum bill, which has been overshadowed by the pension fight but is getting fierce lobbying behind the scenes and openly, would increase minimum prison time from two to four years for illegal possession of a gun by a felon; from three to four years for possession by a gang member; and from one to three years for aggravated use of a gun without a FOID card.

A bipartisan coalition of social justice activists as well as conservative lobbyists have criticized the bill, supported on both sides of the aisle, in its various forms. For example pressure from the National Rifle Association, which expressed concerns that the mandatory minimum bill would punish lawful gun owners, resulted in the amendment to exempt ordinary citizens with FOID cards.

Anti-incarceration groups comprising Chicago’s expansive network of youth social workers claim the imprisonment of city teens with guns would sacrifice their potential, resulting in future sociological problems, in return for an immediate fix to a nonviolent crime.

Recent studies, for example, have shown that minors who enter the juvenile justice system come out of the system impaired socially and psychologically.

Other opponents of the bill, such as Decarcerate Illinois, also estimate that enhanced mandatory minimum sentencing would cause unwarranted financial strain for a state already at the bottom of the list in terms of financial performance despite a recent deal to fix the pension crisis that had ballooned the state’s debt. This bill, according to Decarcerate Illinois, would only swell the problem as they calculated  the bill would increase the prison population by 2,500 and cost $550 million in funds that could be spent on the prevention end of fighting crime, such as investing in schools and providing health care to communities in need.

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