Mayor Rahm Emanuel liked what he heard when Attorney General Eric Holder pushed Monday for sweeping changes to the nation's criminal justice system, namely scaling back the sentences for low-level drug offenders.
“I commend President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for reforming the policy that imposes severe mandatory sentences on nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to gangs or organized crimes," Emanuel said. "Non-violent drug offenders are often better served by treatment and other options, freeing up law enforcement to focus their time and efforts on preventing violent crimes."
It's not a surprise coming from the mayor of Chicago where jails are notoriously overcrowded.
Last year Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke suggested releasing prisoners on home electronic monitoring, if they have a low cash bond but can’t afford to post the required 10 percent, as a way to relieve overcrowding.
"The long-term goal is to reduce the jail population without endangering the citizenry or the defendant," Preckwinkle said at the time.
Sheriff Tom Dart told the Sun-Times in March the Cook County Jail hit 96 percent capacity with 9,721 inmates. Dart blamed Chicago's homicide rate and a crackdown on guns in part for the overcrowding.
Sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki said at the time he thinks the framework is in place to address overcrowding issues as long as they are implemented.
Holder's plan could help.
Mandatory minimum sentences, Holder said, "breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They have had a disabling effect on communities. And they are ultimately counterproductive.''
Emanuel warned, though, that the new proposed sentencing guidelines "must be coupled with consistent and meaningful punishment for those who commit the most violent crimes, which is why I continue to advocate for a three-year mandatory minimum for serious gun crimes."
Chicago Police say shootings and murders are down so far this August compared to the same time period last year.