Prison Sentencing Reform Could Stem Gun Violence - NBC Chicago
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Prison Sentencing Reform Could Stem Gun Violence

Illinois lawmakers start working across the aisle to combat gun crimes by reducing inmates' sentences



    As NBC Chicago previously reported, in devastating detail, at least 40 people were shot over the weekend resulting in four fatalities. Among the victims: 11-year-old Shamiya Adams, who died after being struck by a stray bullet that pierced a bedroom window in a West Side home where she was attending a sleepover party.

    Another outbreak of gun violence during the July 4 holiday claimed 14 lives and made national headlines, firming the city's "Chiraq" reputation and prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to point fingers at the federal government for a lack of action. He also held surrounding states with weaker firearm laws responsible for the influx of illegal guns crossing over into Illinois.

    Key to curbing the gun-fueled bloodshed could be prison sentencing reform, posits Rich Miller in his Crain's Chicago Business column, writing: "We're not locking up enough truly dangerous people for long enough. Doing so would put a monumental strain on our already horribly crowded prison system. Short of finding state money to build and staff more prisons (and there isn't any), we've got to clear some room for the truly bad guys."

    According to Miller, the number of Illinois inmates has grown 10 percent over 10 years, from 44,370 to nearly 49,000, and voter support is growing for reforms that reduce prison overcrowding and sentences. Results from a July 15 Rasmussen poll revealed that 44 percent of survey-takers think there are too many Americans behind bars while 31 percent disagree; the survey was conducted in response to a new bipartisan campaign by senators Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, to reform the U.S. prison system and provide a clean slate for job-seeking prisoners whose severe sentences didn't fit their crimes.

    The Paul-Booker bill, dubbed Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act (Redeem), aims to reverse a ban on extending welfare benefits for ex cons who did time for drug-related felonies. "I think the Republican Party hasn’t done very well with African American voters, and I want to change the image of the party," Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, told reporters last week.

    Meanwhile, here in the Land of LIncoln, prisons are plagued with a surplus of inmates and a shortage of correctional staffers. To address the issue, state lawmakers have formed a Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee (comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans) that will work to scale back penalties for certain crimes and present a plan by January, according to Miller.

    Previously, two of those committee members -- Democratic Reps. Ken Dunkin and Art Turner -- sided with the House's Black Caucus in a surprising move to halt a measure from Emanuel that would impose stricter punishment for illegal gun possession. Instead African-American legislators aimed to push reforms for constituents entangled in Illinois' messy prison-industrial complex, arguing that incarceration rather than rehabilitation perpetuates the cycle of high unemployment, fewer job opportunities for released inmates and a life of crime for those not given a second chance.