SPRINGFIELD | One of Illinois’ top Democrats says the state’s shaky fiscal condition must be considered when lawmakers take up debate on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to require tougher prison sentences for gun crimes.
A proposal to increase the minimum amount of time gun-toting criminals spend behind bars could be debated when the General Assembly convenes for the fall veto session in two weeks.
Senate President John Cullerton shares Emanuel’s interest in addressing violent crime, but is still evaluating the legislation.
“Even as the state's fiscal condition improved, we have not reached a point where additional costs can be overlooked,” Rikeesha Phelon, spokesman for the Chicago Democrat said Monday.
The concept, designed to crack down on gun violence in the state’s largest city, would add 3,860 inmates to the state’s already overcrowded prison system, the Illinois Department of Corrections estimates.
That surge would require more space for inmates than is currently available, as well as more than $700 million in additional operational costs, the agency says.
“Based on current inmate population, IDOC does not have sufficient capacity to take on another 3,860 inmates,” Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer noted Monday. “The state would need to build at least one prison.”
Shaer did not have an estimate on how many additional prison guards would be needed.
“Hundreds of new employees, to be sure,” he noted.
Talk of building more prison space comes months after the Quinn administration moved to close prisons in Tamms and Dwight as part of a controversial budget cutting effort.
State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, who is sponsoring the mayor’s plan, said he believes the law would crack down on crimes from happening in the first place, thus averting a surge in the prison population, which is now hovering at 49,000 inmates.
In addition, he said Illinoisans shouldn’t put a price tag on keeping streets safe.
“I think it’s hard to look in the eyes of victims’ families and say, `No, we can’t do this because it costs too much,’” Zalewski said.
The legislation is House Bill 2265.