Lawmaker wants to lessen low-level crime penalties

Feb 26, 2014

An Illinois lawmaker wants to reduce penalties for lower-level crimes, in exchange for increasing penalties on more serious offenses. The move could lower costs and ease the burden on the state's overcrowded prisons.

 One of the proposals would reduce the number of people serving long sentences for theft. Another would mean the first or second time someone is caught with a small amount of marijuana, they would only face a petty offense.

 It's part of a package from Rep. Mike Zalewski, who last year tried and failed to institute mandatory-minimum sentences on gun crimes. That was blocked over concerns even more people would be packed into the state's already massively overcrowded prisons.

The Democrat from Riverside, calls his package of changes a "rebalancing," and told fellow lawmakers this is the "radical" approach needed to bring down the prison population.

 "And if it shocks your conscience, and if you're just saying to yourself, 'Wow, this is really what it would take? This is really what would be the population drivers?' Yeah, it would."

 Zalewski says he remains committed to longer sentences for gun crimes. That plan, a priority of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is meant to get at gang members and people with previous felony convictions.