Bill seeks to ‘hammer’ gun offenders with violent pasts

SHARE Bill seeks to ‘hammer’ gun offenders with violent pasts
SHARE Bill seeks to ‘hammer’ gun offenders with violent pasts

A west suburban legislator plans Wednesday to introduce a potentially controversial proposal to boost the sentences of felons caught with guns.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski’s bill would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for that crime to three years in prison — up from two.

The bill also would require some of those defendants to serve 85 percent of their sentences, commonly called a “truth-in-sentencing” requirement.

Zalewski (D-Riverside) unsuccessfully sponsored a similar bill in 2013, but he said his latest measure seeks to alleviate legislators’ concerns about imposing a harsher mandatory sentence by giving judges some discretion.

A judge, for example, could waive the truth-in-sentencing requirement if the defendant’s prior felony was nonviolent and occurred more than decade earlier —and the judge finds the defendant is a good candidate for rehabilitation.

That defendant would likely serve only half his sentence under current rules that provide a reward for good behavior behind bars.

But a defendant with an armed robbery or other violent crime in his recent background would get hit with the “hammer” of serving 85 percent of his sentence, Zalewski said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez supports the proposal, a spokeswoman said.

Zalewski said he plans to lobby black caucus members who have expressed worries in the past that similar legislation unfairly targeted black men.

“I hope they realize this is a step toward the criminal justice reform that we were seeking,” he said, noting that he also plans to push for legislation that would reduce the number of people incarcerated for theft and minor drug possession.

That could make room in prison for violent offenders who carry firearms — and could help reduce shootings, Zalewski said.

At his public appearances, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy regularly calls for boosting the minimum sentences for gun possession as a crime-fighting tool.

A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment on Zalewski’s bill.

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