MITCHELL: New law could be unintentional stumbling block for ex-felons

SHARE MITCHELL: New law could be unintentional stumbling block for ex-felons

Gov. Bruce Rauner just cut parolees some slack.

Legislation the governor signed on Tuesday protects them from being arrested for being seen with alleged gang members.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, whose district is on the North Side, was the chief sponsor of the bill. She called the legislation “a fix to one of the worse abuses of criminal law in our state.”

Apparently, the questionable protocol came to light after the Chicago Sun-Times reported police have made thousands of arrests for gang contact by parolees.

Under the new law, parolees would have to actually be caught engaging in street gang-related activity before police could make an arrest.


Although the prior “contact” language was vague, the “street gang-related activity” is not much better.

For instance, if a parolee were standing on the corner with gang members and one of them flashed a gang sign, would that trigger an arrest?

Right now, parolees could be arrested for being around neighbors “identified” as gang members.

Hal Baskin, a former gang leader who has operated an antiviolence organization in Englewood for more than two decades, called the new law “a great idea and a step forward into the future.”

“We shouldn’t be criminalizing individuals that have gotten out of the institution and are coming back to the community and may have relationships with people who have been involved with gangs,” Baskin said.

“The Chicago Police Department should take note of that because under Rule 47, they can’t even have friendships with people who were involved in gangs or with former prisoners,” he said.

In 1997, former Chicago Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had a close relationship with a convicted felon.

Still, I’m not convinced this law is going to make neighborhoods any safer.

In fact, it may even set up some parolees for another stint in prison by making it easier for them to reconnect with gang associates.

Worse yet, the law is sure to tick off a lot of police officers who already think criminals get too much consideration.

After the ACLU accused the Chicago Police Department in 2015 of disproportionately targeting minorities for questioning and searches — known as “stop and frisk” — the number of stops dropped dramatically, and the violence spiked.

Coincidentally, a report released by Urban Institute this week looked at the city’s “Violence Reduction Strategy” and concluded, among other things, the mutual mistrust between [gangs] and police officers could be impeding its antiviolence message.

“The survey findings demonstrate that group members’ perceptions of justice system actors are negative and that police officers’ perceptions of group members’ morality and ability to change are low,” the authors wrote in the executive summary.

Authors of “Put the Guns Down: Outcomes and Impacts of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy,” acknowledged that Chicago gangs are no longer organized groups and used the term “group” or “group members” throughout the report.

“A substantial proportion of Chicago gun violence arises from the dynamics of criminally active groups. Although these groups are often referred to as ‘gangs,’ many of them are smaller and more loosely organized than that term may imply . . .”

“Chicago’s historically organized gangs have devolved into smaller, less-structured street-corner crews,” the authors wrote.

“The intervention included ‘call-in meetings’ in targeted police districts where group members were put on notice by top leadership from the Chicago Police Department, federal and state prosecutors and credible community messengers — that although they are valued community members, gun violence must stop, and that street groups represented in the meeting that continue to be involved in shootings will be the target of coordinated enforcement actions,” according to the report’s executive summary.

It is important to note that during interviews with “group members” who responded to “call-ins” employment assistance” was the most welcome form of social service requested.

“Getting employment was a primary concern for them and they saw the offer of services in this area one of the most [potentially] valuable aspects of the call-in,” the report concluded.

Most of us either don’t get it or don’t want to get it.

People are desperate, especially those who come out of prison with no support whatsoever.

While I’m sure ex-offenders will appreciate not being hassled by police while they are hanging out with old friends, parolees need the means to earn an honest living a lot more than they need the right to associate with fellow gang members.

Could legislators work on that?

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