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Illinois Senate moves to end arrests for being seen with gang members

Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago (pictured on April 12, 2016), speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

It’s now up to Gov. Bruce Rauner to decide whether police can continue to arrest people on parole merely for being seen with alleged gang members.

The Illinois Senate voted 41-14 Tuesday to change the law so that parolees would have to be engaging in “streetgang-related activity” before they can be busted and locked up — instead of the much more broad “contact” with anyone in a gang.

Six Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno, joined with 35 Democrats in voting for the bill. It passed the House last month.

A spokesman for Rauner said the bill is now “under review” by his office. The governor has set a goal of reforming criminal justice policies to reduce the state prison population by a quarter.

UPDATE: Rauner signs bill to end arrests for parolees just for being seen with gang members, Aug. 23, 2017

“It does speak to some of the progress we’re making in bipartisan way on criminal justice reform in general,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, the chief sponsor of the bill in the House.

Cassidy credited reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times for highlighting the unfairness of the current law. “When you draw attention to something that’s ridiculous, then you get a chance to fix it,” she said.

The Sun-Times reported last month that Chicago police have made thousands of arrests for gang contact by parolees, mostly after the city decriminalized low-level marijuana possession in 2012. The total includes 375 arrests made this year through mid-May, city data show.

Cops have arrested parolees for doing nothing other than sitting on porches, getting rides or hanging out with neighbors identified as gang members.

Police say they stepped up enforcement in an effort to prevent gun violence. But Kelly and other legislators said the law is tilted against people who’ve returned from prison to neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides, where it’s difficult to avoid other ex-offenders.