Rauner signs bill to end arrests for being seen with gang members

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor last year. File Photo. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday signed legislation that protects parolees from being arrested merely for being seen with alleged gang members.

One of the bill’s chief sponsors called it a “fix” to a problem exposed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Under the measure, 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.

Rauner signed the measure on Tuesday. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, was the chief sponsor of the bill in the House. She called the signing a way to move forward on a “fix to one of the worse abuses of criminal law in our state.”

“The notion that someone could be arrested and prosecuted simply for being in their neighborhood, talking to people, or in their own yard, is beyond troubling,” Cassidy said in a statement.

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

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 earlier this year 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.

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