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Tougher gun possession sentences would cost $1 bil. over 10 years: state

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Police Supt. Garry McCarthy together last year.  |  Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy together last year. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2013 6:35AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for tougher sentences for illegal gun possession, but state officials are now warning they would have to build more prison capacity to house the extra inmates.

For months, the mayor, police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have been urging the Legislature to approve stiff mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession.

On Tuesday, an Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman said the legislation would carry a hefty price tag — almost $1 billion over 10 years to house an additional 3,860 inmates in the prison system, which currently holds about 49,000 inmates.

The estimate was based on the $21,000 average cost of housing an inmate for a year — plus the cost of building new prisons or “repurposing closed facilities,” according to the department.

But the University of Chicago Crime Lab released a report Tuesday saying the cost of housing those additional inmates is dwarfed by the “social costs” of the crimes they commit when they’re not locked up.

The crime lab studied a group of people placed on probation in Chicago for aggravated gun possession in 2011.

More than 60 percent were re-arrested for a crime within a year — and seven percent for a violent crime.

The lab concluded the social costs of those crimes were five times higher than the costs of housing them in prison.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), the sponsor of a bill that would create stiffer gun possession sentences, acknowledged cost is a factor to consider.

“That being said, we have a duty as members of the body to protect public safety,” Zalewski said, adding, “We want there to be a strong deterrent to carrying a loaded weapon [illegally].”

His bill, which stalled earlier this year in the General Assembly, would boost the mandatory minimum penalty for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon from one to three years and require inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences without the possibility of probation.

Unlawful use of a weapon is what illegal gun possession is called in Illinois.

Aggravated unlawful use of a weapon involves a person who possesses a gun on his person or vehicle, isn’t on his property, and one of the following circumstances exists: the gun is loaded and immediately accessible; the gun is uncased and unloaded, but the ammunition is immediately accessible; or the person doesn’t have a state Firearm Owner’s Identification Card.

Illinois’ new concealed carry law is causing some confusion about whether the unlawful use of a weapon law will be enforceable in certain situations. Concealed carry applications are supposed to become available in January.


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