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Illinois Gun Possession Bill Could Overcrowd Prisons, Cost $1 Billion Over A Decade: Report

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Proposed legislation some Chicago powers that be see as a much-needed tool to help bring down the city's well-publicized homicide rate could have a number of adverse effects if passed into law, its critics are arguing.

Riverside Democrat Michael Zalewski last month introduced HB 2265, a proposal that would institute a mandatory prison sentence of three years for those convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon -- and also require that at least 85 percent of that sentence actually be served, according to the Associated Press.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who has been chastised for the city's homicide rate, even as it dipped last month, is one of the bill's most vocal proponents, telling Fox News earlier this month that the proposed law would "not only protect our children, our families and our communities but we also prevent the impulsive retaliatory killings that plague our neighborhoods."

How the measure's supporters -- also among them, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County States' Attorney Anita Alvarez -- see it is that increasing the penalties for illegal firearm possession would help keep convicts off the streets.

Speaking on the harsher "truth-in-sentencing" guidelines last month, Emanuel said, "The victims deserve it, the public demands it and the criminal justice system should deliver it," DNAinfo reported.

But the measure is drawing criticism, particularly around the strain it could put on an already cash-strapped state's finances. According to a new state analysis, the law could cost the state of Illinois nearly $1 billion over the upcoming decade and further crowd the state's already packed prisons.

Per the analysis, the state would have been responsible for an additional $760 million in incarceration costs between 2000 and 2011 if the proposed law were in place during those years. The extra $263 million in new costs would come from the need to build additional prison space to accommodate the likely spike in inmates.

In response to that criticism, Zalewski told the Reporter's Angela Caputo, "I'm not going to be disingenuous and suggest that the bill is not expensive. But if we say we can't afford to protect public safety, we're not doing our job."

Meanwhile, state Sen. Gary Forby, who represents downstate Benton, described the proposal as "an unfunded mandate, and you know the state of Illinois has a budget problem of course," according to Fox News.

Last week, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart noted that his facility is only eight inmates short of capacity thanks to the Chicago Police Department's crime crackdown initiatives and a decrease in suspects being released with electronic montoring devices. Dart fears the Cook County Jail will be in "crisis mode" come June.

The bill was already approved in a House committee vote and next needs the OK of a full House vote.

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