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Is Illinois Finally Ready for Criminal Sentencing Reform?

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criminal sentencing, criminal sentencing reform, Illinois criminal defense lawyer, Illinois criminal lawyer, felony, new legislation, prison sentences, overcrowded prisonsA call for criminal sentencing reform at the state and local levels is being spearheaded by both Republicans and Democrats in Illinois. In the past, the raising of criminal sentencing standards was used to respond to particularly atrocious crimes. However, the ad hoc increase in criminal sentencing standards has been blamed by many as causing the overcrowding of prisons, and the unnecessary extension of incarceration based on sometimes arbitrary sentencing standards. In Illinois specifically, the occurrence of a particularly bad crime has often been met with sentence enhancements as an easy fix to the underlying problem. However, the extreme physical and financial limitations of Illinois' correctional and criminal justice systems has required Illinois legislatures to reevaluate the knee jerk reactions that have motivated past sentence enhancements.

The Country-Wide Push for Criminal Sentencing Reform

In the past, sentence enhancement measures have been used by politicians and other public officials to show that they are indeed tough on specific crimes. However, legislatures are finally starting to question whether sentence enhancements are actually doing anything to solve the problem by preventing future crime and preventing the most dangerous criminals from going free. Criminal sentence enhancements are often enacted by making already illegal crimes more illegal. Bills such as “Sarah's Law” and “Mike's Law” are often named after the victims of crimes. Public officials submit these laws after crimes against the named person are committed, in order to show that they are doing something to protect future victims of the same crimes covered under the legislation.

In recent years, the number of such sentence enhancement bills has decreased. These bills are having difficulty passing state House committees, who are finally questioning the wisdom and effectiveness of raising sentencing standards. These committees have had to do so in the face of depleted Department of Corrections budgets and severe state prison overcrowding. In fact, typical state prisons often exceed over 150 percent of their maximum capacity rate. Furthermore, when speaking out against sentence enhancement legislation, some ask whether past sentence enhancements have been at all effective in deterring crime, or simply force undeserving criminals to unnecessarily spend more time in jail. Such questions have sparked an important debate about the purpose of incarceration as a whole and whether extended incarcerations actually prevent effective criminal rehabilitation.

Illinois and Criminal Sentencing Reforms

Last year's rebuttal of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's call to increase gun crime sentencing standards was a clear illustration that Illinois legislatures are beginning to view the goals of punishment and rehabilitation differently. In fact, an Illinois Senate and House bipartisan super-committee has been entrusted with the task of reviewing Illinois sentence enhancements. This committee is also examining racial disparities present in prison sentencing and general law enforcement. One of the main goals for this committee is to prevent at least some of the politicization of sentencing enhancement. On July 15th, the Committee held its first hearing, and will be required to issue a final report to the Illinois General Assembly on December 1st.

The politicization of criminal sentencing enhancements may be good for a public official's stance on crime. However, creating such wide-reaching penalties puts unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system. If you need the services of a Joliet, IL criminal law attorney, contact the Law Offices of Cosmo Tedone and Barbara Morton, P.C.
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