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Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez rolled out several prospective reforms to the county and statewide criminal justice system today while testifying before a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers.  The robust legislative package is aimed at alleviating overcrowding at the Cook County Jail and re-allocating resources in order to more effectively combat gun violence.

During her testimony before the Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, State’s Attorney Alvarez proposed five specific legislative initiatives designed to crack down on repeat gun offenders and also reduce criminal penalties for marijuana and property crimes in an effort to reduce jail populations and divert offenders into cost-saving alternative sentencing programs.

“Today I am proposing a balanced legislative package that would shift resources from lower-risk offenders to those with a higher propensity for gun violence,” Alvarez told legislators.  “I recognize as the Cook County State’s Attorney that a shift in philosophy is in order to ensure that we are properly targeting gun offenders and also making adjustments to reduce the lower risk inmate populations at local jails and state prisons.”

Alvarez proposed penalty enhancements for gun crimes involving convicted felons and known gang members in order to ensure that repeat offenders are sentenced to prison time and serve at least 85% of their sentence.

“Our criminal sentencing policies should target those illegally carrying firearms who pose the greatest public safety threat to our communities and right now our unlawful use of a weapon penalties do not go far enough.” Alvarez said.  “Gang members themselves tell us that our gun laws are ‘a joke.’  They are not a deterrent, and if we do not take action these criminals will continue on the path of gun violence and retaliation that has unfortunately become the norm in too many neighborhoods in Chicago and Cook County.”

In addition to the proposal for increased gun penalties, Alvarez also offered the following initiatives:

~~ House Bill 4091 would propose a comprehensive realignment of sentencing for cannabis offenders.  The proposed changes would make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a petty offense rather than a misdemeanor charge.  In addition, it would lower the felony penalties for mid-level possession and delivery of cannabis.

And in an effort to crack down on high-level cannabis traffickers, the measure would increase penalties for distribution or attempting to distribute more than 2500 grams, or 5.5 pounds of marijuana.

~~ House Bill 3771 would amend the state theft statute in an effort to directly reduce the number of people charged as felons for committing theft of property.  This would include raising the threshold to commit Class 4 felony theft from a value of $500 to $1,000.   As a result, a person who commits theft of property of less than $1,000 would be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony under this proposal.  In addition, a person who commits misdemeanor theft would not be eligible for a Class 4 felony penalty enhancement until the third offense.  Under current law, the felony enhancement is applied upon a second misdemeanor theft charge.

~~ House Bill 2897 would enact a pilot program to give local authorities the ability to conduct field tests in lieu of relying on crime lab reports for preliminary hearings.  Cook County is currently the only county in Illinois which relies on analysis from the State Police Crime Lab for preliminary hearings, and the change could result in a 15-day reduction in the amount of time it takes to charge an individual in narcotics cases.  The measure would also alleviate the increasing caseloads at the State Police Crime Lab, according to Alvarez.

~~ House Bill 3773 would amend the factors that a judge may consider when issuing bonds.  The proposal would essentially guarantee that a low-level drug offender with a non-violent background is eligible for an I-bond — when charged with possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine or heroin.

The Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee is an initiative of State Representative Michael  Zalewski and includes a bipartisan panel of legislators.  The committee has scheduled four hearings throughout the summer and fall of 2014 and will submit a report of legislative recommendations by December 1, 2014.

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Welcome to CopyLine Magazine! The first issue of CopyLine Magazine was published in November, 1990, by Editor & Publisher Juanita Bratcher. CopyLine’s main focus is on the political arena – to inform our readers and analyze many of the pressing issues of the day - controversial or otherwise. Our objectives are clear – to keep you abreast of political happenings and maneuvering in the political arena, by reporting and providing provocative commentaries on various issues. For more about CopyLine Magazine, CopyLine Blog, and CopyLine Television/Video, please visit juanitabratcher.com, copylinemagazine.com, and oneononetelevision.com. Bratcher has been a News/Reporter, Author, Publisher, and Journalist for 33 years. She is the author of six books, including “Harold: The Making of a Big City Mayor” (Harold Washington), Chicago’s first African-American mayor; and “Beyond the Boardroom: Empowering a New Generation of Leaders,” about John Herman Stroger, Jr., the first African-American elected President of the Cook County Board. Bratcher is also a Poet/Songwriter, with 17 records – produced by HillTop Records of Hollywood, California. Juanita Bratcher Publisher

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