Illinois lawmaker wants to reduce prisoner count by lowering drug penalties

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by Elizabeth Eisele / KMOV Staff | @ElizEisele

KMOV.com

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 28 at 7:00 PM

(KMOV.com) -- An Illinois lawmaker wants to lower drug penalties for small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin citing the burden it places on the prison system.

The Illinois prison system currently holds 49,000 prisoners in a system designed for only 32,000 and Representative Michael Zalewski wants to lessen the strain.

“We need to drastically realign our criminal code to make sure that it makes sense,” Zalewski said, “So we can keep violent offenders in jail and non-violent offenders out of jail and redirect them.”

Zalewski said there have been large scale discussions that maybe low level drug offenders and those committing small amounts of theft shouldn't be in prison on the taxpayer’s dime.

The house judiciary committee first heard Zalewski’s proposals Wednesday, but Madison County residents seem split on how to combat the high prison numbers.

“I think that if they could reduce the number and bring them down to the original capacities of the facilities that we now have,” said Trenton resident Chris Weckler, “I think that would be a great thing.”

Zalewski said he isn’t sure if the proposals will pass in their current form, but that he will continue to work to get the criminal code changed in Illinois.

“My hope is to get something passed,” said Zalewski, “promoting major criminal justice reform in the next four to six months.” 

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