In Illinois, “unlawful contact” with a gang member while on parole is an offense punishable by up to a year behind bars, even if no other crimes or gang activity occurred. Under pressure to reduce gun violence, the Chicago Police Department has increasingly used the parole-violation law as a tool to get convicted felons off the street, though in many cases they’ve been accused of nothing other than being around neighbors or long-time acquaintances, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. A few years ago, the police almost never locked anyone up for violating probation or parole. Now, they do it several times a day. From 2001 through 2012, the police made a total of 96 arrests for parole violations. The number rose to 338 in 2013. Then, it surged to 1,978 in 2015.
Arrests for all crime plummeted last year after the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video led to more scrutiny of the police. Still, cops remain on pace this year to arrest more than 900 people for parole violations. “It’s a way to get them off the street” and also to make it easier for the police to keep tabs on gangs, says one veteran cop. After the city decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2012, “We can’t get them for weed anymore,” the officer said. Police interpret gang “contact” broadly. In some neighborhoods that have a large population of parolees, police have arrested people nearly everywhere — walking down the street, standing in a yard, talking with neighbors, sitting on a porch and riding in a car — for no criminal conduct other than having contact with a gang member.