New IL Law Protects Parolees From ‘Gang Contact’ Charges

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has cut parolees some slack. Legislation he signed on Tuesday protects them from being arrested for being seen with alleged gang members, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, chief sponsor of the bill, called it “a fix to one of the worse abuses of criminal law in our state.” Apparently, the questionable protocol came to light after the Sun-Times reported police have made thousands of arrests for gang contact by parolees. Under the new law, parolees would have to actually be caught engaging in street gang-related activity before police could make an arrest.

Although the prior “contact” language was vague, the “street gang-related activity” is not much better, says columnist Mary Mitchell. For instance, if a parolee were standing on the corner with gang members and one of them flashed a gang sign, would that trigger an arrest? Hal Baskin, a former gang leader who has operated an antiviolence organization for more than two decades, called the new law “a great idea and a step forward into the future.” “We shouldn’t be criminalizing individuals that have gotten out of the institution and are coming back to the community and may have relationships with people who have been involved with gangs,” he said. Mitchell is not convinced this law is going to make neighborhoods any safer. She says may even set up some parolees for another stint in prison by making it easier for them to reconnect with gang associates. Worse yet, the law is sure to tick off a lot of police officers who already think criminals get too much consideration.

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