Tougher gun penalties will stress overcrowded system

Published 03/25 2013 05:52PM

Updated 03/25 2013 05:57PM

SANGAMON COUNTY -- Gun control continues to be a hot topic. Some lawmakers want harsher penalties for people caught having a gun when they're not supposed to.

But, that could mean big problems for jails. WCIA-3's Ashley Michels finds out why.

Overcrowding at the Sangamon County Jail has been a problem for years, sometimes housing 150 more inmates than it was built to hold.

"The more people you have, the more problems you have."

Problems like more fights and more mouths to feed. So, Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson and other county leaders have been working to scale it back. It's something they say can be frustrating.

"We keep having legislators pass new laws and new things come down the pike and any progress we've made, we always take a couple steps backwards."

The latest, an idea to crack down on gun violators would make it harder to get probation and hand out longer prison terms. It's something Sheriff Williamson says looks better on paper than it will be in practice.

"It sounds good. They're getting tough on crime, and that's good. We're all for that, but they don't realize, the down-the-road impact it's going to have on local jails and the sheriff's office."

Tougher penalties mean adding even more inmates to an already overflowing system. It's something Williamson says Illinois can't afford.

"These are unfunded mandates they come up with. If they would say, 'we're also going to give you some money to build a 50-bed extension on your jail,' that would be great, but they're not going to do it."

The Department of Corrections says it would cost prisons an extra $100 million a year. The full Senate still has to vote on it.

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