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3 ways proposed ACLU changes could improve Illinois drug laws

The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for reform in Illinois in several ways that could affect those who are facing drug charges.

In July of this year, members of the American Civil Liberties Union met with the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. According to the Windy City Times, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to lower the incarceration rate across the state.

Through several policy changes, it is possible for Illinois to reduce the number of inmates while at the same time reallocating resources elsewhere in the community, the ACLU asserts. The following measures outline how the agency is pushing the state to make changes and how those reforms could affect drug laws:

1. Addressing Class X charges

In Illinois, the most serious charge anyone can face is a Class X felony. According to the Illinois General Assembly, convictions of such charges can carry with them usual prison terms of up to 30 years with extended terms of up to 60 years. Probation is not a possibility with these crimes.

Critics of Class X felonies point out that some crimes automatically and perhaps unjustly qualify for the charge and ensuing harsh sentences. For example, someone carrying a certain amount of drugs would face a Class X charge, despite not having any prior drug convictions. The ACLU pushed for such charges to be reclassified as Class 1 felonies, which the agency estimates would cut the number of inmates in prison by up to 600 people every year.

2. Reclassifying certain drug charges

In accordance with Illinois law, possessing 1 gram or more of certain controlled substances qualifies as a Class 1 felony. Any other amount less than that is considered a Class 2 felony. The ACLU noted that simply changing some charges to be Class A misdemeanors would decrease new inmate admissions by 1,800.

Specifically, the ACLU recommends changing the classification of 1 gram or less of methamphetamines or controlled substance to a misdemeanor, which could either shorten a prison sentence or help someone avoid jail time altogether. According to a study that the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council conducted, Illinois could have saved more than $57 million by now had it made these changes three years ago.

3. Repealing mandatory minimums

NORML reports that Illinois has a number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, including the following:

  • One year for possessing between 30 to 500 grams on a first offense
  • One year for selling between 10 and 30 grams
  • One year for selling drug paraphernalia

Such sentences for nonviolent crimes have drawn harsh criticism. As the ACLU points out, the sentences for a second or subsequent conviction of a drug charge can lead to lengthy prison stints. Therefore, the agency suggests repealing mandatory minimums for these offenders and others who have been convicted of a nonviolent crime, such as burglary.

It remains to be seen how Illinois will act on these suggestions. Anyone facing drug charges should consult with an attorney immediately to learn about the possible repercussions.