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updated: 10/8/2013 4:00 PM

Agency says tougher gun laws would crowd prisons

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Legislation cracking down on Illinois gun crime could add to the state's prison overcrowding and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the Illinois Department of Corrections said.

A proposal to increase minimum sentences for certain crimes -- backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Mike Zalewski -- could add about $700 million in operating expenses to the prison system, according to a spokesman for the department, Tom Shaer.

"Based on current inmate population, IDOC does not have sufficient capacity to take on another 3,860 inmates," Shaer told the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers for a report published Tuesday. "The state would need to build at least one prison."

There are about 49,000 inmates serving time in Illinois prisons.

Lawmakers could consider the bill when they meet for a veto session later this month.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said the Chicago Democrat is concerned about violent crime, but is evaluating the proposal.

"Even as the state's fiscal condition improved, we have not reached a point where additional costs can be overlooked," said Rikeesha Phelon. Zalewski, from Riverside, said the state can't put a price on safer streets.

"I think it's hard to look in the eyes of victims' families and say, `No, we can't do this because it costs too much,"' Zalewski said.

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