FILE - Steve McClure, Illinois Legislature, 2020

Illinois State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, asks questions during debate on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol, Friday, May 22, 2020, in Springfield, Ill.

(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on the effect justice reforms have on public safety, including one expert who said a rise in carjackings was a result of the pandemic.

The Senate Joint Public Safety and Criminal Law Committee’s hearing dealt with sentencing laws, reducing the Illinois prison population, and the spike in carjackings in Chicago, Peoria and other downstate communities.

Kathy Saltmarsh, executive director of the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, or SPAC, said carjackings are a result of the pandemic. She said tough sentencing for those responsible is the wrong approach.

“Because you have implemented a policy that generates more recidivism,” Saltmarsh said. “It is entirely probable that once COVID subsides and things get back to normal, that carjackings will go down.”

Stephanie Coleman with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law said the best way to address juvenile carjackers is to increase funding for violence reduction programs, and use age-appropriate interventions as opposed to adult punishment.

The surge in carjackings may lead to a rise in concealed carry gun permits statewide. FOID applications for 2020 boomed in Illinois, with over 341,000 applications. For concealed carry permits, 93,893 applications were received.

The historically low state prison population, at around 28,000 was another topic addressed. Saltmarsh urged lawmakers to stay the course.

“Do we want to keep it low?” Saltmarsh said. “Do we want to take this moment to hit pause and really look at how we use prison as opposed to other alternatives? I would suggest that’s something worthy of your consideration.”

State Sen. Steve McClure said he suspects a number of people who should be in prison are out committing new crimes.

“The other issue to study that is the fact we don’t know how many people are actually committing these crimes, because most people, particularly in shooting cases which is a huge problem right now, they don’t get caught,” McClure said. “We have to catch these people, because if they feel like they not going to get caught, then, of course, there’s no real fear of any punishment or anything else, so the punishment is irrelevant.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.