HB 4109 is a grassroots policy, informed by a wide range of community stakeholders, that would reverse Illinois' inhumane system of mass incarceration, by putting an end to the state's ineffective and unjust sentencing enhancement laws.
What would HB 4109 do?
In July 2021, Illinois State Representative Kam Buckner, in partnership with the Workers Center for Racial Justice, introduced HB 4109, a bill that would put an end to Illinois’ unjust and racially targeted Sentencing Enhancement laws.
Since that time, the Workers Center for Racial Justice has consulted with various state departments, local State’s Attorneys, the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, and a wide range of community stakeholders to gather input on the bill.
This critical feedback has shaped a forthcoming amendment to HB 4109. Under this proposed amendment, HB 4109 would eliminate two of the state's most harmful forms of sentencing enhancements: (1) the overly punitive system of weight-based drug sentencing enhancements and (2) Illinois' racially biased practice of extended term sentencing.
What are Sentencing Enhancements?
Sentencing Enhancements are a draconian feature of the Illinois criminal code that allow the courts to add lengthy periods of additional time onto a person’s original sentence on the basis of a wide range of circumstantial factors.
By granting prosecutors and judges broad authority to add years and, in many cases, decades onto an individual’s prison term, sentencing enhancements perpetuate mass incarceration and exacerbate racial disparities in Illinois’ prison system.
Enhanced Sentencing for Drug Offenses
For over half a century, increasingly punitive sentencing laws for drug related offenses have played an instrumental role in escalating mass incarceration in our state.
The Illinois Controlled Substances Act contains an elaborate system of graduated sentencing enhancements that allow the courts to add decades of additional prison time onto sentences, based on the particular weight and substance classification.
From 1984 to 2013, when the Illinois prison population reached its peak, the number of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes increased by over 1,600%
Due to pervasive racial bias in local court systems, judges disproportionately apply enhanced sentencing in drug cases involving Black defendants.
Across the U.S., rates of drug use are significantly lower among Black adults than Whites. However, in Illinois, where African Americans represent just 14% of the general population, 7 in 10 individuals incarcerated under the Illinois Controlled Substances act are Black.
In 2021, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution to formally denounce the shameful and discriminatory history of the War on Drugs in the United States. It is incumbent upon the the general assembly to abolish the racially targeted sentencing laws that continue to drive Illinois' destructive and unjust War on Drugs in the present day.
Extended Term Sentencing Enhancements
Extended Term sentencing is an overly punitive facet of Illinois' criminal code, which permits the courts to add long stretches of additional prison time onto already excessive sentences. In some cases, Extended Terms can impose a fivefold increase on a person’s original prison sentence.
By offering judges broad discretion to lengthen sentences, Extended Terms magnify racial bias in our court system. When considering sentencing in a case, judges are authorized to order more stringent Extended Terms on the basis of a wide spectrum of loosely defined, and often subjective “aggravating” circumstances. This includes factors that have been historically interpreted and enforced in a racialized manner, such as “gang affiliation.”
Sentencing enhancements drive mass incarceration
In recent decades, unjust sentencing enhancements have fueled Illinois' inhumane and costly practice of mass incarceration. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of people serving prison terms longer than 10 years in Illinois increased by 14%.
Even as the state adopts new legislative reforms to reduce the prison population, the upward trend of increasingly long prison sentences has undercut this progress. The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council projects that Illinois’ historically high prison population will hold steady for the foreseeable future.
Sentencing enhancements are racially biased
Between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate among Black men in the U.S. dropped by 24%. However, during this same period, the length of prison sentences for Black individuals has steadily increased at nearly twice the rate of white defendants, in large part due to the racialized application of overly punitive sentencing enhancements.
Sentencing enhancements undermine public safety
Excessive prison terms have proven to have no positive impacts on crime deterrence or recidivism rates. To the contrary, overly punitive and racially biased sentencing policies have only served to further aggravate the symptoms of structural inequality that erode public safety.