Supt. McCarthy: Sending fewer people to prison could make us safer

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has joined with other top cops from around the country to push for reforms that they believe could make our streets safer by sending fewer people to prison.

It’s a plan that might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s one that could have an impact on those arrested for low level crimes.

Tana Edmonson is turning her life around working at Felony Frank's, which is the Oak Park restaurant that hires felons and gives them a second chance. 

“I was given a credit card from a friend and we got into it, and she went and called police and said it was stolen,” Edmonson said

She faced up to eight years in prison for theft and credit card fraud, but under a diversion program she only served 18 months.

Still, with a felony conviction on her record, finding work was tough, and ten jobs fell through.

“Once they found out I was a felon, they turned me down after signing the paper of a hiring,” Edmonson said.

In Washington DC, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and other top cops met to call for reforms that would reduce prison and jail overcrowding by reducing or eliminating prison sentences for certain low-level crimes.

“Twenty seven percent of the inmates that are incarcerated in Cook County Jail are incarcerated for narcotic related offenses, less than four percent are incarcerated for gun offenses,” Superintendent McCarthy said.

The group insists this won't compromise public safety, and might actually help it.

“Arresting and imprisoning low level offenders prevents us from dedicating that time to serious offenders and repeat violent offenders,” said Ronal Serpas, the former New Orleans Superintendent of Police who is now a professor of criminology at Loyola University in New Orleans.

McCarthy said he believes it’s time the country started rethinking what constitutes a crime.

Tana Edmonson believes reforms are needed and could make a difference for others

“I hope they come up with a solution, you know, my little case, I don't think was serious enough to go prison on a first offense,” she said.

On Thursday, the group presented their ideas to President Obama.