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The [Thursday] Papers

This just in:

Today, the Northwestern School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic has released Combating Gun Violence in Illinois: Evidence-Based Solutions on behalf of more than 30 scholars and clinical professors from colleges and universities throughout Illinois. In its research paper, the authors start with the premise that every life lost to gun violence is tragic and a call for action.

The paper refutes claims that increased mandatory minimum sentences (HB 2265) would deter crime and argues Illinois' responses must be smart, strategic and grounded in evidence-based solutions.

Here are some summary points:

Illinois already has mandatory minimum prison terms for all gun crimes.
  • On January 1, 2011, a one-year mandatory minimum for several gun possession offenses was enacted but there have been no studies analyzing the effectiveness of this significant change.

Decades of empirical evidence and evaluations of specific state experiences demonstrate that mandatory sentences will not reduce gun violence.

  • Some claim New York City's decline in crime was due to mandatory minimum sentencing. New York City's murder rate dropped 80% from 1990 to 2012, but mandatory minimums did not take effect until 2007 - after 90% of that reduction had already taken place.
  • Because most gun possession defendants are under the age of 25 (and nearly half are under the age of 21), and because research shows that young people are especially unlikely to be deterred by major changes to criminal penalties, mandatory minimums are even more unlikely to deter illegal gun possession.
  • Years of experience and research into mandatory sentences has resulted in a national trend away from mandatory sentencing laws as a crime reduction tool.

Additional mandatory sentences mean additional state, local, public safety, community, and justice costs.

  • Besides failing to deter crime, additional mandatory sentences will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars (at least $392 million) in increased prison costs over just three years. Likewise, county costs will rise due to the longer case processing times and higher court-ordered bail amounts.
  • Advocates claim communities are safer during the time a prisoner serves longer mandatory minimum sentences. But that claim ignores the fact that incarceration increases the likelihood of recidivism and contributes to making some prisoners even more dangerous and unemployable upon release.

Targeted interventions and evidence-based programming are more promising, proven solutions to gun violence.

  • Research demonstrates that problem-oriented policing, such as initiatives which focus police resources on high-risk places at high-risk times, are far more effective than mandatory minimums. Furthermore, intervention initiatives that target high-risk youth are another proven, low-cost strategy.

A few comments:

* The evidence is simply overwhelming that mandatory minimum legislation of the sort that has been proposed would not only fail to decrease gun violence, but would cause far more harm than good.

* The "some" claiming that the experience of New York City exemplifies why this legislation should be passed are led by Rahm Emanuel and, secondarily, Garry McCarthy.

* Emanuel and McCarthy have been allowed to get away with making utterly false claims about the New York City experience by a lazy press, the consequences of which could be utterly disastrous.

* Northwestern's research only bolsters what everyone else who has actually studied the matter has found.

"What does the evidence say about mandatory minimums?" John Maki wrote for the Tribune in September.

"Nearly every credible nonpartisan policy group that has examined this issue, from the National Academy of Sciences to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, has agreed: Mandatory prison minimums don't work.

"In an article for the University of Chicago's journal Crime and Justice, University of Minnesota law professor Michael Tonry surveyed 200 years of findings on mandatory minimum sentences and summarized the consensus: 'If policymakers took account of research evidence (and informed practioners' views) existing laws would be repealed and no new ones would be enacted.'"

Unlike the mayor, the police chief, the pols and the editorial boards, Maki's claim has not been refuted. That's because his claim is based on facts, not ignorance, campaign rhetoric and/or demagoguery.

* It's sad that Northwestern felt it had to state that "In its research paper, the authors start with the premise that every life lost to gun violence is tragic and a call for action."

It's like having to affirm one's patriotism by wearing a flag lapel or prefacing a policy position by saying you "support the troops."

Who doesn't believe that every life lost to gun violence is tragic? I think even the gangbangers believe that.

Sad, then, that Northwestern clearly deemed such a statement as necessary because of a climate created by rhetoric like this.

* I told you so.

Meanwhile . . .

"The most hotly debated item during [Wednesday's city council] meeting was a resolution with no force of law that urged the General Assembly to increase the penalties for certain gun crimes," the Tribune reports.

"Although the resolution itself did not mention mandatory minimum prison sentences, three African American aldermen decried the effects of such an approach on young men and their families from their communities.

"Nevertheless, the resolution passed with nary a dissent, after some African-American aldermen realized it did not specifically endorse the mandatory minimum sentences Emanuel has been lobbying for."

That was a game. Rahm wasn't even at Wednesday's meeting and the resolution, introduced last month on 9/11, was sponsored by Ald. James Balcer. I don't know if this was a trojan horse from Rahm or simply a meaningless Balcer resolution that mandatory minimum opponents in the council seized upon to vent their frustration with Rahm's plan. But it's clear what Rahm's plan is.

Just a day earlier:

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Tuesday to use his political capital to get state lawmakers to pass tougher illegal firearm possession laws," the Tribune reported.

"The mayor, joined at an event by the parents of gun-crime victims, said he has made personal pleas to lawmakers to support a measure requiring a minimum three-year sentence for illegal gun possession, with 85 percent of the time served behind bars."

Now we'll see if lawmakers find personal pleas more persuasive than overwhelming evidence.


Even without mandatory minimum language per se in the ordinance the council passed Wednesday, it got reported that way in some quarters.

For example:

City Council Urges State To Impose Mandatory Sentencing On Gun Crimes.

"Chicago aldermen are urging the Illinois General Assembly to approve Mayor Emanuel's proposal to impose a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for most gun crimes, reports WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore."

That's simply not true, even if Balcer muddied the waters by backing Rahm's proposal during the council debate.

Ultimately, the Balcer resolution is meaningless - unless Rahm takes it to Springfield to bolster his case. That's why some council opponents wanted it on the record that even if they were voting in favor of the resolution, they didn't support what was missing in it but clearly intended. There is no consensus on the council when it comes to mandatory minimums.


And it probably pleases the mayor more than actually passing legislation to see a stream of headlines like "Emanuel Pushes For Tougher Gun Penalties."

Well, what could be wrong with that?

Tell you what, I'm proposing a 5-year mandatory minimum. I'll await the headline "Rhodes Tougher On Crime Than Rahm."

That's how he manipulates you. How about "Emanuel Pushes For Gun Penalties Shown To Have No Effect On Crime." Biased? Not in the least. Unlike Rahm's headline, mine has the benefit of being true.


Gee, this looks familiar.


Just sayin'.


A Modest Transit Proposal
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The Beachwood Tip Line: Oy to the vey.


Posted on October 17, 2013

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