The [Tuesday] Papers
"Cook County judges aren't throwing the book at people convicted of gun crimes, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found," Frank Main reported for the paper over the weekend.
Here we go again. I know what's coming, and it's gonna ruin my day.
One year in prison is the minimum sentence in Illinois for illegal possession of a gun. The maximum is three.
NO. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!
Stop. Please. I'm begging you. Learn.
"The last time New York State's gun laws were tightened, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rolled out a graphic reminder of what would happen to anyone caught carrying a loaded, illegal weapon," the New York Times reported last January.
"Guns = Prison," public service posters proclaimed categorically. In 2006, the mandatory prison sentence was increased to 3.5 years from 1 year.
Let's repeat that: Fewer than half the defendants who had been arrested for illegal possession of a loaded gun in New York City received a state prison sentence.
If reporters are going to insist on citing New York City in their stories about Chicago's gun laws, they should be doing it in support of arguments against mandatory minimums, not in favor of them.
Clearly, they aren't working there, either, no matter what Rahm Emanuel, Garry McCarthy, Anita Alvarez and the Sun-Times want you to believe.
"Prison time for gun crimes has become an increasingly politicized issue in Chicago," Main continues, "which remains in the national spotlight for gun violence, particularly murder. Even as the number of shooting deaths has fallen in Chicago in recent years, the city's murder rate is still far higher than in New York or Los Angeles."
That's true, but it's also misleading without context; a reader may reasonably think Main is saying Chicago has the highest murder rate in the country. That's far from the case.
Detroit, New Orleans, Newark, St. Louis and Baltimore, for example, have murder rates more than double that of Chicago.
That puts a bit of a different light on it, doesn't it? That's how your news gets shaped.
"To gauge how Cook County judges treat illegal gun possession, the Sun-Times examined 100 randomly selected cases involving a charge of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, or UUW. That's the legal term for simple gun possession. The newspaper analyzed another 100 cases involving felons charged with gun possession."
Yeah, I'm not sure how sound that methodology is, but when you're on a campaign to push a particular side of a policy debate, like the Sun-Times has been with mandatory minimums, you'll use any method you can think of.
Among the findings:
Okay. What are we supposed to take from that?
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Supt. Garry McCarthy have argued that stiffer minimum sentences for gun possession are needed to help keep violent criminals off the streets."
Oh. Like in New York, where fewer than half the defendants who had been arrested for illegal possession of a loaded gun in New York City received a state prison sentence.
"Emanuel pushed hard last year for the Illinois General Assembly to boost the minimum sentences for gun possession and to require anyone convicted to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
"But the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, failed in the face of opposition from African-American legislators and the National Rifle Association . . .
"Now running for re-election, Emanuel is no longer making a hard sell for stiffer gun sentences. That mantle has been picked up by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who has taken the lead in pushing for a tougher stance on gun possession in the next legislative session."
Let's try again: "Now running for re-election, Emanuel is no longer making a hard sell for stiffer gun sentences because his approval ratings are abysmal, particularly among African Americans, whose votes he will need if he is to win another term in office. He would like black people to forget he wants to put more of their kids (who are disproportionately charged with gun crimes) in jail, and for longer bids."
"But, in a bow to the power of the NRA, Alvarez won't seek to boost sentences for simple gun possession.
"The NRA opposition ostensibly should evaporate because we addressed their concerns by taking that off the table," said Dan Kirk, Alvarez's first assistant Cook County state's attorney.
Anita Alvarez (D-NRA).
"Alvarez supports raising the minimum sentence for felons in possession of guns, though, to three years in prison, up from the current two years. She also wants to require them to serve 85 percent of their sentences.
"In addition, Alvarez wants to raise the minimum sentence for gang members caught with guns to four years - up from three years - with the same 85 percent 'truth-in-sentencing' requirement.
"Kirk said those changes would save lives.
He pointed to the case of Derrick "Little Billy" Allmon, who's charged with murder in the Aug. 20 shooting death of 9-year-old Antonio Smith on the South Side.
How nice that Alvarez's office had a ready-made anecdote for Main and the Sun-Times. But an anecdote is not data. It's also not necessarily illustrative of anything larger than itself. There are plenty of ways other kinds of interventions could have changed the path of Derrick Allmon. Maybe tax breaks going to corporations redirected to schools could have changed Allmon's life. Or a job with a decent wage. Or investment in his neighborhood instead of projects like a new arena for DePaul and a vanity project for George Lucas. Perhaps a mental health clinic funded by the mayor instead of shut down could have made a difference. Who knows. One thing is certain, though: Nearly 40 years of social science research in criminology tells us that "tougher" mandatory minimums would not have made a difference. Unless you lock up Allmon - and a significant portion of the city's population - some other 9-year-old would have ended up dead. It was just a matter of timing.
And if we have to lock up that many people to protect the rest, maybe something else is wrong somewhere.
"Fabio Valentini, chief of criminal prosecutions for Alvarez, said people can debate whether stiffer minimum sentences deter criminals from carrying guns. But there's no question, Valentini said, that stiffer sentences would keep criminals from committing crimes while locked up.
"The University of Chicago Crime Lab has looked at people sentenced to probation for gun possession in Cook County and found they are far more likely to kill someone than other felons are within a year of being released from prison. The researchers reached similar conclusions when they looked at gun cases in New York and New Orleans."
What Frank Main isn't telling you is that the Crime Lab's research on the subject, blindly ballyhooed by the Sun-Times when it was released, is the object of ridicule in the academic community.
More than 30 criminologists were moved to rebut the Crime Lab's specious findings, stating that "The evidence indicates, repeatedly, that mandatory minimum sentences will not reduce gun violence.
John Maki is the executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform group.
"[Maki] said the Sun-Times findings show Cook County judges already are giving significant sentences to felons caught with guns - double the minimum two-year prison term.
"This largely undercuts the argument you hear coming from the Emanuel folks that judges are afraid to use prison on these gun offenders," Maki said. "These guys are getting a lot of prison time."
That would have been another way to write the story. But not the way the Sun-Times wanted.
For example, just read their next paragraph:
"The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council studied tougher gun laws enacted between 2006 and 2012 and found the number of gun-possession charges in that period was virtually unchanged. Over the same period, a steady decrease in gun-related violence in Chicago mirrored national trends, according to the bipartisan council.
"'Because the data do not reflect a clear, causal relationship or a significant difference from national trends, it is not possible with this report's methods to conclude that the sentencing enhancements over the past 10 years have had a measurable effect on public safety,' the group said in a report on its findings that was released early this year."
So like every other piece of research, the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council found the basic premise of Rahm, McCarthy, Alvarez and the Sun-Times to be wrong. And we're just learning that in the 46th paragraph?
"To bolster the argument for boosting minimum sentences for gun possession, McCarthy has nodded to New York, where he once was a top police official.
"In 2007, New York enacted a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 1/2 years for illegal gun possession - one of the major reasons for New York City's huge decrease in gun violence over the past decade, according to McCarthy."
There is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.
Fewer than half the defendants who had been arrested for illegal possession of a loaded gun in New York City received a state prison sentence.
The headline to this story was "Gun Shy: Lighter Sentences In Cook County Fuel Lock 'Em Up Debate."
Lighter than where?
I'd call the story Fact Shy.
How about a mandatory minimum of reporting?
Dems Attack Illinois FOIA
"Katrina Adams is not a big fan of video games that keep kids on the couch when they should be outside playing sports, especially tennis. But she admits, 'As a kid, I used to love going to the arcade. I used to tell my parents I was working on my hand-eye coordination. It was probably just a way to get more quarters from them.'
These days, Adams' life sometimes seems like a game of Candy Crush, a constant juggling act as she works to achieve her life's goals, all of which, she says, include, 'making a difference in someone else's life.' This January, the 46-year-old Chicago native will be in a prime position to do just that as she takes the helm as the next USTA president."
The Beachwood Tip Line: Mandatory.
Posted on December 2, 2014
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