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The [Wednesday] Papers

"Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago's Crime Lab, is a superb scholar of violence and a talented economist, but his just released analysis of gun penalties tells me he desperately needs a course in criminal justice, Illinois style," Franklin Zimring writes to the Sun-Times.

"Ludwig's memo, widely cited by politicians who favor a mandatory three-year prison sentence for people convicted of the illegal use of a weapon, makes three assumptions about Illinois law and practice that are provably not true."

Zimring, a law professor at Berkeley and the former director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago, goes on to provably untrue them.

Rahm Emanuel and his pet police chief, Garry McCarthy, have spent the better part of a year making claims about mandatory minimum laws that simply aren't true. It might be good politics, but it's horrendous policy-making - especially for an administration that likes to portray itself as a technocratic bastion of data-based decision-making (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary).

"The evidence against Emanuel's proposal could not be clearer: It will not prevent crime," John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, wrote for the Tribune in September.

"What does the evidence say about mandatory minimums? 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consensus: 'If policymakers took account of research evidence (and informed practioners' views) existing laws would be repealed and no new ones would be enacted.'"

In other words, mandatory minimum proponents are like global warming deniers.


In particular, Emanuel and McCarthy repeatedly cite the experience of New York City to bolster their zealous pursuit of new mandatory minimum legislation. Unsurprisingly, the media lets them get away with it - over and over and over - without checking their claims.

The experience of New York City, though, is the best evidence against enacting the legislation that Emanuel and McCarthy have so forcefully sold as a panacea to the city's problem with violence.

"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 in January.

"'Guns = Prison,' public service posters proclaimed categorically. In 2006, the mandatory prison sentence was increased to 3.5 years from 1 year.

"Five years later, though, that equation seemed decidedly more equivocal.

"In 2011, the latest year for which sentencing statistics are available, 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, according to an analysis of criminal justice statistics by the mayor's office."

It turns out that mandatory minimums aren't as mandatory as proponents portray.

"Mandatory minimums are intended to remove the uncertainty that stems from the exercise of discretion, but they never work that way and instead simply take that discretion away from judges and give it to prosecutors, who become effectively responsible for charging and sentencing," Maki writes for The Huffington Post.

In fact, that's just what happened in New York City, despite what Emanuel and McCarthy tell you.

What's more, New York City's comparative success in decreasing gun violence is borne of the exact opposite approach that is being proposed here.

"Now that the United States has the world's highest reported rate of incarceration, many criminologists are contemplating another strategy," the Times's John Tierney wrote in January as part of his Time and Punishment series.

"What if America reverted to the penal policies of the 1980s? What if the prison population shrank drastically? What if money now spent guarding cellblocks was instead used for policing the streets?

"In short, what would happen if the rest of the country followed New York City's example?"

You mean like Emanuel and McCarthy say they are doing? Um, not quite.

Former NYC police chief William Bratton told Tierney that mandatory minimums were not the answer.

"We showed in New York that the future of policing is not in handcuffs," Bratton said. "The United States has locked up so many people that it has the highest incarceration rate in the world, but we can't arrest and incarcerate our way out of crime. We need to focus on preventing crime instead of responding to it."


Even conservatives who have historically supported mandatory minimums as a tough-on-crime measure are backtracking.

"George L. Kelling of the Manhattan Institute and John J. DiIulio Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, have joined with prominent scholars and politicians, including Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich, in a group called Right on Crime," Tierney reports.

"It advocates more selective incarceration and warns that current policies 'have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders' so that they become 'a greater risk to the public than when they entered.'"

In other words, the strategy Emanuel and McCarthy are pursuing is likely to make Chicago more violent, not less. More families will be left impovershed. And we'll pay through the nose to accomplish the opposite of what we're trying achive.

"[M]y guess is that the costs outweigh the benefits at the margins," says Freakonomics professor Steven Levitt, of the University of Chicago. "I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third."

Toni Preckwinkle gets it.

"I've been quite clear that I don't believe in mandatory minimums," said Preckwinkle, who also made it clear she was referring to both drug and gun crimes," the Tribune reports.

"I think that they're one of the reasons that our jails and our prisons are overcrowded, and they basically tie the judges' hands and eliminate judicial discretion, and the reason we have judges on the bench is to exercise discretion," Preckwinkle says.

"Preckwinkle also has noted the costs to society of get-tough-on-crime mandatory minimum sentences that 'often put nonviolent offenders - or people capable of rehabilitation - behind bars for long periods, making it less likely they can later launch a productive life.

"'All of these people, you know, unless we send them to jail for life, they eventually return to our communities,' Preckwinkle said, speaking to reporters after a County Board meeting. 'And the longer they stay in prison, the less employable and the more problematic their future outcome.'"

Preckwinkle has read the research - or didn't have to.


Not so the Tribune editorial board, including Kristen McQueary.


I'm sure voting Yes on this legislation will make many pols feel good about themselves, just as the sort of moralizing the Trib does must buck up their own feelings of superiority.

To wit:


That's just an incredibly dishonest argument to make, and a member of the Tribune editorial board ought to be above it. In fact, it's not an argument at all but just sheer demagoguery.



Exactly. (VanderKolk is the director of constituent services for Ald. John Arena.).


Unfortunately, politicians - and editorial boards - can be expected to pat themselves on the back for supporting measures that, on their face, seem like common sense. That's why it's up to reporters to take a deeper, more sophisticated look at policy proposals and their implications - especially when the research agrees so strongly with the view from the street. Instead, we have the Rahm and Gerry Show, unfactchecked for your consumption.


Photo Insight: Chicago Heartbreak


A Modest Transit Proposal
Part 2 in our series: Invest In What We Already Have.

"Right now, Chicago is an elaborate tomb for the once-dominant railroad industry. Unused tracks and abandoned embankments litter neighborhoods throughout the region. It's time to resurrect these features in service of the people who live here."

Keefin' Up With The Joneses
The Charms of Chella H, A Tribute To Trife, Behind The Empty Bottle, A Must-See Oozing Wound and more. In our Local Music Notebook.

Fantasy Fix: Top 10 Revisited
A reality check on all those running backs.


The Beachwood Tip Line: Safe harbor provisions apply.


Posted on October 16, 2013

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BOOKS - All About Poop.


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