By Wendell Hutson
Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader
A group of Black parents who lost their children to gun violence joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a recent news conference to urge state lawmakers to pass tougher gun laws. The parents of slain teenager Hadiya Pendleton and Chicago police officer Thomas Wortham IV said until tougher penalties, such as lengthy prison sentences, are put in place gun violence would continue.
“Every day I wake up with the reminder that I’m in a world without her, without her love (and) laughter,” Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton said of her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya, who was killed in January. Pendleton, along with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, are urging lawmakers in Springfield to pass House Bill 2265, which would increase the man- datory minimum sentence for illegally having a gun. Michael Ward, 18, is one of two men charged with shooting Hadiya in a park and was on probation for a gun offense the day she was shot.
Not everyone however, is convinced mandatory prison time is the solution to reducing gun violence. The Illinois Office of Management and Budget expects that if passed, the law would add 3,860 inmates to state prisons and cost nearly $1 billion in combined operating and construction expenses over a 10-year period.
“Mandatory minimums undermine the integrity of the justice system by weakening the role of judges in determining proper punishments, increasing the powers of prosecutors beyond their proper roles, and driving record-high prison populations, which have had a devastatingly disproportionate impact on minorities and the communities that are experiencing the most violence,” contends John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Associat- ion, a prison watchdog group. McCarthy said Chicago has to start somewhere when it comes to combating gun violence and new laws are one way to approach it. “It’s an entire strategy to reduce incarceration rates, but at the same time putting the right people in prison. By putting the right people in prison the deterrence value [shows] that people stopped carrying guns at the level that they used too,” McCarthy said.
The mayor agreed. “The weakest link is the fact that they’re not strong enough, which is what this law would deal with and making sure that penalties for illegal gun possession and usage act as the deterrent that they need to be, which they aren’t today,” Emanuel said.
When Cowley-Pendleton found out that a man, who already had been convicted of a gun crime, murdered her daughter, she was devastated. “Learning that my daughter’s alleged murderer had been in jail for another gun crime was devastating. It’s like rubbing salt in an open wound. It’s like losing her all over again,” Cowley-Pendleton said. And she added that House Bill 2265 also would show that carrying a gun could have stiff consequences. “In my community carrying an illegal gun is no big deal, but it needs to be a big deal. Some think about guns as an accessory, but what they need to know is that it is a crime, a homicide waiting to happen,” she said. “The point here is not to throw more people in jail. The goal is to make it up front to those individuals that carry illegal weapons that jail time is in fact a real consequence. That’s what needs to be clear.”
However, locking up gun law offenders could actually save taxpayers money in the long run, according to a study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
A cost-benefit analysis found that more than 63 percent of those on probation for unlawful use of a weapon are arrested again for the same crime within a year, with 7 percent rearrested for a violent crime. “We estimate the average social cost of crime committed by this population of . . . probationers per year is equal to $115,602, more than five times the estimated cost of incarceration per person per year,” the study stated.
The study estimated that the law would avert more than 3,800 crimes, including more than 400 violent crimes.
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