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Would harsher sentencing have saved Hadiya Pendleton?

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“We really want to make sure they [minors] finish high school,” says John Paitakes, a criminal justice professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and a former probation officer. “One risk of getting someone too far into the system is they are going to get more criminalized. So the best chance of reducing adult crime is to deal with juveniles and divert and prevent them from adult crime.”

The issue has great urgency in Chicago because homicides here surpassed 500 last year. Police say Hadiya’s death was part of a three-year battle between two gang factions. Ward and Kenneth Williams, who police say are members of a Gangster Disciples splinter group, mistook the group that Hadiya was with as a rival gang. Both men were charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and remain in custody.

Ward received two years' probation for the 2012 weapons charge because he was a minor. For weapons violations in Illinois, a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison applies only to offenders age 18 or older. 

Superintendent McCarthy said Monday that Chicago needs harsher mandatory minimum jail sentences for all gun offenses, similar to those currently in effect in New York City.

But mandatory minimums don’t necessarily keep criminals of the streets, says Brian Wyant, a criminal justice professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia who studies gun violence.

Prosecutors primarily use mandatory-minimum sentencing laws to “have more leverage to get guilty pleas,” he says.

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