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Would harsher sentencing have saved Hadiya Pendleton?

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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.

“There’s little incentive to not plea if [the offender] knows they are going to get an automatic period of time, so they plea down, which they often do,” he adds. “These penalties are often mandatory in name only.”

Moreover, Professor Paitakes of Seton Hall says that in nonviolent gun cases involving minors, probation remains the first choice.

The reason is that “the longer you keep people in prison and alienating them from their community,” the greater the chance they will return to criminal behavior when they eventually reenter society, says Glenn Martin, vice president of public affairs for the Fortune Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

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