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Would harsher sentencing have saved Hadiya Pendleton?

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“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.

He warns against using a high-profile case like Hadiya’s to push for sweeping sentencing mandates, saying that it neglects the “hundreds of thousands of young people who do better and change their lives” because they are exposed to education alternatives.

“Are you going to create criminal justice policies that impact thousands of people based on one case? Maybe education didn’t help this one individual but that’s not how you create policy,” Mr. Martin says.

The Chicago Tribune reports that, as part of Ward’s probation, he was ordered confined to his home at night for six months, and instructed to complete high school and attend an anti-violence forum.

Cook County’s probation process is under scrutiny after a Tribune investigation found that Ward was arrested three times for vehicle break-ins and trespassing while serving his probation. After two of those arrests, probation officers did not notify prosecutors or the judge. The county adult probation department said it is investigating.

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