Developing Safer Alternatives to Gun-Related Criminal Penalties

    Project: Research project

    Description

    Provide an executive summary of the proposed project.
    The project involves law and practice research, policy analysis, communications, and convening, and strategic planning in aid of developing criminal justice system reforms that are a) developmentally-appropriate and b) reduce overall gun violence while c) reducing racial disproportionality in both injury and punishment.

    While gun culture and criminalization are polarized nationally, the Great Lakes region contains some of its most extreme examples. Its wide range of urban, suburban, and rural approaches to gun-related behavior mirror its equally wide range of criminal penalties and their disproportionate use. While Illinois (the subject of a parallel Joyce project) has some of the longest and most mandatory penalties in the country, other states in the region structure their criminal code very differently. Due to the criminogenic effects of prison as well as the negative externalities imposed upon families and community that lead to additional instability, the entire region would benefit from an inquiry into, and move toward, best practices.

    One example area is unlawful weapons possession, particularly firearms. A preliminary data snapshot using Cook County, Illinois data for a recent 5-year period shows approximately:
    - 10,000 sentences issued for weapons possession charges in criminal (adult) court
    - 5,000 of them as the primary charge (“primarily possession” sentences)

    Of the 5,000 “primarily possession” adult sentences:
    - Most (96.8%) were for boys and men
    - Most (80%) were for African-Americans (an additional 16% were Hispanic/Latinx)
    - Most (64.2%) were for young adults aged 17-25
    - Most (92%) young adults received a felony
    - Most (82.4%) young adults with a felony received a prison sentence

    Cumulatively, research shows that most young people in Chicago carry guns for defensive motivations; that young Black men are at particular risk of being shot, and that Cook County sentenced more young Black men to state prison for “primarily possession” weapon offenses than any other ethnicity or age group.

    Research into other states’ law and practice may be instructive. Preliminary review shows that “primarily possession” offenses are significantly less punitive and prison is less mandatory in the other Great Lakes states. Whether useful comparisons between imprisonment rates, gun violence rates, or racial disparities within prison and violent victimization may be made remains to be seen.

    On another track, much progress has been made in considering new approaches to juvenile and young adult justice. However, the field is plagued with natural tension about what options (jurisdiction; sentencing; custodial setting; records relief) are best to address issues in a developmentally-appropriate manner and what cohorts (age; offense type; offense level) may be served or excluded by specific interventions - and gun-related behavior should be a part of the conversation. There are also strategic questions to consider regarding which reforms should be pursued in what order to provide broad relief in a short period of time, while avoiding
    sudden caseload spikes and ensuring proper resources for implementation. And while excellent research and advocacy is well underway, the field is due for a working session to consider how to engage in mutually beneficial messaging, planning, and negotiation, to amplify bandwidth.

    For these reasons, our proposal has three components:
    1) Great Lakes and Gun Laws: Collect and analyze criminal approaches to gun offenses in the region, al
    StatusActive
    Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/21

    Funding

    • Joyce Foundation (SG-19-4005)

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    possession
    penalty
    correctional institution
    offense
    young adult
    weapon
    justice
    violence
    reform
    Law
    criminalization
    state law
    imprisonment
    research policy
    strategic planning
    victimization
    best practice
    jurisdiction
    age group
    communications