Illinoisans Believe that Gun Violence is a Serious Problem but Oppose Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentences for Illegal Gun Possession (SB 1342)

Protest SB 1342 Mandatory Minimums on Monday, December 2 at 6 p.m. City Hall, 141 N. LaSalle, Chicago

“This is not a problem we can legislate away. We have to change the way people live and are educated. I’m a CPS teacher and a DePaul Law student, so what I’m constantly bombarded with are the inequities in the legal system and public education. Fix those and we can greatly reduce gun violence!”

 – Anonymous survey respondent

Chicago—(ENEWSPF)—December 2, 2013. An online survey by Project NIA shows strong public opposition to SB 1342, a mandatory minimum gun bill proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel & awaiting a vote by the Illinois General Assembly.

Nine out of 10 (93%) survey respondents oppose the passage of SB 1342. Moreover, Illinoisans don’t believe that mandatory minimum prison sentences reduce violence. In fact, 86% of Illinoisans disagree/strongly disagree with the statement:

“Mandatory minimum prison sentences (that take away judicial discretion) for illegal gun possession will reduce violence in Illinois.”

94% of those surveyed said that Illinois should NOT spend an estimated additional $780 million in prison costs over the next 10 years to pay for SB 1342.

The findings indicate support for an approach to gun violence that runs contrary to the punitive policy currently under consideration by the General Assembly.

Nearly nine out of 10 (89%) people surveyed believe that “Gun violence is a serious problem in Illinois.” However data released today show that more than 90 percent of Illinois respondents disagree/strongly disagree that “Incarceration produces positive changes in young people (21 & under) or in adults.”

The survey also found that when given choices outside of prison, Illinoisans support the following types of interventions for adults who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded): Vocation Training & Job Skills, Restorative Justice Program, and Employment. They favor Help getting a high school diploma or GED, Mentoring, and Restorative Justice Program for youth (21 & under) who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded).

“Illinoisans understand that SB 1342 will not actually make our communities safer, is too expensive, and will serve to criminalize more people,” said Project NIA director Mariame Kaba. “Respondents favor community-based alternatives as opposed to incarceration to address gun violence in Illinois.”

Only 37% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree that:  “Adults who illegally carry a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should be sentenced to prison.” Over 6 in 10 strongly disagree/disagree with that statement.

75% of respondents disagree/strongly disagree with the statement: “Young people (21 & under) who carry a gun illegally (whether unloaded or loaded) should be sentenced to prison.”

Only 16% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree that: “Adults who commit a FIRST-TIME offense of illegally possessing a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should serve a MANDATORY one-year prison sentence.”

Only 13% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree with the statement: Young people (21 & under) who commit a FIRST-TIME offense of illegally possessing a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should serve a MANDATORY one year prison sentence

Most Illinoisans don’t know how much it costs to incarcerate youth and adults in the state.  Only 34% correctly identified that it costs about $40,000 per year to incarcerate an adult & 20% correctly identified the $90,000 annual incarceration costs for juveniles.

While the rest of the country is moving away from mandatory minimum prison sentences because research and experience suggest that they don’t work, Illinois has been moving towards them.  It appears that the public is ahead of the policymakers again and favors a focus on rehabilitation and community-based alternatives instead of more incarceration.

Legislators and policymakers should take heed.  There is no popular demand for the ‘tough on crime’ bills that politicians often offer as a solution to violence and harm. The desire is for less punishment and to focus instead on the root causes of violence. Additional information about the survey is available on http://niastories.wordpress.com/.

The survey was carried out online by Project NIA. It was administered from November 20 through November 29. 571responses were collected from across Illinois. 

On Monday December 2, a group of people from across Chicago will gather at City Hall at 6 p.m. to protest SB 1342 and demand a focus instead on the root causes of violence. Details for this event are here:  http://niastories.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/december-2-shine-a-light-on-mandatory-minimums/

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About Project NIA

Launched in 2009, Project NIA is an advocacy, organizing, popular education, research, and capacity-building center with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. The organization believes that several simultaneous approaches are necessary in order to develop and sustain community-based alternatives to the system of policing and incarceration. Project NIA’s mission is to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth crime and to instead promote the use of restorative and transformative practices, a concept that relies on community-based alternatives.

About SB 1342

SB 1342 “would strip judges of their discretion in sentencing persons convicted of gun possession. Regardless of the criminal intent of the defendant or circumstances surrounding the case, judges would be required to impose “mandatory minimum sentences” on such defendants.

And, SB 1342 does not simply increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun possession; the bill would actually create a new mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence for people without any prior convictions whose only mistake is having an unloaded gun with ammunition nearby and no Illinois gun card (Belcore, 2013).”  http://www.theshriverbrief.org/2013/11/articles/community-justice/mandatory-minimums-too-costly-and-too-ineffective/

Source: project-nia.org