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Our View: Shoot down mandatory sentences

Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy are trying to push a gun law through the Illinois Legislature during next week’s veto session that Illinois doesn’t need.

The Chicago leaders are calling for a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

While we sympathize with the large challenge of curbing violent crime in Chicago, mandatory minimum sentences have proved to be bad ideas more times than not.

Judges are elected and appointed to carry out sentences, and each case is considered on its own merits. There is professional input on sentencing from court services personnel, prosecutors, sometimes psychologists and often victims.

Judges have plenty of information to determine what they believe is a fair sentence based on the law and the sentencing range for a particular charge. Cases simply don’t fit into cookie-cutter scenarios, which is exactly why judges have a range to consider.

Legislators often like mandatory minimum laws so they can brag about how they’re tough on crime. But not only are mandatory minimum laws simplistic solutions, they’re expensive ones. There are also plenty of gun laws already on the books.

Illinois has one of the most crowded prison systems in the country. The state has been releasing prisoners early because there is simply nowhere to house them.

Illinois Department of Corrections officials estimate that this mandatory minimum sentence would add 4,000 new prisoners to the system at an estimated cost of $900 million over the next decade.

We’d urge legislators not to take the bait to look tough on crime for their constituents by passing laws that aren’t economically viable and leave a phony impression of justice.

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