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Mandatory Minimums Show Need for Prison Reform, Says Think Tank

By Ted Cox | October 29, 2013 3:14pm
 Paula Wolff, of Metropolis Strategies, says prison reform is necessary before mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes can be implemented.
Paula Wolff, of Metropolis Strategies, says prison reform is necessary before mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes can be implemented.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

RIVER NORTH — The push for mandatory minimum sentences on gun crimes only proves the need for prison reform, according to a business-oriented Chicago think tank.

Paula Wolff, senior executive on justice and violence for Metropolis Strategies, said the Chicago-based agency hadn't yet come to a firm position on mandatory minimums. Yet she said, in any case, it shows the need for nonviolent criminals to be released.

"It's important for us that this is going to put more people in prison," Wolff said, adding it's essential to determine detainees "who aren't violent criminals and keep them out of prison, otherwise it will be extremely expensive."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy have both insisted that a three-year minimum sentence for gun violations, modeled on laws that have had an effect in New York, is necessary to stem the tide of Chicago's gun violence.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has resisted the call for mandatory minimums, saying it would only put more people in jail and draw on already precious government resources. McCarthy has argued that mandatory minimums in New York have led to fewer guns, fewer crimes and fewer criminals going to jail.

"I think the superintendent's position is it will act as a deterrent," Wolff said Tuesday at a media briefing held at Harry Caray's Restaurant. "The research doesn't necessarily substantiate that."

According to Wolff, a recent University of Chicago Crime Lab study "suggests there may be a connection" between higher sentences and reduced crime, but she added, "The preponderance of of the research suggests that this doesn't serve as a deterrent."

Wolff said Metropolis Strategies, a business-oriented Chicago policy group since 1999, will keep an open mind and monitor additional research. Yet she repeated the agency's goal was "ultimately to change some of our sentencing laws."

According to state figures cited by the agency, Adult Redeploy Illinois, an initiative begun two years ago to encourage early release for nonviolent criminals, has seen more than 1,000 state prisoners released at an estimated savings of $18.7 million.

Metropolis Strategies has pushed for Cook County to implement Juvenile Redeploy.

"People can be smart on crime, not just tough on crime," Wolff said. She emphasized the importance of balancing public safety with the public interest in getting nonviolent criminals out of jail.

"The appropriate people belong in prison," she added.