Bluhm Legal Clinic memo pushes back on mandatory minimums

Joseph Diebold, Campus Editor

Northwestern School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic jumped into a hot political debate Friday over mandatory minimum sentencing for serious gun crimes, releasing a memo on “evidence-based solutions.”

Stephanie Kollmann and Dominique Nong, both fellows in the clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center, authored the memo, which argues that mandatory minimum sentencing does not lead to reductions in gun violence.

“Although we are all deeply disturbed by gun violence — each death is another tragedy and a call for action — our responses must be smart, strategic and grounded in evidence-based solutions,” the memo reads. “The evidence indicates, repeatedly, that mandatory minimum sentences will not reduce gun violence. On the contrary, such restrictions are not only costly, but also counterproductive.”

The study cites states such as Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan, which have enacted mandatory sentencing laws, and alleges they have found them ineffective at stopping crime. The study also attempts to push back against the “New York myth,” the notion that a 2007 mandatory sentencing law enacted in New York City was a factor in the city’s recent drop in crime.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed mandatory minimums in February, proposing legislation to increase minimum sentences for gun crimes and ensure that those convicted of such crimes serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

“Criminals continue to escape with minor sentences for possessing and using firearms, and these light penalties do not reflect the severity of their crimes nor the damage they cause our communities,” Emanuel said at the time. “Increasing these penalties and requiring minimum sentences will ensure criminals are held accountable and discourage criminals from carrying and using guns.”

Although it is strong in its condemnation of mandatory minimum laws, the memo offers hope for confronting gun violence with other policy solutions, including problem-oriented policing and prosecution and intervention programs.

“But there is good news: other approaches to reducing gun violence show great promise. Conducted outside of the criminal court process — in the real world, where effects are more concrete and immediate — these approaches have been proven to reduce risky behavior and violence, with significantly less damage to our justice and corrections systems as well as our social fabric,”  the authors wrote. “Together with targeted enforcement of existing Illinois laws that provide for harsh gun sentences where appropriate, these initiatives offer real solutions to gun violence.”

— Joseph Diebold