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Boot camp less effective than prison for gun offenders: study

Sun-Times Library

Sun-Times Library

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Updated: December 25, 2013 6:08AM

Gun offenders sentenced to boot camp are more likely to be rearrested than those sent to prison, a new analysis suggests.

The findings come two months after a mass shooting at a South Side park raised questions about why one of the suspects was sent to boot camp instead of prison for an earlier gun-possession conviction.

Bryon Champ, 21, was among those charged in the shooting, which left 13 wounded Sept. 19 in Cornell Square Park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Fourteen months earlier, he was convicted of gun possession and sentenced to the Cook County Jail’s four-month boot camp for non-violent offenders.

Boot camp is intended to reduce the chance of inmates committing new crimes after they are released. Inmates can learn job skills and obtain a GED in the military-style setting.

But an analysis conducted for Chicago Sun-Times showed a higher percentage of people convicted of gun possession in 2011 were rearrested after they completed boot camp than those released from prison.

About 57 percent of the inmates sentenced to county boot camp for gun possession were arrested for a new crime within a year of their release — compared with about 38 percent of those who were released from state prison.

Almost 8 percent of the boot camp inmates were arrested for a violent crime within a year of their release — compared with less than 5 percent of the inmates sent to prison, according to a University of Chicago Crime Lab analysis of Chicago Police Department arrest data.

The crime lab cautioned against drawing strong inferences from the data because of the small sample size. The analysis included 63 people sent to boot camp for gun possesion and 464 sent to state prison for the same crime.

Currently, anyone convicted of gun possession can be sentenced to boot camp instead of prison because they are not considered violent offenders under state law.

Boot camp is supposed to be restricted to non-violent offenders, although a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found Cook County judges have been improperly sentencing hundreds of violent offenders to the program, too.

Last year, about 70 people were sentenced to boot camp for illegal gun possession. About a dozen people convicted of gun possession were housed in the program at the beginning of November.

A bill pending in the General Assembly would prohibit boot camp for two categories of illegal gun possession: felons caught with firearms and gang members caught with guns.

The bill would also raise the mandatory minimum sentence to three years in prison from one year. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and police Supt. Garry McCarthy support the legislation, saying it provides certainty of punishment for gun crimes.

John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said he is strongly opposed to boosting mandatory minimums for gun offenders.

“The overwhelming consensus on mandatory minimums is they don’t work,” he said. “The way you do this is through better policing.”

But Maki said he is not opposed to barring gun offenders from boot camp if research shows prison is more effective in preventing them from getting rearrested.


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