Criminal Justice Interventions to Reduce Firearm-Related Violence

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This chapter reviews the state of knowledge of the effectiveness of criminal

justice interventions aimed at reducing deliberate or accidental injuries

or deaths from firearms. The policies are: (1) gun courts, (2) enhanced

sentences for criminal uses of firearms, and (3) problem-oriented policing

to prevent firearm-related crimes. These interventions have had recent broad

bipartisan support and are a major focus of the federal government’s ongoing

efforts to reduce firearm-related violence. In particular, over $500 million

has been devoted to Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program designed

to provide funds to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators,

provide training, and develop and promote community outreach

efforts (for further details, see http://www.psn.gov/about.asp\). The research

evidence, however, is mixed. In some cases, the committee found

evidence that programs may be effective, in others the evidence suggests

that programs may have negligible effects, and in others the evidence base

is lacking.

GUN COURTS

Gun courts, which are descendants of the drug court movement of the

1990s, generally target particular types of offenders for quicker, and sometimes

tougher, processing in community-based courts. Gun courts operate

differently across jurisdictions but typically feature small caseloads, frequent

hearings, immediate sanctions, family involvement, and treatment

services. Little research has been conducted on the operations and crime

prevention effectiveness of gun courts. Most available knowledge comes

from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s examination

of a juvenile gun court operating in Jefferson County, Alabama.

The Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court in Birmingham, Alabama,

focuses on first-time juvenile gun offenders. Its core components include a

28-day boot camp, a parent education program, a substance abuse program,

intensive follow-up supervision, and community service (Office of

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). Birmingham’s juvenile

gun court is administered as part of the family court and provides

services to offenders and their families. The juvenile gun court seeks to

provide swift consequences by reviewing incoming cases within 72 hours

and trying them within 10 working days. The court also attempts to

provide certain consequences by providing judges with the authority to

impose mandatory detention of juvenile offenders, with judicial discretion

as to whether juvenile cases are eligible for diversion. All offenders attend

the 28-day boot camp, and the court can add more time to a youth’s stay

for various infractions. While the juveniles attend boot camp, parents

attend an education program that includes training on improving youthparent

communication skills and discussions of the impact of firearmrelated

violence on victims, perpetrators, and families. Parents who fail

to complete the program may be arrested and jailed. After the youths

return from boot camp, they are required to participate in substance

abuse classes for six weeks, take mandatory weekly drug tests during this

time period, and perform community service work, such as neighborhood

and graffiti cleanup. Probation officers and transition aides provide intensive

follow-up supervision, and parental involvement is required

throughout the adjudication process.

An evaluation of the Birmingham juvenile gun court compared the case

processing records and recidivism rates for three groups of juvenile gun

offenders: a group of Birmingham juveniles with limited prior offenses who

participated in the gun court’s core components, a group of Birmingham

juveniles with prior offenses who received short juvenile correction commitments

and did not receive after-care monitoring, and a comparison

group of juveniles from a nearby city who did not participate in a gun court

program (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002).

The evaluation revealed that the Birmingham gun court group had significantly

lower levels of recidivism (17 percent) than the Birmingham nongun

court group (37 percent) and the comparison group (40 percent). The

evaluators also found that having a prior gun offense (common to youth in

the nongun court groups) increased the odds of recidivism (Office of Juvenile

Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). The evaluation did not

provide an estimate of the extent to which the differences among the groups

in prior gun offending could account for some of the observed recidivism

reductions.