Profile No. 37

Gun Court -- Providence, RI

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Court-related program.

Program Goal:
To prosecute and sentence violent adults who use guns.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Persons charged with gun offenses.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
City of Providence, RI, and surrounding counties.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection/legislative review.

Contact Information:
Susan Revens
Superior Court
250 Benefit Street
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: 401­222­3288

Years of Operation:

The Nation's first Gun Court was established in the Providence, RI, Superior Court in September 1994. After gaining the support of both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun control groups, enabling legislation passed with only one negative vote. A 1989 law had provided for minimum sentencing for carrying a gun in committing a crime of violence: first offense, 3­10 years; second offense, 10­20 years; and third offense, 15 years to life. Nevertheless, gun crimes continued to escalate. Before the Gun Court, sentences were imposed in only 67 percent of cases (sentences include terms of probation). The average time to disposition was 518 days.

The new legislation created a separate Gun Court calendar concurrent with all other Superior Court calendars and required that any case involving a gun be scheduled for trial within 60 days of completion of discovery. Automatic referral of such cases to the Gun Court calendar is part of an administrative routine and does not require a hearing. No evaluation has been conducted to assess the effect on reducing gun-related crime or charges; however, the speed of disposition and level and certainty of punishment have been enhanced.

Of 866 cases assigned to the Gun Court calendar between September 1994 and October 1998, 794 have been concluded, 82 percent of which have resulted in sentences. Of those cases that resulted in sentences, 19 percent have completed their sentences, 25 percent have less than 2 years left to serve, 11 percent have 2 to 5 years left to serve, 4 percent have 5 to 10 years left to serve, and 6 percent have more than 10 years left to serve. Thirty-five percent received a suspended or deferred sentence or probation. Only 3 percent were found not guilty; 10 percent were dismissed. Case disposition time has been reduced by 311 percent to 126 days.

Officials believe the Gun Court sends the message that, if you use a gun in Providence, you are going to jail. NRA augmented this message by paying for billboards that stated, "Gun Court is now in session."

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Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence OJJDP Report