Former prosecutor: Gangster Larry Hoover belongs right where he is — a supermax prison

Is life imprisonment without parole a fair sentence for Hoover’s crimes? Yes, it is.

SHARE Former prosecutor: Gangster Larry Hoover belongs right where he is — a supermax prison

Gang leader Larry Hoover in 1993


Larry Hoover was the undisputed leader of the largest monolithic gang in our nation’s history. At its height, the Gangster Disciples numbered more than 30,000 members across 28 states. They sold more than $100 million of drugs a year in Illinois and were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people each year in Chicago. 

The evidence at Hoover’s trial left no doubt that he was guilty; his own words captured on tape made it clear that he had ironclad control over this drug empire. And he was no collateral victim of law enforcement; he ran this criminal enterprise while serving 150 years for a young Black man’s death — shot six times in the head — one of four men Hoover ordered killed.

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Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell asks: Why are the feds so afraid of letting the 70-year-old former gang leader out of a supermax prison? The question carries a false premise. A better question: Is life imprisonment without parole a fair sentence for Hoover’s crimes? I am not impartial. I led the prosecution of Hoover and other top GD leaders. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s angst over legitimate societal problems has no application to the question of Hoover’s sentence.

Under-investment in the African American community in Chicago is real and must be addressed. Now. Economic opportunity will help alleviate our gang problem. Mary Mitchell implies that Hoover is kept in prison for fear he will “shine a spotlight on the terrible conditions that still exist in Black and Brown communities.” But if the events of this past year have not shone a spotlight on these issues, nothing will. 

What did Hoover do for those communities? He exploited the people of the South Side and West Side of Chicago. He took money from people who needed it for food and gave them drugs. He put guns in the hands of pre-teens and young teens so they could be shot at and arrested while making him money.

No doubt, there are bad police officers, but no drugs were planted on Hoover. His commands directing the corruption of our youth in support of his drug enterprise,  and the execution of those orders on the street — all captured on tape — convicted him. Mass incarceration is a real issue. But we did not prosecute hundreds of culpable young Black men who we saw as Hoover’s victims. Only the top leaders of the gang merited federal prosecution and the severity of life imprisonment.

The hopelessness of a life sentence is horrible, and I have sympathy for Hoover as a person and for his family. I supported First Act Relief for several of his co-defendants. I took no joy in Hoover’s sentence the day it was imposed and I take no joy in it today. But it was a just sentence. His decades of drug trafficking, the thousands of lives he ruined, and the countless murders committed by his followers required it. 

At some point, every person in prison for life will become harmless and physically ill. For a few, their crimes demand that they die in prison. Larry Hoover embodies that rule, not the exception.

Ronald S. Safer, Chicago

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