Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pass the right anti-gang bill

TalkLeft, a top notch blog about the "politics of crime" has a great post today about the flawed gang bill that the House has advanced and the better alternative being proposed by Senators Dick Durbin and Russ Feingold.

The House bill contains unwise minimum sentencing requirements that allows a judge, who is familiar with the details of a given criminal case and the circumstances of the defendant, no discretion in sentencing. The House also ignores evidence that transferring juveniles involved in gang crime to be prosecuted in the adult system is bad policy. According to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition which Durbin quotes in his statement:
Comprehensive national research on the practice of prosecuting youth in the adult system has shown conclusively that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does nothing to reduce crime and actually has the opposite effect. In fact, study after study has shown that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to re-offend and to commit more serious crimes upon release than youth who were charged with similar offenses and had similar offense histories but remained in the juvenile justice system.

Feingold's statement has this to say about the ANTI-GANG bill he has co-authored with Durbin:
....The ANTI-GANG Act also replaces the current Federal RICO statute, which was never intended to be used against violent street gangs, with a tough statute that not only criminalizes participation in criminal street gangs, but also addresses the serious problem of the recruitment and retention of gang members. [Emphasis mine]

Although the House bill is supported by the Bush Administration, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is at odds with it. As he said:
I don't want Hispanic kids to not go to school and not get an education. Sure, we may be able to prosecute them and put them in jail, but that represents a lost future as employees, as future leaders in our community. We can't afford it.

The House's bill seems to be concerned with the appearance of being tough on crime. In the process, its provisions will likely create more crime, because it will condemn youth offenders to adult jails populated by thriving gang life that encourages further membership and tends to offer less in the way of rehabilitation and education, as described in books like My Bloody Life. No one in this debate is trying to advance policies that will create more crime, but the policy that appears tougher on crime--the House bill--seems to be moving away from the actual intended goal of reducing gang activity. Social policy is like medicine in the sense that preventive maintenance is the best and cheapest way to diffuse a future ailment. If the goal here is to reduce gang activity, and it should be, Durbin and Feingold's bill should prevail, though I fear it won't.

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