When Gov. Brian Kemp’s anti-gang bill dropped last week, criminal justice reform advocates were stunned.
As initially written, HB 994 would’ve drastically increased the number of crimes for which juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 would be charged as adults, if the offenses were gang related. Groups including the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights urged residents to express alarm to lawmakers about a bill that “disregards science about brain development” in children and makes Georgia’s already “harsh” gang legislation “worse.” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, whose office prosecutes gangs every day, went to a House committee hearing to express her concern with the bill.
By Monday afternoon, the administration had changed the anti-gang bill to require prosecutors to ask juvenile judges to move gang-tied cases in order to transfer alleged gang members to the adult system. Also added to the bill was a mandate for the Department of Juvenile Justice to put convicted juvenile gang members through an “evidence-based” gang rehabilitation program. But opposition to the legislation remains and the cold reception illustrates a key problem Kemp faces in his push against gangs: those same vocal groups who praised former Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice overhauls are just as willing to lambaste Kemp as he proposes “tough-on-crime” legislation.
The current version of the bill, which hasn’t come up for a vote in the House yet, would let prosecutors attack gangs in a variety of ways. The bill would add new crimes, which are often attributed to gangs, to the list that lands a person on the sex offender registry: burglary if the intent is to commit a sexual offense; keeping a place of prostitution; pimping; pandering; and any gang crime that involves a sex offense or an attempt to commit a sex offense. The convictions would have to be felonies to land the person on the registry.
“Law enforcement agencies across our state consistently report gang violence and criminal gang activity as the biggest challenge they face on a daily basis,” the statement said. “HB 994 gives prosecutors and public safety officials more tools in their tool belt to stop these criminals from terrorizing innocent Georgians.”
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