Activists in Georgia say a new bill being proposed by five state lawmakers will lead to the mass incarceration of children as young as 13. It’s known as the Gang Bill (House Bill 994), and it was sponsored by State Representatives Bert Reeves, Barry Fleming, Chuck Efstration, Andy Welch, and Ginny Ehrhart.
The bill comes on the heels of Georgia making substantial changes to reform the criminal justice system. By the end of former Governor Nathan Deal’s final term, the State had created an accountability court, reduced mandatory minimum sentences, allowed prosecutors to choose diversion programs, and reduced certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanor offenses.
It currently costs the state $20,000 a year to house an inmate, and the changes kept hundreds of young men and women out of the system.
Although Georgia is already home to the toughest gang laws in the nation, the five lawmakers are seeking:
* To expand the definition of “criminal gang activity” to include charges such as felony obstruction or hindering a law enforcement officer and burglary with intent to commit a sexual offense
* To establish “criminal gang activity” as a criterion for juvenile courts to consider for adult prosecution
* To create multiple counts of criminal gang activity for similar conduct
* and to allow civil actions against people alleged to be in a gang
District Attorneys across Georgia have stated that they find the bill to be “problematic.”
DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying, “I do not think this bill is necessary. I am very concerned about moving juveniles out of the juvenile system into the adult criminal system. The resources and the things we’re doing in the juvenile system are dedicated to the rehabilitation and turn around. The adult system just isn’t.”
Activists in Georgia are encouraging residents to learn about House Bill 883, which is sponsored by Rep. Carl Gifford. The bill would create a task force to work with schools, community organizations, and social service agencies to develop initiatives to sway teens and young adults from gangs.