Opposing the 'Gangbuster Bill'

The Washington Post has an excellent editorial today opposing the Anti-Gang bill that has passed the House. A much different and less punitive version is pending in the Senate. The editorial notes that while the Administration is pushing for the House bill, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales doesn't like it:

While Mr. Gonzales's day job requires him to concentrate on clamping down on gangs through law enforcement, he acknowledges that investigations and prosecutions are only a partial answer. A comprehensive strategy, he believes, must include education, prevention and rehabilitation. "I don't want Hispanic kids to not go to school and not get an education," he said. "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."

In a nutshell, here's what's wrong with the House bill:

[It] would unwisely federalize many local street crimes, stripping them from state prosecution if they could be tied even tenuously to gang activity. The so-called gangbusters bill would also establish mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, which remove much flexibility from sentencing and make little allowance for the circumstances of individual defendants; similar federal and state schemes have proved unfair and harmful.

It would also provide for the death penalty for some state murder offenses.

Background on older, equally draconian Senate versions of the bill introduced initially by Diane Feinstein and Orrin Hatch is here and here. Amendments proposed by Senators Dick Durbin and Ted Kennedy that would have deleted the worst of the provisions were rejected, and the bill passed a Senate Committee vote in June, 2004. Thankfully, it then got stalled.

In 2005, Sens. Durbin, Kennedy, Leahy and Feingold introduced their version of the Anti-Gang Act. (S. 1322) It is primarily a prevention funding act, does not provide for the death penalty or contain mandatory minimum sentences, and does not provide for mandatory transfer of juveniles to the adult system. Given the public's perception of gang violence, some version of a bill is likely to pass. If we have to choose between the House and current Senate version, it's a no-brainer: we must work to ensure the House version fails.

Here is a portion of Senator Durbin's statement in introducing the bill:

This bill achieves these important goals without increasing any mandatory minimum sentences, which conservative jurists such as Justice Anthony Kennedy have criticized as "unfair, unjust, unwise." It also does not unnecessarily expand the Federal death penalty--a measure which has been included in other Federal gang legislation but is opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, ACLU, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Finally, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition has raised the following concerns regarding Federal gang legislation that would allow more juveniles to be prosecuted as adults in the Federal system: "[T]he fact remains that transfer of youth to the adult system, simply put, is a failed public policy. 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. Moreover, national data show that

In light of these concerns, the ANTI-GANG Act provides Congress with the necessary data to decide whether to expand the Federal role in prosecuting juvenile offenders, by requiring a comprehensive report on the current treatment of juveniles by the States and the capability of the Federal criminal justice system to take on these additional cases and house additional prisoners. The American Bar Association has written that this study is "the more prudent course of action at this time."

Senator Feingold (same link) observed:

....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. The ANTI-GANG Act targets gang violence and gang crimes in a logical, straightforward manner. The bill also recognizes that the vast majority of gang investigations and prosecutions have been and will continue to be done at the State and local level. The bill requires that Federal prosecutors consult with State and local law enforcement and certify that a Federal prosecution is in the public interest

Another benefit of the Senate bill is that it provides for student loan forgiveness for prosecutors and public defenders. This has been floating around for several years. It was last included but then dumped from the Innocence Protection Act. It has now found a home in the Senate version of the Anti-Gang bill. This is a very important bill to pass. It will encourage more graduating law students to enter public service. Right now, the cost of a legal education is so high that most students can't afford to go into the public sector. Check out the ABA's resource page on the bill.


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    Re: Opposing the 'Gangbuster Bill' (none / 0) (#1)
    by Quaker in a Basement on Thu Sep 01, 2005 at 08:35:01 AM EST
    The editorial says "gang violence is a threat to communities," thus we need new, tougher laws to combat it. However, the editorial neglects to tell us anything about the violence that's taking place. What kind of crimes are being recorded? How many? Against whom? I'm not doubting that there's crime happening. I'm asking how anyone can make an informed decision about the cure when they don't really know the dimensions of the problem.

    Re: Opposing the 'Gangbuster Bill' (none / 0) (#2)
    by DawesFred60 on Thu Sep 01, 2005 at 03:28:46 PM EST
    The gangbuster bill can and will be used against the non gang member, and if gonzales hates the bill its for a reason his family "the mexican government", may not like it. read Quaker in a basement, he is right.

    Re: Opposing the 'Gangbuster Bill' (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:24 PM EST
    I'm asking how anyone can make an informed decision about the cure when they don't really know the dimensions of the problem. Look at sex offender legislation for that answer. All those laws were passed without you being told the true magnitude of the problem. Why was that? Simple. Because the cure doesn't address the disease. Seems rather pointless to pass laws alleging to protect kids from sex offenders when those sex offenders reoffend at an extremely low 3.5% rate and 80% of sex offenses are committed by persons who have never been arrested for a sex offense before. Most often that person is a parent or sibling of the victim. All you need to know about gang violence is that your elected Congressperson said it exists, therefore this is what will stop it. Don't go second-guessing them:-))