Critics say Kemp’s new anti-gang bill will criminalize children

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Governor Brian Kemp announced his new anti-gang bill in January leaving some communities stunned. Organizations like the Deep Center in Savannah are asking people to oppose it.

House Bill 994 would try children ages 13-17 as adults in superior court if their charges are gang-related. It would take away some legal services for them and lengthen prison sentences.

Ridding Georgia of gang violence has been the goal of previous administrations but Governor Brian Kemp’s new anti-gang bill has come under fire.

“I think our general concern is that the narrative that’s being used to push the need for this bill is an old narrative that’s as old as this country that frames brown and black children as bad from birth and in need of discipline and punishment,” Deep Center Executive Director, Dare Dukes said.

Deep Center advocates said this bill will hurt young people.

“I find that not only young people feel targeted but so do their families,” Tiffany Roberts with the Southern Center for Human Rights said.

The bill says a gang is any three young people who are suspected of working together doing criminal activities. It would ultimately try the individuals aged 13-17 as adults.

“What this bill will do is it will incentivize law enforcement and prosecutors to sweep young people especially into the criminal legal system unnecessarily by painting them as dangerous gang members,” Roberts said.

Roberts is calling this a rollback from previous gang reform.

“The previous gang law provided that judges when asked by prosecutors, may hold a transfer hearing. What this law says is when asked by prosecutors judges must hold the transfer hearing,” Roberts said.

There were some changes to the language of the bill but what hasn’t changed is prosecutors requiring judges to hold hearings. They no longer have the discretion to decide whether to send juveniles to adult court.

“Savannah, as anybody will tell you who lives here, has a violence problem and we’re all deeply concerned about it but the tough on crimes solutions strategies that this bill is suggesting has been proven not to work,” Dukes said.

Roberts tells News 3 this bill is not a solution to rehabilitating the lives of young individuals but it makes it harder as Georgia already has one of the strictest gang laws in the country.

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