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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anti-gang bills leave committee

Twin bills sponsored by Mercer County's-own Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman were released this week by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, as the assemblywoman's anti-gang legislation continues on its path to being passed into law.

The bills represent two different ends of the spectrum in dealing with New Jersey's burgeoning gang problem.

One helps reformed felons transition back into the normal world through providing rehabilitation certificates that make it easier to get a hold on to a job.

"From the very beginning, our approach to curbing gang violence in New Jersey has been two-pronged," said Ms. Watson Coleman, D-Mercer. "Our initial package was aimed at strengthening enforcement and punishment. These new measures focus on prevention and helping reformed gang members become functioning members of society again."

The granting of a certificate, through state organizations, would prevent reformed individuals from being denied employment where they could normally be barred, due to their criminal past.

The other bill creates additional offenses for the conviction of gang members, heightening potential penalties and making it more costly to engage in gang activity and get caught by law enforcement.

The new crimes - "gang criminality" and "promotion of organized street crime" - involve existing offences like prostitution and weapons offenses, and could be tacked on as a means of providing prosecutors and judges a strengthened means in going after gang members in the courts.

They each carry a minimum of $10,000 in fines and 18 months in jail, with a maximum of $200,000 and a 30 years' sentence.

It will now be up to Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts to decide when the bills can make it onto the Assembly floor for a vote.

1 comment:

nabila.saeed said...

These proposed anti-gang bills are strictly fluff, simply an illusion that the people we have elected to office are actually doing something about the gang issue. Giving an ex-gang member a piece of paper that prevents an employer from denying employement due to his criminal history does not prevent the same employer from denying employment for various other reasons. You cannot legally discriminate against people of color, does that mean employers don't find other "legitimate" ways to deny employment under those grounds. And, if you want to argue that this bill does help reformed gang members, does this bill initially get them out an environment that probably lead to their decision to join a gang. If these "rehabilitated" gang members are simply going back to poor and dangerous neighborhoods, while either looking for a job or trying to save money to get out, the same pressures that forced them to join the gang initially are still present. Are there any real deterrents to prevent them from going back?
The bill intended to heighten penalties has been a trick legislators have used for years to try and solve the gang problem. But the reality is changing the grading for a crime, really has done very little to solve the gang issue.
The truth is both these bills will do very little to actually help the gang problem. It's just another way to send a false message to the rich, white people living in the suburbs that we are taking steps to combat the gang issue in our inner cities.