Opponents: Gang members could face charges for no real crime

As legislation to increase penalties for gang members works its way through the Mississippi legislature, black lawmakers and civil liberties groups warned again Wednesday that it would force taxpayers to underwrite long prison stays and could be unduly harsh on young African American men.

Posted: Feb 14, 2018 8:43 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As legislation to increase penalties for gang members works its way through the Mississippi legislature, black lawmakers and civil liberties groups warned again Wednesday that it would force taxpayers to underwrite long prison stays and could be unduly harsh on young African American men.

"It's all designed to put young people in the prison system," said Rep. Willie Bailey, a Greenville Democrat.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2868 last week, 35-14, sending it to the House for further action. The House had its own bill to toughen gang penalties, but it failed to advance. The measure would require five to 15 years to be added to a prison sentence for any felony committed by someone in a gang. It would also create some new crimes, such as recruiting someone to join a gang.

Supporters say Mississippi has a widespread gang problem, and a new law will aid in prosecuting gang leaders. And the bill says that the new crimes apply only if gang members are committing felonies.

"I don't know where this fear or this concern is coming from based on the language of the bill as written," said Sen. Brice Wiggins, a Pascagoula Republican sponsoring the measure. Wiggins said he worked to refine and narrow the language after the bill stalled out last year.

But opponents say the sentencing increase is too harsh, because children as young as 13 can be tried in adult courts in Mississippi. Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said those children could be automatically forced into adult court. The tougher sentences would also ban prisoners from getting out early on parole or probation.

Wiggins said that's a misreading of the measure and that no juveniles would be automatically forced into adult court.

Jody Owens, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, also said that if thousands of people end up with longer prison sentences, it will be costly to taxpayers and destroy efforts to reduce Mississippi's prison population.

"This bill will bankrupt the state and it will reverse the bipartisan efforts that have existed for years."

ACLU state legal director Joshua Tom said that many gangs are engaged both in legal activities, such as socializing, and illegal activities, such as crimes. He said that gang members should only face criminal penalties if they take part in or have specific intent to take part in illegal activities, not just hang around with other people who are criminals.

"Maybe they're getting them to join the group to do something completely legal," Tom said.

Wiggins, though, said it's crucial to get at gang recruiting.

"The purpose of the bill is to get at those at the top of the chain," Wiggins said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 91935

Reported Deaths: 2780
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6884152
DeSoto527653
Harrison366071
Jackson332666
Madison316485
Rankin312173
Lee251566
Jones234077
Forrest229468
Washington214771
Lafayette199339
Lauderdale1977122
Bolivar175064
Oktibbeha172549
Lamar154833
Neshoba1513103
Panola140326
Lowndes138057
Sunflower136943
Warren136249
Leflore133279
Pike119848
Pontotoc119616
Monroe116665
Scott114925
Copiah114533
Coahoma108926
Holmes107658
Marshall105914
Grenada102634
Lincoln102652
Yazoo102527
Simpson99841
Union96223
Tate94337
Leake93235
Adams88133
Wayne86421
Pearl River83349
Marion82832
Covington78721
Prentiss77317
Alcorn74610
Newton74222
George74013
Itawamba72921
Tallahatchie72517
Winston71819
Tishomingo64035
Attala63325
Chickasaw63124
Tippah62016
Walthall58525
Clay55916
Hancock54420
Noxubee53915
Jasper53214
Clarke51937
Smith51514
Calhoun50612
Tunica47013
Claiborne44716
Montgomery44420
Lawrence42112
Yalobusha41014
Perry38216
Humphreys36815
Quitman3595
Stone34511
Greene33316
Webster32613
Jefferson Davis31711
Carroll30612
Amite30310
Wilkinson29917
Kemper28415
Sharkey25811
Jefferson2349
Benton2081
Franklin1833
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1023
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128097

Reported Deaths: 2264
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18531332
Mobile12931288
Montgomery8546170
Madison730373
Tuscaloosa6984109
Lee557059
Shelby544649
Baldwin500347
Marshall375942
Etowah324744
Calhoun316538
Morgan311825
Houston258621
Elmore246847
DeKalb229319
St. Clair217434
Walker217480
Talladega199125
Limestone190819
Cullman179717
Dallas172526
Franklin170328
Russell16852
Autauga161924
Lauderdale159031
Colbert156024
Escambia153824
Blount148713
Jackson144210
Chilton142824
Dale127442
Covington127227
Coffee12357
Pike11289
Tallapoosa112483
Chambers110742
Clarke104316
Marion90328
Butler90138
Barbour8097
Marengo69419
Winston68012
Lowndes64327
Pickens61514
Bibb6129
Hale60928
Bullock58314
Randolph58112
Lawrence57320
Monroe5708
Washington54213
Geneva5364
Perry5366
Wilcox52911
Cherokee52615
Conecuh51611
Crenshaw50731
Clay5057
Macon46619
Henry4474
Sumter41419
Fayette4088
Choctaw34212
Lamar3272
Cleburne3056
Greene29715
Coosa1573
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