AAJJP Opposes Georgia House Bill 994- Gang Bill

African American Juvenile Justice Project AAJJP Opposes Georgia's HB 994 Gang Bill

Date: March 2, 2020

To: Representative Bert Reeves,

Chuck Efstration, Chairman and Members of the Judiciary

Committee; Representative Mandi Ballinger, Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee

From: The African American Juvenile Justice Project www.AAJJP.com

Re: House Bill 994 – Gang Bill

On behalf of the African American Juvenile Justice Project, we oppose House Bill 994, which increases penalties for juveniles and adults accused of involvement in criminal gang activities. Moreover, this Bill adds 33 new offenses to the list of crimes that would subject children ages 13 to 16 to criminal prosecution.

With all due respect, Georgia has continuously proven that it has no regard for the decisions held by the United States Supreme Court. However, we ask the State of Georgia to consider the following U.S. Supreme Court cases, which have overturned decisions impacting juveniles to death or life without parole. See, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) – death penalty; Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012) Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 734 (2016) (Life Without Parole), (Mandatory Life Without Parole.

We understand that the state must focus upon public safety. However, we respectfully ask that the Georgia General Assembly consider public policy, too.

House Bill 994 expands the legal definition of “gang” and gang activities. Respectfully, our lens into this space provides evidence that African American children may be wrongfully associated as gang members. Plus, African American children represent less than 25% of Georgia’s juvenile population, but almost 80% of the children in the juvenile detention centers in most counties. This Bill will subject our children to disparity, arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory enforcement of the new law.

Compelling, is that many victims of JUST US [Juvenile Urban Sex Trafficking in the United States] are subject to both victimization and criminalization based upon forced membership in gangs. Without an assessment tool to decipher their association, many juveniles will be charged as an adult for their association without any consideration to whether their membership is subject to victims who are SOLD [sex, organs, labor or drug – trafficking].

Moreover, gang affiliation is also associated with other variables [extended family, abandonment, homelessness and protection]. If the State of Georgia will focus upon punitive measures without considering the underlying issues associated with gang participation, the State is taking a step backwards. Moreover, Georgia has not budgeted to address social programs to balance this Bill.

Nationally, the goal is to engage in balancing public safety and public policy. Looking ahead, the recent passage of the First Step Act is a reminder of the country’s goals in reforming the criminal justice system.

Currently, on a national scale the State of Georgia ranks in the bottom regarding its treatment of juveniles. House Bill 994 will reinforce Georgia’s failures in this space. Forty-seven states have passed a Raise The Age statute giving juvenile court jurisdiction over children under the age of 18; HB 994 will authorize the state to seek punitive measures against the very population the nation is trying to protect – ages 13 to 17.

Finally, history and criminal justice reform teaches us that punitive measures do not resolve crime. With all due respect, gang violence in Georgia has decreased over the years, but adding new definitions and categories to this space will give a false impression that gang activity is increasing and problematic for Georgia.

AAJJP respectfully ask that this Bill not pass the House. There exist other measures to address gang violence and neither this Bill nor the death penalty is one of them.