On January 17th, 1996, Matt Rodriguez, Superintendent of the Chicago (IL)
Police Department, expressed his satisfaction with the results of
In recent weeks, the news on crime - here in Chicago
and across the country - has been generally good news. Crime is down. And
one of the primary reasons crime is down is that police and communities
are coming together - in new and creative ways - to fight crime and solve
problems at the neighborhood level.
One of the reasons our
crime-fighting partnership has been so successful is that we have had the
legal tools to get the job done. In particular, we have had strong and
effective laws targeting both firearms and gangs - two of the
leading factors contributing to crime and violence in our City. (Rodriguez,
removed from the Internet by 24 February 2005,
blue added for emphasis)
Without laws, police could not arrest, courts could not hold
trials, and our prisons would be empty. The section of Into the Abyss
which dealt with gang-related
legislation addressed much of what is being done to identify and
proscribe inappropriate and unacceptable gang-related activity.
Effective legislative solutions include passing similar laws in communities which have a gang presence but do not
have such legislation in place. Hopefully, their experience will mirror
Chicago's in reducing gang activity and youth violence. The following are
among the other possible legislative solutions.
|Opening juvenile records for
use in criminal court proceedings:|
There are jurisdictions in the United
States where the records of juvenile offenders are sealed when
the offenders attain the status of adult. If they commit a
crime, their juvenile record can not be entered into court or
used in the sentencing process.
I believe this is a mistake. Juvenile
records should never be sealed. The original intent of the
policy was to forgive juveniles of their misbehavior when they
became adults - to give them a second chance.
The impact of the policy, however, has been
to deny prosecutors and judges access to information with which
they could make more responsible sentencing decisions. In
effect, persistent juvenile gang offenders who appear for the
first time in criminal court are considered first time
|Reconsidering the rush to
"Historically, juvenile court
dispositions were based on children's best interests. Thus,
sentences were indeterminate, because the length of time
required for rehabilitation varies with each youth. Within the
past decade, however, many States have adopted mandatory
sentencing schemes or developed strict sentencing guidelines [as
legislators responded to increased youth violence].
"Although indeterminate sentences have not
been eliminated completely, one-third of
all juvenile court sentencing statutes now include mandatory
statutes or sentencing guidelines." (Gramckow
and Tompkins, 1999, page)
Conferences of all 12 federal circuits have urged the repeal of
mandatory minimum sentences, after concluding that they are
unfair and ineffective. Commenting on a minor, first-time drug
offender sentenced to life imprisonment, [United States Supreme
Court] Chief Justice William Rehnquist has called mandatory drug
sentencing "a good example of the law of unintended
minimum sentencing deprives judges of the ability to fashion
sentences that suit the particular offense and offender. At
great cost to taxpayers, mandatory minimums have forced judges
to sentence thousands of first-time, non-violent drug offenders
to unconscionably long prison terms. (National
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, no date, page)
|Supporting local anti-gang and
anti-youth violence efforts:|
Legislators, particularly state representatives, can
further their constituent communities' efforts to reduce gang
activity and youth violence. They, or one of their staff
members, could help form and participate in a local gang task force and
work with schools to prevent problems from arising or to reduce
existing problems related to gangs and youth violence.
|Supporting the creation of a
youth development tax:|
Campaign for and support the creation and approval of a renewable
four-year tax for the expansion of youth programs - a Youth Development
for lack of a better name.
Even a 1/8th percent tax will create a
significant income for youth-serving agencies and other efforts
designed to keep good kids good. Four years are needed to give
new or expanded programs time to prove their worth. It's
renewable so, if the efforts are successful, they can be
|Sponsoring a state-wide
trust for youth:|
Create a state-wide Trust for Youth which, in part, helps
fund gang-related prevention and intervention efforts.
|Supporting the creation of an
Develop legislation which creates a state-wide Adopt
An Agency Program office and funding for local offices.
|Imposing a curfew for
I visited cities that had no curfew for juveniles. The
absence of a curfew limits the ability of the police to interact
with youths on the street late at night. Why should a juvenile
(someone under the age of 16, 17, or 18 years of age) be walking
on the streets or driving around at 3:00 a.m.?
Wouldn't responsible citizens want police
to have the right to at least inquire as to why a youth is out
that late at night - if for no other reason then to check and
make sure everything is OK?
|Sponsoring the creation of an
Office of Youth Concerns:|
This solution is described earlier.
There is much that legislators and their legislative bodies can do to
reduce gang activity and youth violence in the jurisdictions they serve. The
police, however, are the component of the justice system which first comes
into contact with gang members. That's our next topic.
Resources: Click on the name of your state and you will
eventually find the
name and email address for your
If you want to contact
your FEDERAL senator or representative, visit this site and either type in
the name of the person you want to email or click on the name of your state as
found on the left side of the page.
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.