Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Topic 1:
Legislative Solutions

On January 17th, 1996, Matt Rodriguez, Superintendent of the Chicago (IL) Police Department, expressed his satisfaction with the results of gang-related legislation.

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, published 1998, 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.

bulletOpening 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 offenders.

bulletReconsidering the rush to mandatory sentences:
"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)

The Judicial 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 consequences.

Mandatory 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)

bulletSupporting 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.

bulletSupporting 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 Tax, 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 continued.

bulletSponsoring a state-wide trust for youth:
Create a state-wide Trust for Youth which, in part, helps fund gang-related prevention and intervention efforts.

bulletSupporting the creation of an Adopt an Agency Program:
Develop legislation which creates a state-wide Adopt An Agency Program office and funding for local offices.

bulletImposing a curfew for minors:
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?

bulletSponsoring 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.


Additional Resources: Click on the name of your state and you will eventually find the name and email address for your STATE representative

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.

2002 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.