Georgia state leaders tackle gang violence prevention

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A committee of state lawmakers and other leaders spent time in Augusta learning ways to help prevent the rising rate of gangs and youth violence.

This work could help the state curb the draw to kids wanting to affiliate with gangs.

House Resolution 585 created the committee to prevent gang and youth violence. Their goal today was to simply hear how the school district, local groups and organizations as well as DFCS is working already to fix the problem.

“Georgia has a problem. 71,000 identified gang members. Those are identified, but I’m sure that there are so many more,” said Chairman Carl Gilliard, of Savannah.

The rate of gang violence is on the rise in the Peach State. And it’s reached a level that has sounded the alarm among state law makers who are now actively working to end it.

“Our hopes are that by December the first we can give a concise report of recommendations back to the state to look at what we can do to break the cycle,” Gilliard said.

Chairman Gilliard along with local State Rep. Brian Prince make up the House Study Committee on Gang and Youth Violence Prevention, established through HR 585. While they look at ways the local school district and organizations work to keep kids out of trouble, they are also going to address how one’s financial need draws them to a life of crime.

He added, “Poverty plays a major role, especially when you look at wraparound services and programs from a lot of people. We’ve heard from several presenters that are doing something with our young people by introducing them to entrepreneurship and looking at continued education.”

“It’s everywhere,” District Attorney Natalie Paine said. “I think that you’re going to see a higher concentration of gang activity in your more lower economic areas. It definitely coincides with poverty.”

Paine added the state committee may be a good thing for helping the more than 100 gangs identified in the Augusta area. She said gangs are now recruiting younger kids because the penalties are not what they are for adults. But she’s working with the Sheriff to take all gangs out, something they’ve already done with the LOE gang and some subsets of the Bloods.

“A minimum charge on a gang is 5 to 20 and often times multiple counts per offense based on the way that the statue is written. You’re looking at, for aggravated assault, you could be facing 60 years in prison just for being a gang member.”

This committee will take that data back and make a presentation to lawmakers in December with the ways and means of how to hopefully stop gangs in their tracks. Chairman Gilliard said that would be budget and policy. The committee’s next meeting will be October 17 in LaGrange.

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