The spread of vicious street gangs like MS-13 is provoking debate over an antigang bill pending in Congress. The Associated Press reports that the measure is depicted by supporters as the only effective way to counterattack gang violence, and assailed by critics as an overreaction that could clog both federal courts and adult prisons with youthful offenders, most of them minorities. Sponsored by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), the bill is scheduled for a House floor vote tomorrow. It would make many gang-related violent offenses federal crimes punishable by mandatory sentences of at least 10 years, expand the range of crimes punishable by death, and enable federal prosecutors to try 16- and 17-year-old gang members as adults.
The bill’s supporters include the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. In the Senate, where Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have introduced a bill combining tough antigang measures with new funding for crime prevention programs. Opponents, including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch, say that serious youth crime is declining and argue that states – not the federal government – can best address the gang problem.