Key Senate Democrats and Republicans are backing a bill to crack down on gang violence, using provisions similar to those used to combat organized crime to criminalize membership and make it easier for authorities to try juveniles as adults, reports the Washington Post. The Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act, which mirrors legislation passed by the House on May 11, is needed to combat a “national crisis” caused by Mafia-style gangs, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a chief sponsor. Feinstein estimates there are 840,000 active gang members in the country, operating in every state and in 90 percent of major cities.
But the proposal is drawing strong opposition from a coalition of more than 100 groups, including several child welfare organizations, that contend a get-tough federal law would be expensive and cause more harm than good. A new study by the Justice Policy Institute, called “Ganging Up on Communities,” challenges the notion of a nationwide gang crisis that requires federal legislation. It highlights figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey showing that from 1994 to 2003 violence by criminals who were perceived to be gang members declined from 5.2 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000 — a reduction of 73 percent.