Prosecutors and police officers from across Maryland asked legislators Tuesday for tougher anti-gang laws, saying they want to redefine who is considered a gang member and broaden the number of crimes that trigger longer prison sentences, reports the Baltimore Sun. Law enforcement groups told the House Judiciary Committtee that the Maryland Gang Prevention Act, enacted two years ago to stiffen penalties for gang members, isn’t working because it fails to define “gang member,” doesn’t include enough gang-related crimes and carries no mandatory prison time.
No one has been successfully prosecuted under the act. “The statute is very hard to use because of its ambiguous language,” said Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who is leading the push for tougher anti-gang laws. “We find ourselves defending the law more than using it.” Civil liberties groups and public defenders are opposing new anti-gang legislation, which they say would fill already crowded state prisons at a time when legislative analysts have suggested reducing incarceration as a cost-cutting measure. They say prevention and intervention are more effective ways to combat gangs.