• 59°

Mississippi House gang bill needs careful consideration

The state Legislature is considering a bill that would give gang members longer prison terms.

House Bill 541 could require five to 15 additional years in prison for any proven gang member convicted of a felony. Prisoners couldn’t be released early from the extra sentence, The Associated Press reported.

Law enforcement officials say a recent report indicating that police have found gangs in all 82 of Mississippi’s counties shows the need for the measure, AP reported. The report showed gang activity for Lincoln County.

The report found that three gangs — the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords and Simon City Royals — have a statewide presence. The Mississippi Department of Corrections says 62 percent of state prison inmates are active gang members, AP reported.

“We have a severe problem, and we need to address it,” Jimmy Anthony of the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators said.

The bill may help curtail gang activity in the state, but it could also lead to lengthy sentences for people who are incorrectly associated with a gang.

There are several issues to sort out with this bill. Who will determine whether a criminal is in a gang? How will the courts ensure that the determination process does not rely on racial profiling?

Nicole Porter of the Sentencing Project said research has showed mandatory sentences have little effect on preventing crime.

“There’s some misguided idea that long sentences would deter gang involvement or be a signal to gangs that their crimes would be handled toughly,” she said.

We are not suggesting lawmakers vote this bill down, but it deserves more debate before it becomes law.