House bill would increase penalties for adults recruiting gang members

03/27/2018 04:19 PM

FRANKFORT – Legislation which would impose harsher penalties for adults who recruit individuals, including kids, for gangs has been passed by the Senate standing Committee on Judiciary.

House Bill 169, sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would change Kentucky law by making it a felony to recruit gang members, passed with 7 yes and 2 pass votes by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

A provision of the bill requires that anyone who is found to be a member of a criminal gang at the time of commission of a felony, and who is subsequently convicted of a felony that puts the public at risk, would be sentenced to a penalty that is one class higher than the penalty provision pertaining to the felony offense he or she was convicted of, unless the person is determined to be a persistent felony offender.

“It makes it a felony in Kentucky to recruit somebody into a gang. Right now, that’s a misdemeanor.” Benvenuti said. “The only place in which that’s a misdemeanor in HB 169 is when a minor recruits another minor. The goal would be to bring those people in and reform that behavior. An adult who recruits a child into a gang deserves harsh penalties.”

Josh Crawford, co executive-director of the Pegasus Institute, says that there is no doubt about the negative impact that gangs have on society, especially young people.

“Gangs punch well above their weight in violent crime and trafficking,” Crawford said. “So, when you talk about how to combat this, you need a holistic approach.”

Benvenuti told committee members that there are posltive financial ramifications from
HB 169.

“Independent research shows that every gunshot victim costs society over 8 million dollars,” Benvenuti said. “So, you think about if this bill just prevents 2 shootings, it will pay for itself,” Benvenuti said.”

Pastor Edward Palmer, chair of the Subcommittee for Equity and Justice for all youth, says that the bill unfairly targets people of color, and lacks wrap around services to assist individuals who need rehabilitation.

“This bill ignores the cultural implications of youth in urban communities where gang recruitment and gang involvement is connected to ones daily safety and survival needs,” Palmer said. “Let me be very clear, this bill is textbook justice by geography.”

Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds says the legislation lacks funding for wrap around services to assist individuals who need rehabilitation.

“I have heard no one talk about an investment in wrap around services so that we can prevent some of our young people from looking to gangs or any other place,” Reynolds said.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.