brice wiggins

For a third year in a row, I have introduced a bill to give our prosecutors and law enforcement officials stronger tools to take on those who would recruit our children and young adults into a life of crime in a gang.

There have been a lot of articles and interviews that have debated the merits of the Senate Bill 2459, also known as the Anti-Gang bill. So let’s outline what this bill really does:

It creates a clear legal definition for “criminal gang activity” – defining what it is and isn’t.

It outlaws individuals from causing, encouraging, soliciting, recruiting or coercing another to become a member or associate of a gang.

It makes it a crime to coerce someone to commit a crime in order to become a member or associate of a gang – a common initiation tactic.

It makes it illegal to hide proceeds or evidence of criminal gang activity or encourage others to do the same.

There is currently documented gang activity in each of Mississippi’s 82 counties – in our neighborhoods, schools, detention centers, jails and prisons. The time for passage of this legislation is critical this year, especially in light of increased gang activity inside our prison system that has resulted in several inmate deaths.

In many counties in our state, there is no funding for gang-related crime investigations. Sheriffs and prosecutors are frustrated – the current laws are so weak.

These gangs are not just groups of individuals, their operations have grown now to be very solid criminal enterprises.

This bill helps focus on gang leaders and their funding sources. Citizens have a right to feel safe in their workplace and communities. A civilized society requires criminal laws to ensure this. Just like embezzlement, burglary, sex offenses and other crimes, this bill allows law enforcement to have the tools to investigate the gang activity that is going on.

Just as in previous years, I have worked diligently with my fellow colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to pass a bill that guards against overreach and subjective enforcement.

Gang membership or identification itself would not be a crime under this legislation. However, gang recruitment would be sufficient cause for a warrant, arrest and conviction under this law if passed as written.

The issue is not black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. It is one on which we find common ground, because gang recruiting and its resulting crimes are causing irreparable harm to our state and has the potential to cost our state millions of additional dollars in incarceration costs.

We want to send a message to gangs that we will no longer tolerate gangs’ abuse of our legal system and their underhanded recruitment tactics.

I look forward to working side by side with my fellow legislators and the dedicated representatives of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association and the Mississippi Gang Investigators to help pass this important bill to protect the public from gang recruitment and subsequent criminal activity.

I ask that you please contact your Senator or Representative and tell them to vote yes for the anti-gang bill this session.

SEN. BRICE WIGGINS represents Mississippi District 52 and is Chairman, Judiciary B.

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