Legislation focusing on slowing gang recruitment across Kentucky got widespread support in a House committee on Wednesday. The measure calls for tougher penalties and longer sentences for those convicted of crimes tied to gangs.
Lexington Representative Robert Benvenuti calls gang-related activities the “most critical public protection issue facing the state today.”
Todd Phillips works in the Lexington police gang unit. “It allows us to have the opportunity to have something with more teeth when we go after those gang members that are the most serious and most involved.”
“And when you look at the broad stuff they’re involved in from human trafficking to drug trafficking, they touch people. We’re talking about violence only. We’re not talking about the lives they’ve destroyed because they’ve gotten involved as repeat offenders, because those young people can’t get out of the gangs," Phillips said.
Phillips says faith-based and other support groups can still intervene with lower level gang members, in hopes of seeing them through to gang free lives.
Still, Eddie Woods of Louisville, who’s helped street kids for three decades, worries the legislation is too far reaching. “The wide net and the stringent 85 percent. Man, that’s going to eat a lot of folks alive and it’s going to destroy a lot of families.”
“We got more of a problem with young folks having access to weapons than we do going for the rhetoric that goes with being involved in a gang," Woos said. He also expressed concern that lower level youth could get long jail sentences, when intervention might have worked to reach them.
The measure calls for those convicted of gang related crimes to serve 85 percent of their sentences.