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Anti-Gang Legislation in Richmond

Marsden tackles gangs, juvenile justice in General Assembly.

Aside from a schedule so busy the only time he can make calls is walking between meetings and committees, the 2006 General Assembly session is going well for Del. Dave Marsden (D-41).

"I might have a full day of legislation, two committee meetings, and 10 appointments after that," he said. "It’s very, very busy. It's going well."

Marsden has patroned five bills and is co-patron of nearly 30 others. Of the bills he sponsored, four are in committee, all of which have to do with Marsden’s background in juvenile justice. HB 692 would allow juvenile probation staff to share gang-related intelligence with the police, while HB 1460 would examine whether a child convicted of a youth gang offense and that child's family are illegal immigrants. HB 401 would give incarcerated parents incentives to pay their child support on time, he said, and HB 1461 would outline who is allowed to serve on a criminal jury, such as family of the defendant.

"It’s important to work with everybody to make sure a bill does whatever you want it to do," said Marsden. He is currently working on a way to combine HB 692 with another bill that dealt with a similar theme but focused more on its application to a police investigation. Also, he said, delegates are working on a "memorandum of understanding" with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would streamline the process of checking a youth criminal’s immigration status. This would complement a bill such as HB 1460, he said.

"You have to make it reasonable for [officials] to do it," said Marsden. "Sometimes you need to drop bread crumbs so they have a trail to follow."

ANTI-GANG LEGISLATION has been a significant focus in the nearby 42nd District as well, with Del. Dave Albo (R) successfully proposing a bill last session that increased the punishment for gang activities taking place near schools and school buses. Additionally, the bill allowed witnesses in a gang prosecution to keep certain information private, and treated criminal street gangs as public nuisances. This session, Albo is co-patroning HB 1460 with Marsden.

"[Marsden] is so involved with juvenile justice," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock). "I'm very pleased he is in the General Assembly to bring these issues to the attention of the larger legislative body."

Gang mitigation involves a full community effort as well as legislation, she said. The Braddock Supervisor's Office is currently involved in starting a family resource center at Annandale High School, she said, as well as hosting community-wide events such as last summer's "Braddock Nights" concerts.

"It's a positive way of building up the community," Bulova said.

Legislation on gangs must take a three-pronged approach, said Bo Tumasz, who serves on a gang-prevention committee in the Braddock District: prevention, intervention and suppression. Most legislation follows the suppression approach, which is the easiest to enact, he said. Prevention legislation is harder to enact, he said, and intervention is even harder.

"Something all government at all levels can do is to balance something that's easy — suppression — with some prevention initiatives," said Bo Tumasz.

Prevention intervention methods can include anything from anonymous gang hotlines, non-police street patrols who can relate to youth and steer them away from gang recruitment, to after-school programs targeted toward children at risk. Tattoo removal programs are an example of a positive intervention program, he said.

"You need to work on the positive, proactive stuff too," said Marsden. He said he supports another bill that would allow courts to prohibit individuals from hanging out with gang members as part of their probation sentences.

"It's good for the kid, because it gives them a reason not to hang out with gangs," he said.

But, Marsden said, some legislation in session goes too far. A bill introduced by Del. John Reid (R-72) would require juvenile intake officers to establish the legal presence of children convicted of any act that, if committed by an adult, would be considered a crime. This legislation is too broad, he said, going beyond establishing the legal presence of children convicted solely of gang-related offenses.

"It puts a huge burden on the system," said Marsden.