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Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act of 2005

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SECURE ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND COURT PROTECTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - November 09, 2005)

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I thank Chairman Sensenbrenner and the Rules Committee for allowing this amendment to proceed. There is a very good section of the bill talking about grants for young witness assistance, and I think when we talk about that, as the bill does, very importantly, we also must explicitly talk about gangs because we know that youth witness intimidation generally comes at the hands of criminal gangs. So my amendment adds language to this section that provides for this bill to allow the use of witness protection grants by youths who are trying to leave a criminal gang or to prevent initial gang recruitment.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. FILNER. I yield to the gentleman from Wisconsin.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I am happy to support this amendment. I think it plugs a hole in the original bill, and we certainly want to do whatever we can to prevent people from going into gangs and from being threatened if they are witnesses and are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in criminal trials involving gang members.

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman for his support.

Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Watson).

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Mr. FILNER. If I may conclude, Mr. Chairman, according to the past president of the National District Attorneys Association, Mr. Robert P. McCullough, he said that ``prosecutors across the country believe that the issue of witness intimidation is the single biggest hurdle facing any successful gang prosecution.''

So I appreciate the chairman's acceptance of this amendment. I look forward to these grants helping our young people avoid gangs or at least avoid intimidation.

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I believe when you talk about witness assistance programs for children, which this bill does, you have to talk about gangs because as many know youth witness intimidation generally comes at the hand of criminal gangs.

My amendment adds language to the witness protection grants provided in this bill to allow their use by youths who are trying to leave a criminal gang or to prevent initial gang recruitment.

Unfortunately, my district like many others across the country has a problem with gangs, which is why I introduced this amendment.

In San Diego, police department records count no fewer than 3,750 gang members on the street. Most are young--pre-teens to mid-20s. During the first six months of this year, gang violence resulted in eight homicides in San Diego, nearly a third of the total of 23.

However, don't let these statistics mislead you, gang violence is not limited to California and or big urban areas--that might have been true a while ago but it is no longer the case today. While big cities still have the majority of gangs their tentacles reach out from the cities into every aspect of our society. For example, Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has grown from a gang that once numbered a few thousand and was involved in street violence and turf battles in Southern California into a gang that operates in at least 33 states, with an international membership in the hundreds of thousands.

Three thousand jurisdictions across the U.S. are estimated to have had gang activity in 2001. In 2002, 32% of cities with a population of 25 to 50 thousand reported a gang-related homicide. Furthermore, it is estimated that there are 840,000 active gang members in the U.S. operating in every state of the Union.

These gangs are effective because they bind their members to loyalty and create fear throughout the community in which they operate. This fear, most noticeable in children, prevents residents from cooperating with law enforcement officials and testifying against gang members. My amendment, while not a panacea for the gang problem, is a step in the right direction. It provides support to prevent initial gang recruitment and helps those young witnesses who are trying to leave criminal gangs. Passage of my amendment will decrease youth witness intimidation by gangs and as a result lead to improved prosecution of gang members.

According to the past president of the National District Attorneys Association, Robert P. McCullough, ``prosecutors across the country believe that the issue of witness intimidation is the single biggest hurdle facing any successful gang prosecution.'' I could not agree with him more, which is why I am urging you to support my amendment.

Finally, as a matter of clarification, my amendment does not ``require'' states to provide such criminal gang witness assistance to be eligible for young adult witness assistance grants.

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Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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