State Rep. Phyllis Henderson, backed by Greenville County Sheriff Steve Loftis and members of SLED, called today for changes to the state's gang violence and bonding laws. (image credit: Zachary Treu/Greenville News)
By Zachary Treu, Greenville News
In the wake of the recent shooting and paralysis of 18-year-old USC student Martha Childress in Columbia, state Rep. Phyllis Henderson of House District 21 called today for reforming parts of the state code that deal with gang violence and repeat offenders.
Henderson, speaking at the Greenville County Law Enforcement Center, said that she would push for changes to the state's gang laws and bonding laws upon her return to Columbia in January.
She was backed by Sheriff Steve Loftis and several members of SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Among the group's desired amendments to the state's current gang violence laws:
• Updating language in the South Carolina Criminal Gang Prevention Act regarding gang member recruitment. Currently, laws state that gang members cannot coerce someone into joining a gang through physical violence. "A lot of the time it's peer pressure (that is) the reason that a lot of these young men and women join a gang," Henderson said. "We want to strengthen that up and redefine our definition of what it means to 'coerce' someone to join a gang."
• Creating sentence enhancements for gang-related crimes. "Basically, if you're committing a crime and you're a member of a gang, you're going to get a higher sentence than you would if you weren't," Henderson said.
• Setting minimum bond levels for gang-related crimes. Henderson cited the state of Kansas, where bail for gang-related crime is set at a $50,000 minimum.
Two companion bills that would reform bonding laws, Senate Bill 19 and House Bill 3051, are currently working their way through the state legislature, Henderson said. Both Henderson and Loftis expressed a preference for H. 3051, which has "a little bit of stronger wording to it," Henderson said.
The Senate bill is a "feel-good bill," Loftis said, which would have "little impact" on the bonding laws.
The House bill includes a mandatory five-year sentence for those who commit a General Sessions-level crime while on bond for a prior crime, mandates that bond setting be held in the circuit court for those who commit a violent crime while out on bond, and mandates bond revocation if there is probable cause that a defendant committed a new violent crime unless they can prove they are not a danger to the community or a flight risk.
In addition to these proposed changes, Henderson said that she and her colleagues would look at the records of court judges up for reappointment, and would not support those with a history of "letting people out of jail that shouldn't be out of jail."
In his comments, Loftis also recommended a number of other initiatives, including court-ordered determent programs that include entire families, gang member registration, risk assessment for individuals being considered for bond, and reevaluation of who can be protected by the Stand Your Ground law.
He also called for criminal and gang profiling. "It's about time that we as communities realize that individuals wearing gang colors are too often the source of our street violence," he said.
"Change is not going to occur overnight," Loftis said, "but as we work together as a community, we can make not only Greenville a safer place to live, work and raise a family, but the entire state of South Carolina."