ALBANY, Ga. -- It is not a crime for a juvenile to belong to a gang. It is a crime to commit crimes in furtherance of the gang, according to Assistant District Attorney Andrea Ewings.
Ewings, the only Dougherty assistant district attorney assigned to Juvenile Court, spoke Thursday at the October Gang Task Force meeting.
"Gangs are more recently recruiting young members and female members," Ewings said. "They are also getting more violent."
While Ewings said the right to join an organization, even a gang, is protected, anyone, even a juvenile, who takes criminal or violent acts to advance the gang are subject to gang participation charges.
The Dougherty County District Attorney's office has charged many gang members with gang participation in Juvenile Court. For juveniles, an additional one to five years in the Regional Youth Detention Center is attached to any other crime committed at the time a guilty verdict comes down.
Ewings said there are about four gang cases pending in Juvenile Court now. That number might seem low, but the cases have multiple suspects. One case has eight defendants.
About half the youths who have been convicted and are on or off probation that go through her office are gang members, Ewings said.
"Many times they (gang members) will not come through with gang-related charges," she said. "Shoplifting or battery against a parent is not gang-related. (Those crimes are) not done in furtherance of the gang."
Ordinarily a juvenile offender could spend 30 days under youth detention. Unfortunately, Ewings said, the offenders know the system and aren't intimidated by the punishment.
"Parents aren't doing a good job," she said. "In a home without strong parental guidelines and supervision, the field is open for someone else to step in and have a negative influence."