‘Problem with parental supervision:’ Half of Georgia’s youth in custody say they’re in gangs

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis wants to crack down even harder on gangs after a shooting she believes to be gang-related claimed the life of a 12-year-old over the weekend.

Zyion Charles was shot and killed on Saturday night on the 17th Street bridge after he and group of other minors were escorted from Atlantic Station for curfew violations and unruly behavior, police said.

Willis told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne that her office is focusing on gang members who recruit children, but juvenile crime is made worse by several issues.

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“There is a problem with parental supervision, with us not having enough resources for positive programming for children, with too many guns on the street, with gangs recruiting our young people,” she explained.

Willis says she has seen children as young as toddlers being indoctrinated into gang activity.

“We have begun to talk to the governor and legislators about the different problems that we see with the criminal code, but the juvenile code specifically,” Willis said.

She told Winne that the attempted murder of a security guard at Lenox Square in 2021 was handled in juvenile court because minors cannot be charged as an adult in attempted murder cases. A judge denied the special motion to charge the 15-year-olds as adults.

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Georgia Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver says about 50% of the youth in the DJJ’s long-term facilities refer to themselves as gang members. He said most of the youth in those facilities are there for violent crimes.

In regional youth detention centers, where youth are held short-term in pre-trial situations, Oliver says about 40% of the youth admit to gang affiliations.

Oliver says the DJJ has programs to help youth get out of gangs if they so choose.

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Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinion says he oversees Fulton County Juvenile Court prosecutors, but the office and court are attacking juvenile crime in other ways, like truancy court and the last chance court for the most hardcore juveniles not eligible for adult court.

The D.A.’s office also has a program designed to teach good citizenship in the Fulton County School System with the superintendent’s blessing.

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