Anti-Gang Law Hit in ACLU Suit : Measure That Holds Parents Responsible Called Unfair to Poor

Times Staff Writers

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit Thursday to block further enforcement of the state parental responsibility law used this spring to arrest a South Los Angeles woman who allegedly encouraged her son's gang involvement.

In bringing the Superior Court suit against Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and City Atty. James K. Hahn, ACLU officials complained that the year-old law unfairly targets parents in poor areas and violates their "fundamental liberty interests in directing the rearing of their children."

The suit seeks a permanent injunction barring prosecutors from charging anyone under the law, as well as a declaration that it is unconstitutional. The law is "impermissibly vague," the suit alleges, because it fails to detail what actions could send a parent to prison.

Hahn defended the law as a necessary tool to combat gang violence.

"Today's street gangs are recruiting children, not as young adults, but often at an age when they are just beginning to develop a sense of right and wrong," he said. "I believe it is our responsibility in government to focus the attention of parents on that problem."

At issue is part of the 1988 Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, drafted by Hahn and Reiner, which is designed to treat street gang activity like organized crime.

Under the law, parents can be punished if they knowingly fail to "exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection and control" over their children.

The one prosecution thus far under those standards involved a Los Angeles woman. Prosecutors dropped charges against her, however, when they learned that the woman had completed a course in parenting at an alternative school.

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