To shield themselves from prosecution, gang members have been recruiting young people, some in middle school, to commit crimes for them.

In response, a state lawmaker is pushing a plan to get tough on thugs and save young lives.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, has introduced a measure that calls for upgrading certain penalties for criminal street gang recruitment of minors.

Schaer’s bill specifies a defendant in a gang will be held accountable for the behavior of someone if the defendant caused, encouraged, intimidated, coerced or solicited them to commit a crime.

If found guilty, they would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of seven years in prison. If the minor is under 14, the mandatory minimum sentence would be 10 years, during which time the defendant will be ineligible for parole.

He said the idea of this legislation “is to send a strong message to gangs that if they’re going to use children to act as their surrogates. They’re going to pay a price and a big one.”

According to Schaer, children who are recruited by gangs are committing all sorts of serious crimes, even assaults or murder.

Schaer said he usually doesn’t think mandatory minimum sentences are appropriate, “but in this particular case, the crime is so heinous, it is so awful, and we need to take an immediate forceful action to prevent it in the future.”

He pointed out because so many young people spend so much time online, gangs will use Facebook and other sites to reach out.

The bill also specifies that after a gang member who is convicted under this law is released from prison, they would not be allowed “to live near a school, to live near a playground — we want them out, we want them clearly out from our children."

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