YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) — Getting caught with a gun in Youngstown this weekend could earn you a trip to the San Bernardino Valley.
To Victorville, Calif., to be more specific.
But beware: the accommodations are spartan. You’ll be staying at the Victorville Federal Correctional Facility, over 2,000 miles from Youngstown.
Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Of Ohio, said Thursday at a press conference in City Council Chambers that he is offering the trips to anyone who is not allowed to have a gun under federal law but is caught with one, beginning this weekend.
Herdman, city police Chief Robin Lees, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and other federal, city and Mahoning County leaders held the press conference to announce the kickoff of “Project Red Zone” this weekend.
The project is an effort to find and prosecute people who are not legally allowed to have a gun, what Herdman termed “the Red Zone.”
Herdman said anyone caught who can not have a gun under federal law will be prosecuted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Federal penalties are a lot tougher than state penalties, which max out at a three-year prison sentence, and offenders are eligible for probation in state court.
There is no probation in federal court for repeat gun offenders, and sentences can be as long as 10 years.
“If they’re federally prohibited, they will be charged federally,” Herdman said.
The project will be run like similar efforts in the past in which officers and federal agents run special patrols looking for gun offenders or gun cases generated from normal police business are referred to federal prosecutors. Herdman said no extra federal resources are being brought in or used for the project.
City police Chief Robin Lees said the partnerships in running such initiatives are beneficial to the city. He said the city’s 19 homicides this year are just one shy from last year’s total and is one reason why he wants to focus on repeat gun offenders.
He said officers put their lives in danger when dealing with gun crime, and he wants to make sure repeat gun offenders do time to make the risks the officers take worth it.
Lees has testified in the past before state committees on raising the sentence for repeat gun offenders in state court.
“I don’t think we should take it as lightly as we do,” Lees said.
Brown thanked the agencies taking part and said his most important priority is keeping residents safe.
“We do it together but we can’t do it apart,” Brown said.
County Prosecutor Paul Gains said he is instructing his prosecutors to seek prison time in repeat gun offender cases and is supportive of efforts to move some cases to federal court where circumstances warrant it.
Herdman said he has never had an issue from Gains in taking a case to federal court.
As for Victorville, in the past, federal prosecutors have stressed when speaking to people at risk of going to prison in sessions for the Community Initiative To Reduce Violence, or CIRV, that federal sentences for gun crimes often mean defendants are moved far away from the city to serve their sentences, which puts a strain on their families and also makes it harder to stay in regular contact with loved ones.