Fulton County

Fulton D.A. launches school program to keep students out of gangs

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis says the gang problem in the county isn’t one they can prosecute their way out of.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne learned Willis and others from her office held weekly sessions at six Fulton County middle and high schools.

“At 14, at 13, if you make the wrong move, we can put you in jail for the rest of your life,” Willis said. “This is absolutely an anti-gang program. We cannot prosecute our way out of this mess we’re in.”

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The DA says the REACH program started after Fulton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney reached out to her about an increase in students bringing guns and gang fights to school.

“We have been dealing with the same challenges lots of districts have been dealing with, particularly after the COVID challenge, and that is students coming back. There’s been an increase in aggressiveness,” Dr. Looney said.

Akeem Woodard, who runs the program, says he wishes that there had been a similar program when he was a child.

“Fifteen years old, running the streets, lost and ended up myself going to prison with a life sentence for armed robbery and murder,” he said. “[I] ended up doing 25 years inside that place. Got my degree, put my life together bit by bit, piece by piece.”

He says they are hoping to expand the program to 18 schools in the next school year.

Shyisha Thomas says that she has noticed a difference in her 14-year-old twin daughters since they joined the REACH program.

Woodard says they are not expending resources on kids already in serious gang trouble, it’s preventative.

“What they all have in common is that they come from neighborhoods where they’re being challenged every day to do the wrong thing, but these children have decided to do the right thing,” Willis said.

Woodard says that many of the kids in the program were already on the straight and narrow but needed support to thrive moving forward.

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