Report: Locking Up Gang Members Doesn't Work

A new report by the Justice Policy Institute confirms that anti-gang legislation that advocates locking up gang members, charging them with status crimes and charging more juveniles as adults doesn't work. In fact, it adds to the gang problem.

Mass arrests, stiff prison sentences often served with other gang members and other strategies that focus on law enforcement rather than intervention actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young men, according to the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

"We're talking about 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds whose involvement in gangs is likely to be ephemeral unless they are pulled off the street and put in prison, where they will come out with much stronger gang allegiances," said Judith Greene, co-author of "Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies."

The full report is available here.

As to the current and past versions of Sen. Diane Feinstein's anti-gang bill, which I have addressed and opposed numerous times on TalkLeft, the report finds:


Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California 29th) have introduced legislation that would create new federal penalties, establish a national gangs database, and invest more than $700 million in suppression activities, dwarfing the funds provided for prevention.

The report finds:

  • Gang members account for a relatively small share of crime in most jurisdictions.
  • The public face of the gang problem is black and Latino, but whites make up the largest group of adolescent gang members.
  • Gang control policies make the process of leaving more difficult by continuing to target former members after their gang affiliation has ended.
  • Heavy-handed suppression efforts can increase gang cohesion and police-community tensions, and they have a poor track record when it comes to reducing crime and violence.

As to what will work, the report recommends we:

  • Expand the use of evidenced-based practice to reduce youth crime.
  • Promote jobs, education, and healthy communities, and lower barriers to the reintegration into society of former gang members.
  • Redirect resources from failed gang enforcement efforts to proven public safety strategies
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  • Display: Sort:
    Great, but... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by HK on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 01:20:34 PM EST
    It's marvellous that this has been investigated and a report produced, but really, would it be necessary if we just had politicians who were capable of using common sense?  Is there anyone who posts here who wouldn't have come to the same conclusions if just asked to sit down and think about gangs for five minutes?  I don't think so.  Politicians get so wound up with the role play of being a politician that they seem to forget that they are here to serve the people or simply lose interest in doing what's best for society.

    A storyteller will beat a number cruncher (none / 0) (#2)
    by JSN on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 02:09:45 PM EST
    every time. The storytellers tell stories that will freeze your blood about horrific crimes committed by kids and the number crunchers have this nerdy detached (boring) way of presenting the facts that suppression measures for gangs are a flop. The reporters think that facts make peoples heads hurt so they avoid them.

    Locking up gang members is the eay way out !!! (5.00 / 0) (#16)
    by jovita on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 07:04:19 PM EST
    Racism always seem to play a big part in politics and this is no different.

    The fact that the report show how most of the youth gang members are
    actually white is encouraging because now people will want to take a second
    look at the problem.  Like the 3-strikes law, everyone was so eager to put
    away the perpetrators who appear to be black or latino they could not get to
    the polling place fast enough. Then they found out that so many white people
    were being put away on the 3rd strick even though it was just stealing a
    loaf of bread from the store and they created a stink and did all they can
    to revise it.

    Now with the gang issue showing young whites as the majority, who will be on
    the receiving end of these unjust provisions, maybe the legislatures and
    white people will once again be galvanized to the polling places to change
    the law and protect THEIR young ones.

    This brings me to share my observation that people only does something when
    it benefits them.  The 3-strikes law is one example of that, but the most
    recent and visible example is the war in Iraq, where as long as it is only
    the Iraqi people dying the war can go on as long as this country wants; it
    is only when our own military deaths are going up that we want the war to
    end, or call a cease-fire.   Very sad, but true!

    We do need to double our efforts to help our young people no matter their
    race or color because they are the ones who will be in charge after we die.
    Or do the American people think they are immortal as well as the ruler of the

    The justice policy institute (1.00 / 0) (#10)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 05:49:00 AM EST
    The Justice Policy Institute
    The mission of the Justice Policy Institute is to promote effective solutions to social problems and to be dedicated to ending society's reliance on incarceration.

    Jeeze, these guys don't have an agenda huh?  I guess all the Exxon scientists disputing global warming are unbiased too.  

    Good to see you back Patrick. (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 12:51:55 PM EST
    With BTD's 60 threads/day on defunding, there's little room left for JM and her threads like this about the politics of crime...

    Thanks, (1.00 / 0) (#12)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 04:31:34 PM EST
    But there are two reasons I've been gone for while....I quit my job and took another as a no seniority, plain old road dep.  Got a better retirement and benefits, but it's back to the graveyard shift and no computer sitting on my desk.   Secondly, I have grown tired of BTD, of all the echo chamber logic and of some of the know it all posters.   Alas, I check in once and a while and read the things like this and am amazed how supposidly intelligent people buy this crap.  

    I think they literally cannot think for themselves.

    Stop in when you can, I've found that TL is now down to about one interesting thread/day.

    Ah, hell, better than nothing I guess.

    Good luck with the new job.


    here's a fact for you: (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 02:33:36 PM EST
    the dry tortugas is still available. if it was good enough for dr. mudd, it's good enough to put our most dangerous criminals on, forever. the problem is a lack of imagination, not resources.

    sure, sure, all those other ideas are good, no argument here. if you can nip the problem in the bud, by presenting viable, civilized alternatives to gang membership, go for it. it will more than pay for itself in the long run.

    however (there's always a however!), for those that just insist on gang membership, where is it written in the constitution that they must be imprisoned on the mainland? it isn't. use the assets available, and take them out of our midst entirely, forever.

    the dry tortugas housed a military prison. like alacatraz, it was nearly impossible to escape from, and there really are sharks in the surrounding waters. that pretty much eliminates the need for massive, expensive security equipment; they aren't going anywhere.

    just something to consider.

     flaws in the CJA panel v. FPD study but make no effort here.

      Did you notice the failure to reconcile the assertion that the "heavy handed" policies have failed with the citing of statistics that gang membership has declined during the period? Now, I'm not arguing post hoc ergo prompter hoc and there may be other explanations but they are not provided even as hypotheses. It seems that the authors' agenda crossed them up-- the part about declining membership was raised in the section where they were asserting the problem is overstated and claiming the public is irrationally afraid due to media and law enforcement misinformation but not evaluated when they were attacking the law enforcement model for dealing with the problem

      Perhaps even more obvious is the exceedingly misleading exposition of the statistics. Gang members are responsible for only 5% of the homicides? That might be encouraging until you consider that means less than a million people according their statistics-- less than  0.3% of the population -- are thus responsible for that percentage. It would seem to suggest that gang members are more than 15 times likely to commit a homicide than the "typical" citizen. Phrased that way the same statistics sound pretty serious.

       Moreover, saying what we are doing isn't working very well (I wonder how much grant money they burned reaching that startling conclusion?)in no way suggests that any otyher approach would work better. The authors explicitly state they have no specific recommendations and then mouth the tired platitudes of more money for education, job creation  and community building and strongly endorse the social work model without any real substance other than they think it would be better. Maybe, it would but this is another worthless study.

    a similar response, especially regarding TL's marked dis-inclination to dig into the stats in these types of subject but is very much inclined to do so in other topics like the CJA-FPD, but lost interest because who the hell cares anyway? It's not like someone here might actually change their opinion once it's made up.

    Ah well, enough of my rant.

    Gang members are responsible for only 5% of the homicides?

    fwiw, from my googling, in LA anyway, gang members are responsible, depending on the year, for 50% to 60% of all homicides.


    From today's (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 04:23:50 PM EST
    LA TImes:
    Southern California law enforcement officials, who started the year fearing a surge in gang crime, have reached midyear with a major drop in homicides, according to crime statistics released Tuesday.


    [LA mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa said a strategy of targeting 10 top gangs and their members, criticized by some, has paid off in fewer crimes and particularly fewer homicides.

    "We targeted the worst gangs in Los Angeles, and gang homicides are down 29%," the mayor told reporters Tuesday at a news conference.

    He noted that through June 30, there were 41 fewer gang homicides than during the first half of 2006. "Why is that important? Because gang homicides are 56% of all homicides."

    a couple of points (none / 0) (#7)
    by Deconstructionist on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 04:35:21 PM EST
    LA (thankfully, and not just in this way) is not typical of the country and the gang problem is far worse there than even most other major cities let alone the restof the nation , and the authors do make a case that law enforcement's definition of  "gang related" is too broad.

    All good (none / 0) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 04:48:54 PM EST
    TL specifically picked out CA congress critters Fienstien and Schiff in her quotes, which is why I focused on LA...

    Heeeeyyy, (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 04:49:49 PM EST
    wait a minute...
    LA (thankfully, and not just in this way) is not typical of the country

    Correction (none / 0) (#13)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 04:45:43 PM EST

     Looking at the report again, I  misstated the report's statistics in my first post:

      Actually the report says:

    "National estimates and local research findings suggest that gang members may be responsible for fewer than one in 10 homicides; fewer than one in 16 violent offenses; and fewer than one in 20 serious (index ) crimes."

      So, when I said gang members commit 5% of all homicides I should have said 5% of all "serious crimes." It appears that gang members are responsible for closer to 10% of homicides-- meaning the rate of homicide commission by gang members is 30 times greater  (not merely 15 times) than for the total population.

    Thanks Decon (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 06:00:49 PM EST
    Gang members commit only 30X the murder rate nationwide, and over 300X the murder rate in LA.

    Yup, and trying - and succeeding - in lowering the gang murder rate is baaad.