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.
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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