Table of Contents
According to Short & Hughes (2006), gang violence has always been among the worst forms of organized crime that ruin the lives of many youths in American, Latin America and other countries all over the world. The criminal justice systems have implemented various strategies aimed at curbing gang violence; some of which have been effective while others have failed. The current paper will analyze the traditional strategies of addressing gang violence, their successes and failures, and recommend a new solution to the vice.
Klein & Maxson (2006) explain that the traditional strategies of dealing with gang violence include suppression, incarceration, detached worker programs, Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T) Program and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Comprehensive Community-Wide Gang Model. Majority of these strategies have been ineffective in curbing gang violence mainly because they do not address specific factors that drive youths into joining gangs. According to Goldson (2011), some of the main reasons as to why youths in Latin America join gangs are; to earn a living and gain protection. Therefore, regardless of how many good policies and education programs are set to discourage youths from joining gangs, they will be rendered ineffective if they fail to address these fundamental needs of the youths.
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Klein & Maxson (2006) have provided a critical analysis of each of the aforementioned strategies highlighting their successes and failures. First, the gang suppression strategy involves aggressive enforcement of laws by specialized gang units which are led by criminal prosecutors and the police targeting gang members and their illegal activities. Although this strategy is most practiced and best known in criminal justice systems globally, it is less-effective than other strategies. According to Klein & Maxson (2006), the Mexican drug cartels that control gang activities in the region have been spending more than $500 million per year to bribe the Police and other law enforcement agencies to be allowed to undertake their illegal activities. In addition, according to Farrington & Welsh (2007), high-profile individuals such as politicians, military and police commanders and other officers working with law enforcement agencies were detained in Mexico for aiding and abetting organized crime. Bearing in mind that these are the officers who are entrusted with the mandate of implementing the suppression strategy to curb gang violence, corruption has rendered them compromised and triggered the strategy to be ineffective.
Secondly, according to Klein & Maxson (2006), incarceration alone as a strategy of dealing with gang violence does not work in many criminal justice systems. For instance, in the United States, incarceration has been proven ineffective in addressing the issue of gang membership and violence. This is because of the fact that gang membership is still being practiced in prisons. Therefore, once gang members are arrested and imprisoned, they continue with their gang activities inside the prisons. Moreover, Klein & Maxson (2006) explain that correctional institutions around the world rarely rehabilitate. Instead, they criminalize individuals further, hence leading to vicious cycles of release and imprisonment of gang members due to high re-offending rates.
Thirdly, detached worker programs are aimed at providing support services to potential gang members in their own environment with the objective of shifting their attention from organized crime. Unfortunately, according to Klein & Maxson (2006), a study that was conducted by Malcom Klein in the year 2002 revealed that these programs inadvertently increased gang cohesion instead of breaking it. This factor was associated with the high value for status and identity among potential gang members whereby any program that selected and gave them special attention ran the risk of making them recruitment targets by the already existing gang members.
Fourthly, the G.R.E.A.T program involves use of a school-based, police-instructed curriculum whereby the law enforcement officers subject the students to counseling in efforts of curbing youth involvement in gang activity and delinquency. Unfortunately, according to Klein & Maxson (2006), a five-year longitudinal evaluation of the program revealed that it had little positive impact in changing the attitudes of the youths towards the police and it failed to minimize youth gang membership and future delinquency. The authors cited among the reasons for ineffectiveness of the program as failure to target those at highest risk of joining gangs and failure to incorporate the existing and developing knowledge base about gangs.
However, the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model which involves social intervention, community mobilization, opportunities provision, suppression and organizational change development has been significantly effective in dealing with the gang membership and violence (Klein & Maxson 2006). The program managed to reduce serious violence arrests by 60% among 17 and 18-year olds. In addition, it also reduced other forms of gang-related violence such as mob action, obstruction of police officers and disorderly conduct (Klein & Maxson 2006). Therefore, it can be argued that this model has been successful in reducing gang violence.
The current author proposes implementation of an integrated gang violence reduction strategy that will incorporate economic, political and social interventions. This strategy can be referred to as the “Hybrid Gang Violence Reduction Strategy”. It will involve an increase of funding to the education system in order to accommodate more youths and enactment of laws making it compulsory for youths to attain basic education. This intervention will help in reducing the high illiteracy levels among the youths that have rendered them unqualified for formal employment hence compelling them to undertake gang activities for a living. The strategy will also involve a review of the policies governing the conduct of law enforcement officers and intensive crackdown on the officers who have been accepting bribes and in return aiding and abetting organized crime. The local governments will engage in collaborative efforts with the national governments and other oversight authorities to reform their law enforcement agencies with the objective of emphasizing on professionalism. In addition, the strategy will also ensure collaboration between the private sector and public sector to increase the absorption rate of graduates into the formal employment sector. The government will also be expected to come up with a youth fund which will provide financial support to youths who intent to venture into business after school. This proposed strategy will help in reducing the dependence on gang activities by youths for survival, and support behavioral change to discourage youths from getting involved in gang violence.
Gang violence is among the worst forms of organized crime that have affected the lives of many youths around the world negatively. Although there are traditional strategies for curbing this vice such as suppression, incarceration, G.R.E.A.T program, detached worker programs and OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model, most of them have been rendered ineffective because they do not target the people at highest risk of joining gangs nor address the specific needs of youths at risk. Therefore, the current author proposes implementation of the “Hybrid Gang Violence Reduction Strategy” which will incorporate economic, political and social interventions aimed at reforming the law enforcement practice and drive behavioral change among youths. This strategy will help in reducing gang violence because it incorporates a lot of elements which have been proven effective in the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model.
- Farrington, D.P., & Welsh, B.C. (2007). Saving Children from a Life of Crime: Early Risk Factors and Effective Interventions. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Goldson, B. (2011). Youth in Crisis? Gangs, Territoriality and Violence. London: Routledge.
- Klein, M.W., & Maxson, C.L. (2006). Street Gang Patterns and Policies. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Short, J.F., Hughes, L.A. (eds.). (2006). Studying Youth Gangs. New York: Altamira Press.