Luis Rodriguez, former gang member and author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., has been working many years to get youth out of gangs.
His approach is to provide resources and mentorship, and then let the youth create the organizations.
There is a role for adults, mentors, and elders. Our role is as guides, teachers, helping bring resources, structures, and options for what the youth need. However, unlike many “youth programming” going on these days, it’s not about adults deciding for youth what they should do.
This is not only the “right thing” to do, it’s also the most effective. A study by the Justice Policy Institute is illuminating.
The study compared the levels of violence in three major cities–LA, Chicago, and New York City. NYC, with much more people, had the lowest crime rates among youth and much lower gang problems. Chicago and LA are known as the most violent gang cities, although most of what policy makers do in those cities is predicated on suppression. NYC has a myriad approach to gangs; they have brought services, jobs, treatment, schooling, and other similar aspects to bear over just police and suppressive tactics.
When police act like Robocop thugs, as in L.A., crime and violence gets worse. If a city provides actual resources for youth to get out of gangs, like NYC is doing, things get better. Imagine that.
The study concludes
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.
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.
Rodriguez is thoughtful, committed, and has been at this for years, without much money or resources either. His blog is always worth reading.