“To address the problem of youth gang violence, US and Central American governments should support comprehensive, community-based responses,” WOLA said in a report released today.
"Daring to Care: Community-Based Responses to Youth Gang Violence in Central America and Central-American Immigrant Communities in the United States ,” profiles six youth violence prevention organizations, 3 in the United States and 3 in Central America, that embody this type of innovative, multi-sectoral approach.
In both Central America and the United States, the phenomenon of youth gangs often invokes dehumanizing images of hardened, violent criminals who are beyond hope of rehabilitation. While some young gang members do commit violent crimes, the majority of gang-involved youth are marginalized young people who lack family, community support, positive role models, and economic opportunities.
“Youth gang members are not, for the most part, violent criminals. They are young people who, with the support of their community, can become agents of positive change in their own communities,” said WOLA Senior Associate Lainie Reisman.
Citizen security continues to be of great concern for Central American populations. Due to the highly visible nature of youth gangs, they often receive a disproportionate amount of attention from media and policymakers as the primary cause of crime and violence in Central America. While some gangs do engage in violent, criminal behavior, for the majority of gang-involved youth, the aim of gang-membership is not to commit acts of violence, and criminal activity is a secondary, rather than central activity of the gang.
“Effective responses to youth gang violence should include the participation of local governments, churches, schools and social service providers,” said Reisman. “This model is effective and relatively low-cost; it’s a win-win for policymakers and for society as a whole.”
Lainie Reisman, WOLA Senior Associate for Youth and Gangs, WOLA