Thesis: Gang-related violence and illegal activities continue to pose major safety risks to individuals in the twenty-first century

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Thesis: Gang-related violence and illegal activities continue to pose major safety risks to individuals in the twenty-first century. Stricter law enforcement and additional legislation are the only ways to successfully reduce the presence of gangs and to protect the public from the violence, crimes, and drug-related behavior that characterize them.

Summary: The risks that urban and rural gangs create in the United States are growing as the twenty-first century progresses. Some of the dangerous results of an increased gang presence include increased theft, homicide, drug trafficking, and other crimes. In the past, correctional measures have not been able to restrict or prohibit gang involvement or activity. Gangs can only be controlled and eliminated through new legislation and tougher law enforcement oversight by local, state and federal officials. Major changes to the correctional system and legislation measures that have been enacted in recent years have bolstered the government's efforts to contain gang activity. However, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies must continue to enact tough legislation that will give communities and law enforcement officials the tools and resources they need to effectively combat the insidious violence and destruction of gang activity.

Gangs in America

Many people think of a gang as a group of three or more people who use a common name, sign, symbol or activity objective to define themselves. Gang activity in America dates back to the early 1800s, when some immigrants banded together for protection or to advance business or conspiracy objectives. By the mid-1800s, gangs had become increasingly evident in many major cities, including Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. Since that time, gangs have proliferated throughout the US.

In the early 1990s, gangs were primarily found in highly urban and industrialized places, such as the larger cities in the US. By 1995, however, the presence of gangs began to affect urban, suburban, and rural communities, and over 50 percent of respondents in the National Youth Gang Survey sent to law enforcement agencies confirmed that gangs had entered their communities.

Today, gangs have become associated with disruptive and criminal behavior that includes drug trafficking, property damage, and violent attacks on civilians. Gang violence is increasingly posing a threat to the lives of innocent bystanders and the well-being of neighborhood communities. Gang membership in the US alone is estimated at 785,000, with approximately 26,500 different gangs according to the Department of Justice. In recent years, more than half of all homicides in major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are considered to be gang-related. Crimes caused by gang violence and behavior have become increasingly common as gang membership and activity throughout the US has risen over the last several decades despite significant efforts by law enforcement agencies to combat its growth.

In addition to posing a threat to civilian safety, gangs and gang activity are spreading through American high schools at an ever-increasing rate. In 2000, 95 percent of police agencies reported incidents of violence and the existence of youth gangs in their local schools, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Schools have reacted to the presence of gangs by creating school policies banning gang activity, symbols, clothing, and slogans. In spite of these efforts, gang activity continues to be a significant factor in criminal and violent incidents affecting youths nationwide, forcing two-thirds of American schools to create written policies regarding gangs even as they make aggressive efforts to crack down on violent or disruptive behavior related to gang activity in classrooms and on school campuses.

The Long Arm of the Law

History has shown that the corrective measures of incarceration have done very little to correct the incidence of gang violence in America. According to a report conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in 2001, a history of gang violence in an individual actually increases the likelihood of violent behavior in prison, and most gang members return to their criminal behavior once released from jail.

In 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created the National Gang Strategy under the oversight of the US Department of Justice's (DOJ) Anti-Violence Crime Initiative to address the fact that incarceration and other law enforcement processes were not having the desired corrective effects on gang members. The National Gang Strategy identifies the gangs that pose the most significant threat to local communities and then combats their activities using multiple law enforcement agencies and the same federal racketeering laws and investigative techniques that have been used to fight organized crime. This strategy has opened up communication between law enforcement groups at the state, federal, and local level, which has allowed law enforcement agencies to more effectively penetrate and disrupt gang activity.

In addition to reducing the incidence of some gang violence, the National Gang Strategy incorporates new research regarding more effective correction procedures. These procedures include probation, parole, counseling and job training programs, which have been shown to result in reductions in gang violence because they involve the combined efforts of every level of law enforcement and address the underlying motives supporting gang membership, such as poverty, illiteracy and poor job opportunities.

In addition, the DOJ's Anti-Violence Crime Initiative has given law enforcement stronger and stricter control over gang violence in since the late-1990s, and legislation and cooperative efforts have been successful at enabling law enforcement agencies to better counter gang violence.

Law and Order

Following on the success of the Anti-Violence Crime Initiative, America's Law & Order Agenda was introduced to the House of Representatives in February 2007. The agenda included a package of legislative initiatives designed to address such issues as gang violence, domestic terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography. The package also included The Gang Deterrence & Community Protection Act of 2007, often called the "Gangbuster Bill," that would have implemented increased penalties for violent crime and raised funding for law enforcement and prosecution efforts designed to combat gang activity. The legislation was not enacted by Congress, although a number of supporters of the agenda continue to push for similar legislative initiatives.

Other legislation aimed at fighting gang violence has been introduced in Congress. In October 2007, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Gang Elimination Act of 2007, which would require the attorney general to revise and develop a strategy for disarming the top-three international drug gangs. The bill was referred to a House committee for further review.

In addition, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2007, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which would increase and enhance law enforcement resources committed to investigation and prosecution of violent gangs, passed in the Senate.

The Anti-Gang Task Force Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), would increase funding for anti-gang forces at the federal, state, and local level, while the National Safe Streets Gang Crime Prevention Act of 2007, sponsored by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) would create a database of all gangs and gang-related behavior for law enforcement agencies to use to monitor and track gang behavior.

Although these bills and numerous other proposed legislative initiatives have yet to be passed by Congress, lawmakers at every level are working to craft and enact legislation that will effectively combat gang activity.

Gangs in the Twenty-First Century

The failure of the national correctional system to curtail gang activities must be addressed so that gang members can be effectively deterred from resuming such associations once released from incarceration. These changes must be made at the federal level to create national standards for enforcement and correction. However, law enforcement agencies at the state and local level must work closely with related efforts at all levels of government to ensure the most effective and coordinated approach to fighting gang violence.

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