In a promising development for gang intervention programs, a leading California senator visited several community-based projects in Los Angeles aimed at reducing gang violence through rehabilitation, training and job opportunities.
Sen. Loni Hancock, who chairs key policy and budget committees on public safety, held informal meetings with Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention project in the United States, Guillermo Cespedes, director of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s prevention and intervention program. Council member Tony Cardenas, who as a former assemblyman authored a program providing over $100 million annually for the past decade, and a candid meeting with 30 community workers at Community Build, an agency led by Brenda Shockley, in Lemert Park. Hancock also met informally with Alex Sanchez, the founder of Homies Unidos, who remains free on bail while facing federal conspiracy charges in a Los Angeles courtroom.
On Saturday, Hancock visited Camp Gonzales, a locked camp holding 90 boys for three months to a year. Hancock was accompanied by policy adviser Martha Toscano and Mark Gladstone of the Senate Office of Research. Gladstone is a former Los Angeles Times investigative reporter who wrote extensively about California prison scandals a decade ago.
The Hancock visit came as the legislature considers solutions to the California budget crisis, in which social welfare programs are targeted for severe cuts while Gov. Jerry Brown is defending $9.1 billion budget from the General Fund, higher than expenditures for the 19-campus California state university system. Brown also has been held in violation of the 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to undisputed court documents, California inmates are dying at a rate of one every eight days, or 112 in a recent two-year period, from the lack of adequate medical care. With approximately 150, 000 inmates, California is a leader in the massive incarceration rate across the United States, far surpassing the rest of the world.
Republicans and the prison guards’ union are adamantly opposed to reductions in incarceration rates, despite a lack of commitment to reduce overcrowding. Brown’s budget provides funds to compensate for reductions in overtime pay for the union.
In contrast to the $9.1 billion spent on incarceration, the State invests only $27 million on grants to community-based organizations, authorized under 2007 legislation creating the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Initiative [CalGRIP]. Advocates complain that little of the funding reaches front-line workers attempting to rescue and redirect young people away from gang violence and death. In Los Angeles County alone, over 15,000 young people have died in gang wars during recent decades, and tens of thousands have been wounded and traumatized.
Hancock heard questioning of official state policy which designates Ceasefire, a Boston-based initiative strongly backed by former police chief William Bratton, as “the only proven approach to reducing serious gang violence.” This assertion, which most gang intervention advocates would contest, is the key to the statewide program which is jointly funded by the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, and the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit Program. The RAND Corporation, based in Santa Monica, is the primary source of research on Ceasefire, and the recipient of millions in research grants upholding the program.
The basic concept of Ceasefire is to demand that gang members turn over their guns or face punitive enforcement [arrest, parole and probation violations, court appearances, entry on police data bases, lock up, etc] against any and all of its associates. Carrots like job referrals are offered as well, but are not mandated. The result is a top-heavy enforcement program branded as an intervention and prevention program.
Los Angeles law enforcement agencies have been won over to the utility of intervention programs in recent years, but only as minor supplement to traditional policing which emphasizes enforcement and incarceration. In any given year, the LAPD conducts stop-and-frisk operations against 800,000 young people of color, based largely on the zip codes where they are found. Civil rights advocates question the constitutionality of this form of racial profiling, which has been condemned and recently prohibited in New York as “Jim Crow policing.”
Hancock promised hearings and debate on the questions raised in her Los Angeles visit.