Positive intervention, not militarization, works
El Salvador is in the middle of a debate over the direction of its anti-crime policy. The resignation of Manuel Medgar as Minister of Security twelve days ago has prompted rumors that Mauricio Funes may appoint a former military chief to head the country's police and civilian security forces. This might suggest a further militarization of public security, which already sees thousands of troops patrolling El Salvador's most dangerous neighborhoods. Despite the soldiers and the hard line policies of successive administrations, there has been no reduction in crime.
An article from IPS describes a different approach, in a public/private partnership at the Instituto Técnico Obrero Empresarial Don Bosco (ITOE), a technical school that provides primary, secondary and vocational education to 450 youngsters from the violent slums on the outskirts of the capital of El Salvador. Here's an excerpt:
Of the current student body of 450, 150 are youngsters classified by the authorities as "high risk" – in other words, they have been involved in gangs or criminal activities or are on the verge of falling into crime.
One example is 15-year-old Antonio, who was spending his time on the narrow streets of his neighbourhood with members of the Mara (or Barrio) 18 gang before his parents brought him to the institute.
"I liked hanging out with them," he told IPS. "I wasn't part of the group, but I looked like I was: I dressed and talked like them. I even did little jobs for them as a lookout."
Now he is in secondary school at the ITOE and wants to become an electrician, one of the trades taught at the institute, along with auto mechanics, carpentry, soldering, and tailoring and dressmaking.
The students include juvenile offenders who were serving sentences but due to good behaviour were referred to the institute by the courts, to study and learn a trade.
That is the case of 18-year-old Ricardo, who was sentenced to four years for rape, three of which he has served in the ITOE. Now he is about to graduate from secondary school and has plans to go on to the university.
"I would like to study to be a lawyer, and eventually become a judge," he told IPS. (More).