Looking for solutions
I am going to wind up this series of posts on the gang problem in El Salvador with a list of measures that address some of the root causes. These steps offer a more comprehensive approach than the enforcement-only approach of policies like Super Mano Dura.
- Prevention. The government and civil society organizations must be active in developing programs that provide alternatives to joining a gang. Youth centers, sports leagues, school activities, and job training may offer another option and make the gang lifestyle look less attractive in comparison. This should be coupled with anti-gang education that de-glamorizes the gangster life.
- Rehabilitation. When gang members are arrested, prison in El Salvador is often just a year or two of training for additional responsibilities in the gang. The criminal justice system needs to look for ways to rehabilitate, particularly younger first time offenders, with education and skills training. Then there needs to be a system for re-inserting the released inmate back into society.
- Community policing. Communities are terrorized by gangs, but very often they do not trust the police. The police will not be effective without the cooperation of community members who want to see their community rid of gangs. This requires that police work much harder at being part of the community and establishing relationships. It also means dealing harshly with any police corruption.
- US assistance to deal with deported gang members. The US deports violent gang members and dumps them on El Salvador, where the country is already overwhelmed with the gang problem. The US needs to do more to provide assistance to El Salvador to deal with the return of these criminals. Such efforts are in the interests of the US since the rate of gang members crossing back into the US is high.
- Train and equip police to investigate and successfully prosecute gang crimes. Only a small per centage of homicides committed by gang members are ever prosecuted. Without success in arresting and punishing those who kill, rob, or commit extortion, the gangs have no deterrent from pursuing these activities. Giving police the training and tools to do their jobs is essential.
- Target economic programs to provide opportunities in the depressed areas where gangs operate. Gangs thrive where there is no economic opportunity and where there is no hope. Policies that promote the improvement of the economic well-being of persons living in marginalized areas are necessary.
- Start to reduce the prevalence of firearms in El Salvador. Firearms are the weapon of choice of the gangs, and there are a lot of guns in El Salvador. The presence of weapons from the civil war and the perceived need for a gun for protection from a violent society have left El Salvador awash with guns. Starting to reduce the number of guns may start to reduce the lethality of the violence.