RALEIGH, N.C. — A Washington think tank says misconceptions about gangs have led to poor legislation and have cost taxpayers millions in failed strategies. The group says the answer isn't as much about police as it is about prevention.
The war on gangs takes many different shapes in the Triangle. Finding the right mix of intervention and enforcement is a constant battle for authorities, but one that the nationwide report suggests they are losing.
The Justice Policy Institute says misconceptions about gangs in big cities lead to failed policies, and other areas risk following the cities' lead.
Gangs are responsible for relatively few crimes, whites make up the largest group of adolescent gang members and more police, prisons and tougher sentences only increase gang cohesion, the institute's report said.
“Prisons don’t work for the majority, because prison is designed to send them back out there like animals,” said Otis Lyons, a former gang member.
Lyons said he has been shot twice, stabbed and hit over the head with an ax. He said it was prison that turned him around – but he concedes that he might be the exception.
“There’s not programs in there that is really going to rehabilitate a convict,” Lyons said. “I wanted to change myself.”
He is now trying to change the minds of other gang members through his group, “Campaign for Change,” and his work with the Triangle Lost Generation Task Force.
“People suggest that prison is gang university, and so we’re giving kids free room and board for graduate degrees in gang activity,” said Landon Adams, with the Lost Generation Task Force.
The task force's mission is to steer young people away from crime and to keep them out of prison by offering alternatives – a strategy shared by a Wake County task force on gang violence.
“I think there’s a role for law enforcement, especially when it comes to community safety,” said Kristen Rosselli, with Wake Gang Prevention. “But, ultimately, I know that the partnership believes we’re putting our effort into prevention and intervention. And that’s really where we’re going to make the difference.”