Posted on Wed, Feb. 15, 2006
Mark McCormick, Wichita Eagle
Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams is asking legislators for a new weapon in the war against youth gangs. The proposal, Senate Bill 458, would make it a crime for gangs to recruit at schools, make it easier to keep gang members locked up after an arrest, and define the term "gang member" in state law.
I'm not opposed to such a plan. Some schools are like daily gang-recruiting conventions. We have to do something to stem gang influence there.
If this measure proves as effective at locking up gang members as law enforcement has been in reducing crime generally, it's going to mean more gang members arrested, charged and jailed. Crime has been dropping for the past 10 years. If there's anything we do well, it's lock people up.
But when will we start choking off the pipeline of people filling prison cells? How long can we continue building and filling prisons?
"You can do it as long as you want to continue to pay for it," said Brian Withrow, director of the Midwest Criminal Justice Institute at Wichita State University. "But the reality is, you reach a point where you can't do that anymore."
Society has come full circle to a realization that rehabilitation programs make the most sense, he said.
During the 1960s, the country invested a lot of money in programming, but because the programs were expensive and the short-term results somewhat mixed, critics labeled them ineffective, Withrow said.
It became cheap and chic for politicians to just build more prisons. It got to the point that anything short of locking up criminals got you labeled soft on crime.
What we're figuring out again, though, is that community-based programs are actually tough on crime, he said.( Read more...Collapse )