The Conversation

A weekly discussion of a topic important to Californians

August 24, 2008
Gang violence: Is a tax hike necessary?

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This week's topic: gang violence.

San Jose has found some success with a community-based program focused on reaching kids where they live, go to school and hang out. The city awards about $4 million in grants each year to two dozen or more non-profit community groups that offer counseling, education and intervention programs.

The program might be an alternative to the $50-million a year tax increase proposed by some Sacramento leaders, or it could be a model for how to spend a big chunk of that money.

You can read my piece on this program here.

A Sacramento youth organizer and a drug and alcohol counselor offer their views here.

For what it's worth: San Jose, while twice the size of Sacramento, is a far safer place:


UPDATE. I just got this response from Don Meyer, the president-elect of the Calfiornia Probation Officers Assn:

The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) has supported and continues to support rehabilitative programs that work effectively to reduce re-offense.  So it was with great appreciation that we read your August 24, 2008 article, Gang Violence and the way in San Jose, which acknowledges our collective experience:  evidence based programs with measurable outcomes, delivered with fidelity and fiscal accountability reduces recidivism.

Of particular interest was the data supplied in the article "About 20 percent of the youths served were gang members, an additional 31 percent were gang supporters and the rest were described as 'high risk'."  There is ample scientific evidence that several programs, when delivered with fidelity, reduce recidivism in both delinquents and adult offenders. Some examples are Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT), to name a few. A great deal of research on correctional programs has been conducted over the past thirty years that validates effectiveness of some programs and destructiveness of others.  Significant and encouraging information can be reviewed at the Washington State Information of Public Policy website (WSIPP), which confirms my previous statements. 


We know the following:  Risk to reoffend is directly related to at least eight criminogenic indicators.  These include a history of anti-social behavior, anti-social personality pattern, anti-social attitudes, anti-social associates, family/marital issues, education/employment issues, substance abuse, unproductive use of leisure/recreation time. 

For a community to address crime (including gang issues), research indicates you must adhere to three principles.  Risk principle:  To maximize effect on recidivism, treatment should be targeted toward higher risk, rather than lower risk offenders and the population of treatment groups should not be aggregated by risk (one size does not fit all).  Need Principle:  Treatment should be targeted toward dynamic risk factors, also known as criminogenic needs.  These are risk factors that can be changed (e.g. substance abuse, gang involvement, anti-social thinking) as opposed to those that are static (e.g., prior record) Responsivity Principle:  Treatment should use behavioral and structured social learning rather than unstructured, nondirective, or "getting tough" approaches. 

One of the ongoing sources of frustration for community corrections has been the lack of a dependable revenue source, funds that are held hostage by budget crises, and a general lack of understanding about how to address crime reduction scientifically and effectively.  It is clear that consistent funding needs to be provided to local community corrections which includes probation, community-based organizations, treatment providers, jails, juvenile institutions and the entire law enforcement component. 


What is also increasingly clear is that the community and the taxpayers should demand accountability and results for the funding it provides. 





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Welcome to The Conversation, where our goal is to provoke and sustain spirited and civil debate on issues central to life in California. I'll offer a topic and starting point for a discussion each week, but we need you to carry it forward from there. Please dive in and join the conversation.
-- Daniel Weintraub

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