Today was another action-packed day in our case study on Salinas gang violence, and provided plenty of opportunity to reflect on the causes, effects and solutions to said violence. During our panel with the Mayor, CASP Director and NGO workers, it was interesting to learn about the progress made under the Obama administration in terms of shifting investment in law enforcement to investing in prevention. Director Jose in particular seemed proud of the progress made under Obama by using 6 cities as a pilot to generate a strategic approach to combating violence levels. While I didn’t necessarily always agree with the Mayors style or policy, there is certainly a lot to be said for him given his popularity in Salinas as a Republican, in an overwhelmingly Democrat city. Furthermore, his background in law enforcement, as the self-proclaimed “biggest arrestor” all make him an unlikely advocate of preventative measures and strategies. However, despite his obvious commitment to these programs, he did admit that “maybe we can save ’em, maybe we can’t.” I guess this is something for us to keep in mind as we analyse these situations as outsiders. Prevention may seem like the best plan in the world, but at the end of the day suppression is going to be employed for those who break the law. And whether we liked what we saw in the prison or not, functional societies are governed by laws with the goals of order and public safety.
I appreciated the inclusion of the two ladies who are playing such an active role on the grassroots level, which in this case means in homes and on the streets. While I would have liked to hear more from them, I was really interested in the ideas of the “violence interruptors” whose role is to focus on a hotspot and identify at-risk kids as a preventative measure of keeping them out of trouble. A major challenge to this work, which was brought up during the session was the fact that gangs subscribe to not interacting with service providers such as the one’s we met today. This makes the lives of at-risk youth that much more vulnerable and the cycle of violence that much harder to disrupt. I appreciated the Mayor’s assertion that we are all a step away from being in the situation of the many people whose lives were discussed today: whether they were at-risk, incarcerated or had fallen on hard times. I think this was an important admission, coupled with the statement that “no one is born mean.” From what we have learnt about the Criminal Justice system so far, coupled with our experiences today, it seems like CASP (whose mission is: prevention, intervention, suppression, reentry) has had some positive effects on cross-community communication and prevention strategies. However, it is easy to see how the organization can be criticised. For example, I think as a group we all shared concerns about the lack of minority and youth representation at the meeting we attended.
I thought that Sneha asked a provocative question, when she pressed the leadership on how they evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. Jose mentioned the use of 3rd party cultivated data (ie MIIS student-run surveys) and other outside groups collecting data as the basis for a lot of evaluation. Based on this data, 2-3 year plans are derived. During this discussion, when the panel was asked about the biggest challenges they face in implementing these policies, the issue of sustainability between successive administrations was raised. It appears that this issue is being addressed by the Mayor embedding the costs into the actual budget, which moves away from the precarious status of the grant-based model.