Study by Justice Policy Institute Questions Effectiveness of Gang Injunctions as Means of Reducing Gang Violence

Report Comes On The Heels Of The City Attorney’s Attempt To Expand Gang Injunctions in San Francisco’s Mission And Western Addition Districts

San Francisco, CA – A groundbreaking new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute argues that the billions of dollars spent on traditional gang suppression activities, which include the enforcement of gang injunctions, have failed to promote public safety and are often counterproductive. The report is released less than a week after City Attorney Dennis Herrera appeared in court to seek permanent injunctions against 76 Mission and Western Addition residents alleged to be gang members.

Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies, written by Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis, undertakes an extensive review of the research literature on gangs to clarify persistent misconceptions and examine the effectiveness of common gang control strategies. According to the report, in cities like Los Angeles where gang activity is most prevalent, more police, more prisons and more punitive measures haven’t stopped the cycle of gang violence.

The report describes civil gang injunctions as legal tools “designed to enhance targeted suppression efforts.” According to the report, while “[l]aw enforcement and the media report impressive reductions in crime and fear through the use of gang injunctions… these stories are never buttressed with supporting evidence that meets minimal scientific standards of evaluation.”The City of San Francisco has already secured a permanent injunction in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point District. However, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi, “Bayview Hunters Point is no less of a war zone than it was last year when the gang injunction was imposed. Only three arrests for violating the gang injunction there have been made, one involving a man who was attending a job fair in the ‘gang zone.’”

“This report only solidifies what we have known and expressed from the start,” said Adachi. This raises grave concerns about the effectiveness of gang injunctions and their value of crime fighting tools. The study shows that gang injunctions do not curb violence and are not effective in steering youth from criminal activity.”

According to Adachi, many in the community fail to understand the practical effects that gang injunctions have on local residents: “The proposed Mission and Western Addition injunctions name three pairs of brothers, who would be prohibited from being together in a 60-block area and cannot leave their home after 10:00pm. More than a few have no current gang affiliations, and some even work as anti-gang counselors. At least two counselors will lose their jobs, since they work in the area and will be unable to associate with former gang members.”

Last Thursday, residents and community leaders from the Mission and Western Addition organized a rally on the steps of City Hall to address these concerns. This report substantiates many of the assertions made at the rally, including:

  • Gang members account for a relatively small share of crime;
  • The public face of the gang problem is African-American and Latino, but whites make up the largest group of adolescent gang members;
  • Gang control policies make the process of leaving more difficult by continuing to target former members after their gang affiliation has ended;
  • Heavy-handed suppression efforts can increase gang cohesion and police-community tensions, and they have a poor track record when it comes to reducing crime and violence.

According to Adachi, “Gang injunctions are particularly worrisome since none the people who the City intends to enjoin have actually been adjudged gang members by the court – they have simply been identified by law enforcement as gang members. However, because there is no right to a lawyer, and they cannot afford to hire one, these individuals have no choice but to submit to the injunction.”

The mission of the Public Defender’s office is to provide vigorous, effective, competent and ethical legal representation to persons who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney. Established in 1921, the San Francisco Public Defender has a long, proud history of providing top-notch representation to its clients, and championing programs that help people turn their lives around.

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