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Prevention / Intervention vs. Punishment for Young Offenders


In a recent segment from St. Louis Public Radio, a social ecology professor from the University of California, Irvine – James Diego Vigil – shared his thoughts on problems with youth, gang violence, and the way our criminal justice system handles these issues. In particular, he described his theory of “locura” or the “quasi-controlled insanity” of gang members. According to Vigil, the locura phenomenon is caused when individuals feel as though the world is against them, often because they have experienced trauma at a young age. He describes gang behavior as being distinctly different than that of life off the streets.

Vigil also discusses the importance of focusing on preventing the types of situations and mentalities that lead to the proliferation of gangs and gang violence – rather than just focusing on punishment and rehabilitation. He states that he believes that there is a significant need for more prevention-intervention programs, such as Head Start programs. These programs are effective ways to break through social, economic, and historic barriers that isolate communities and promote gang life.

Ultimately, the professor states that society as a whole needs to unite and enact plans to help youth, especially in inner cities. Simply waiting until these youth are older and throwing them in jail or prison has proven to be an ineffective approach.

St. Louis criminal defense attorney Nicole Chiravollatti also agrees with the need for prevention-intervention programs, having seen the broken system at work up close. “We work with a lot of young clients who are treated like hard-core criminals instead of kids that simply need intervention, counseling, and mentoring because they've become wrapped up in a gang,” says Chiravollatti. “We are seeing the devastating consequences as a society of merely locking young people up instead of truly helping them. It's our job to help and we take that very seriously!”

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