Prosecutor to Convene Summit on Gangs

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Gangs are a growing problem in Maryland, from international networks such as Mara Salvatrucha to loosely affiliated groups selling drugs on street corners, said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

His office, along with the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the Maryland Crime Prevention Association, will sponsor the state's first gang summit next month to bring together law enforcement officials, juvenile justice agents, corrections workers, educators and others to address the issue. The summit will be June 1 in Columbia.

At the conference, experts will provide an analysis of gangs in Maryland, and participants will discuss local gang problems and possible solutions.

One of the main areas of focus will be public perception.

"The first problem is, we have a romanticism in American culture about gangs," Rosenstein said. "Many of them are extremely violent and extremely bad. They're not romantic at all. Some gang initiation involves getting beaten up by members of the gang or going out and committing crimes against innocent people."

Several of the gangs are also highly disciplined.

"It's frightening how organized they can be," Rosenstein said. "They make a decision to kill somebody, and then it gets done."

Another key topic will be how to reach middle school students before they are influenced by gangs. Rosenstein wants to reach young people through community organizations, religious leaders, educators and other important figures in young people's lives.

"There need to be alternatives. People feel like there isn't enough structure in their lives," he said. "Gangs sometimes become an option for people who are uprooted. Immigrants who lack a social structure are more likely to join gangs."

California has faced serious gang problems for decades, going back to the origins of the Bloods and the Crips. Many gangs with national reach started in California prisons, Rosenstein said.

According to the 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment prepared by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations, incarceration does little to disrupt gangs. High-ranking gang members often are able to exert their power on the street from prison, according to the findings.

Rosenstein said he hopes that the conference will analyze these issues in hopes of finding solutions.

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