May 31, 2010

Can Social Problems Be Solved?

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

If you have ever taken or taught a sociology class, you know that many students leave feeling like some problems are too deeply entrenched in our social structure to ever change. This, of course, is not true; social change is possible. But how?

In the United States, the legal system has been our go-to solution for many issues. Civil rights activists effectively used the courts to desegregate schools, and Congress passed several landmark bills guaranteeing voting rights and fair housing, for instance.

But the law is only one avenue to create change; there are many other ways that ordinary citizens can work to solve problems. We are accustomed to thinking that the best way to deal with problems like gang violence, for instance, would be to pass more laws to punish those involved in gangs more severely. But while people who act violently should be punished and incarcerated, prison alone will not stop people from joining gangs.

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, began working with gang members in 1984 when he was assigned to a church in one of the city’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. As Boyle describes in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, presiding over the funerals of young  person after young person moved him to take action.

For the last eighteen years, Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide jobs for “at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.” Homeboy Industries include shops and businesses, including a bakery, café, silk screening and embroidering, and grounds maintenance services. Participants also work side by side with former gang rivals and learn to let go clip_image002of the notion that they are enemies. (Learn more about Father Greg and Homeboy Industries by watching Father G and the Homeboys).

The businesses are designed to help people who might not otherwise be employable learn skills that will enable them to lead law-abiding lives. One of the biggest challenges that people coming out of prison face is getting a job. As Boyle observed, many employers are not “felon friendly”. And particularly during these days of high unemployment, having a record can mean few options. (Check out the documentary A Hard Straight for an in-depth look at the challenges of staying out of prison while on parole).

Homeboy Industries is now overflowing with thousands of young people who want to leave gang life behind and find jobs. But like many non-profit institutions, Homeboy Industries is facing tough financial times, as the recession has reduced donations. They were recently forced to lay off 300 people--all of their paid staff. The organization’s small businesses are quite successful, earning about $2.5 million annually, but this is just a quarter of the organization’s operating budget. (In addition to job training, Homeboy Industries offers tattoo removal, mental health care and legal services). The organization is seeking about $5 million dollars in donations to re-hire their staff for this year.

If that seems like a lot of money, consider this: celebrities and other wealthy Angelenos just donated more than $12 million to buy the land around the Hollywood sign after a three month campaign to save it from developers. And the cost to incarcerate one inmate in a California prison averages $47,000 a year; at that rate, Homeboy Industries costs about the same as housing 212 inmates and yet serves thousands of young people.

For the state’s 673 prisoners on death row, the cost rises to $90,000 per inmate each year. Perhaps that’s why the prison system costs California taxpayers nearly $8 billion, about 11 percent of the state's budget (a higher percentage than the state’s educational system receives).

Like many other states, California is facing a massive budget deficit of $20 billion. To alleviate this shortfall, the state plans to release many prisoners and will also cut social services, including aid for child welfare and foster care, the disabled, and the elderly. While these cuts might save money in the short term, in the long run we might see more problems—and possibly more crime—from these decisions.

The vast majority of those incarcerated in California’s prisons (83 percent) are there for property crimes rather than violent crimes (14 percent), crimes like theft, drug distribution and drug possession, which in some cases may be the result of a lack of legitimate job opportunities.

It’s very possible that organizations like Homeboy Industries might save far more money than they cost. So why haven’t philanthropists rushed forward as they have for the Hollywood sign?

As Boyle notes, gang members are often viewed by others as “disposable” people who are undeserving of help. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell writes in What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures that we often prefer to fund programs for people we feel are morally clip_image002[7]deserving. And yet in his chapter on homelessness, “Million Dollar Murray,” Gladwell concludes that it may be cheaper to pay for housing for persistently homeless people than to provide services to manage homelessness.

This may not play well with the general public, who might see a down-on-her-luck single mother as more deserving of help than an alcoholic who has been on the streets for years. But Gladwell finds that in the long run the public health costs for the least sympathetic homeless people—those that might be heavy drinkers and resist working—are actually much higher if they stay on the streets than they would be if we found a way to house them. Likewise, heavily tattooed gang members with long criminal records may not be the most sympathetic of characters, but helping them get jobs will be cheaper than sending them to prison.

Addressing problems like gang violence are not easy, but they are also not impossible to deal with. What other problems can be addressed if we are willing to assist unsympathetic groups? How might we save money in the long run by doing so?


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I like the idea of helping troubled teens, felons and former gang members get a job. Just because they made bad decisions doesn't mean they are bad people. Not every person who deals drugs or joined the gang life wanted to choose that; it may have been there last option. They could have had a bad home life, in-ept role models and no jobs available. People will succumb to many dangerous things to get money, maybe some of the ex-cons got caught up with the wrong crowd. If someone is willing and wanting to let go of a bad life for something better, we should help them. It is also a good idea to help them because it is cheaper to help them get jobs than to send them back to prison.

I think that it's a good idea for Homeboy to take in ex gang members. It will help to get them off the streets and to have a more safe life. A lot of people who are struggling keeping their house will get angry about letting unsympathetic groups pay less than them. They'll most likely get mad because they will think that they worked hard for where they are at now and the others did not. I think that the author characterizes everything very well. Having a location for them to go to is a positive thing because it gives them a positive influence.

Gang violence can be seen anywhere in the world. There are many laws to limit gang violence, however, we can all see that the law alone is now enough to stop gang violence. I remember an article that the reason why people join gang is because they want to friends that they can rely on. A lot of people who joins gang member hungers for companionship. The organizations such as Homeboy Industries to help these people, however I do not think it is enough to solve this problem. It is too expensive to maintain quality organizations to help the gang members.
I would like to connect this issue to media misrepresentation. As we saw in a video clip “Tough Guise”, media misrepresent what the real men supposed to be. Many teenager and young men view a real man as a tough, dominant, aggressive and daring which are all misrepresented by media. We easily notice disorderly students hanging out with peers and exaggerate power by bugging weak student in school. I think media should stop exaggerated violence by using famous actors in an action movie that misrepresents what a real man supposed to be.

Helping troubled teens often times has been proven to work. I applaud these organizations for helping to change the social problems. It seems as all your research was in order as well.

I believe that youth caught in this situation such as gang violence or the prison system can use some positive reinforcement. A lot of these people did not grow up in a stable home environment. I believe that if the situation does not get under control by getting to the root of the problem and helping to solve it, then we will have generations upon generations of gang violence and youth in prisons. Taking the time out to help these youth find jobs is actually helping the community/society by making them productive members of society.

If helping troubled teens is cheaper than sending them to jail, we should be trying to start more organizations like Homeboy Industries instead of cutting social services to the children, the disabled, and the elderly. Even if the teens had a troubled past that included gangs and such, the fact that they want to change says a lot. Everyone makes mistakes and if they want to change, we should support them. If we can help these teens overcome their struggles and make a better life, they in turn can someone else.
This article relates to two videos we saw in my sociology class. The first was “Tough Guise”, a video about media misrepresenting the image of ‘a real man’. The media makes it seem like men should be strong and violent and threatening. And if they are not, they are called names and looked down upon by other men as well as women. The media also makes it seem like woman want men that are muscular and strong with a ‘bad boy’ side. The second video was Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days: Jail” is which Morgan Spurlock spend 25 days in a jail in Henrico County, Virginia. Morgan comes across a couple of guys who’ve spent their youth in and out of jails and now want to turn over a new leaf. One of the young men includes a 20 something year old trying to kick his addiction of drugs.

Gangs violence is big problem not just in USA but in a whole would. It’s too deeply entrenched in our social structure but we all together can try to change it. I think Homeboy industry doing great job to trying to help troubled teens who made mistakes in their life. These kids didn’t choose in which family and where to born. They go to school and hang out with kids from the same area. They grow like in a big pot, and it is seems that can never end. They want to become gangs because by the roles in their area gangs have high respect, people will afraid of them. They start to do drugs because they want to be cool around classmates. I think it is very difficult to make right choose for teenagers. Especially teens very depend on people’s opinion; some of them want to be gangsters just to have a lot friends, to have support and respect in their community, to be powerful and get everything they want, and it does not matter by which way. When they go to school there are a lot of students which came from families with the same values and morals. Some of them do not want but they have to because they will beat up by simple reason that they are different then everybody else. In every school students who try to be different can be bullied by classmates what can affect on their mentality. We cannot let them to spoil their lives just because they were born in some bad area and made wrong decisions. They couldn’t choose where to grow up. No doubt that is very bad that people in gangs areas starts drink, smoke marihuana and do drugs in such young age. Probably some of them want to change but they do not know where and how to start. That is so good idea to offer them to remove tattoos, and provide mental health care. I am sure that many employers would not hire somebody who just came back from a prison and who had past in gangs’ violence. This people can start think that their life is over and start to do even worse things. Who knows what this person will do because of anger, maybe kill somebody? I read in my sociology book about shooting in schools by Cho Seung-Hui, 23-years old student. He used two handguns and murdered 32 students before killing himself. He was so angry with people because he was bullied by high school students in the past and he could not find different way to solve his psychological problems. And this is not even in some gang area. It’s a good example how people can get angry and desperate. Maybe if somebody would talk to this guy, tried to help to solve his problems, this tragedy would not happen. Companies like “Homeboy industry” help people a lot. It’s a better way for making them to change, then put them in the prison, because punishment will change them even more, make them cruel, they will think that they do not deserve better life. I think society should give a chance to people who at least trying to be better. We need to go toward this people, and afford help. We cannot let them to be behind society. Everybody wants to have nice job, good friends and support, hobbies. We need to have more companies like “Homeboy industry” and maybe open more clubs where people can meet companions and share theirs past experience. They will feel somebodies support, and see how many doors will open if they will change their life. Of course it’s expensive to open organization, but if we will involve media a lot of people would donate money. I am sure many people would volunteer for these programs. But there are some not expensive ways. One of them is involving into church. Church will never turn from a person who needs help, church will always happy to help everybody. Believe in God will help them to not give up and give them positive influence. People should open internet forums where they can tell their worries, wishes and be hided from audience. They could share their life stories with people who have the same problems and wishes for the future. All combine will help people who hard trying to leave gang life behind.

Sociological theory maintains that, with a few biochemical exceptions, people are not born good or bad, happy or depressed, and intelligent or ignorant, but are shaped into their personalities over time by the interactions that they have and the situations with which they live. In saying this, I believe that organizations such as Homeboy Industries are extremely effective in their fight to fix social issues such as gang violence. These opportunities really allow for convicts to realize that we are all humans, and we should learn to live and work together. To me, it seems like offering alternatives to gang violence in one of Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods is definitely a step in the right direction. It is important to offer second chances to those who want it. Homeboy Industries provides much-needed job training, hires ex-gang members for transitional jobs and helps offer other free programs to people who otherwise struggle in the outside world. This is a simple philosophy, really. By offering gang members hope through gainful employment, they will want to leave behind they violent past. This population really can’t afford to just go to school, they are not living at home with their parents, and they have no one to turn to. Organizations such as Homeboy Industries show these people that there is a positive and productive place for them in society…and that is what they really need in order to succeed.
A sociological explanation is concerned with how the structure of a society, institutional practices or its persisting cultural themes affects the conduct of its members. Gang violence is most often the result of recruitment from local neighborhoods, prisons, the Internet, and schools. For most, it becomes an all-encompassing lifestyle, like a disease. They get sucked into it, and they quickly become people they do not want to be. Organizations such as Homeboy Industries help to offer these people a second chance to prove themselves to society. I find this article relevant not to my life personally, but to society as a whole due to the fact that gang violence is a serious issue throughout the country. In recent years, the gang warfare in Santa Barbara has escalated. Gang graffiti pops up most everywhere around town, sometimes as a threat or challenge to other gangs. I believe that more organizations such as Homeboy Industries should be offered in communities suffering from gang violence, because everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance if they are willing to work for it.

There is indeed hope for these youth offenders. I agree that putting these troubled teens behind bars wouldn't solve the problem, if there's no help given to them to change their bad ways, then problems like these will still continue to escalate. If these troubled teens are given the chance to prove themselves to have changed for the better, then well and good.

I think that helping out teens that would be in gangs would help our country a lot. If more teens got help and didn't join gangs, it might let other teens know that they should get help too. Choosing to get help would be a better choice than staying in a gang and beating people up or even shooting people. Gangs have deviant behavior, because they choose to do things that violate norms.

This is very helpful to all the teens growing up in bad neighborhoods

I really love the idea for Homeboy industries this will help keep gangs out of our streets. They will more busy with a job then being with a gang.

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