By Mary Alice Miller
“Prisons are the best schools to learn to be better criminals. Our brightest gang members shouldn’t go.” These remarks were part of a presentation from Deanna Rodriguez during a recent forum at Medgar Evers College entitled An International Perspective: Gangs and Crime. Rodriguez, Chief of the Gang Bureau within the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, gave a spirited presentation.
Rodriguez began with a history of gangs in the United States. Rodriguez said Irish, not Blacks and Latinos, are responsible for this country’s gang culture. She told of teasing DA Hynes that the Irish were to blame for gangs, after having brought them to America. She pointed out that Native Americans did not have gangs, and referred to the movie Gangs of NY for a historical perspective.
According to Rodriguez, some immigrants came to this country with criminality in their minds and backgrounds. Rodriguez said “America is to blame” for the increase in Latino gang criminality which was brought here, in particular, MS 13. Rodriguez said the United States “went to El Salvador and trained them.”
Describing the situation in NYC, Rodriguez told the audience gangs are not just in the projects. “Gang recruitment takes place in Catholic schools. Gang recruitment takes place in prep schools, elite prep schools.” Rodriguez said gangs are strong; gang leaders are “running things from top prep schools.” According to Rodriguez, our “brightest” students are being recruited into gangs.
Rodriguez’ definition of a gang is “a group of people who operate together to commit crimes.”
From Rodriguez’ perspective, prison is not the answer. “Prisons are schools to learn better criminality.” Rodriguez’ recommendation is to divert our “brightest” gang members into alternative-to-prison programs.
Puzzled whether prison is punishment for crime, and whether no one should be sentenced to prisons since according to Rodriguez, they are “schools” to learn better criminality, a call was placed to the DA’s office for clarification of official policy.
Sandy Silverstein, in the DA’s Public Relations office, offered this explanation: Rodriguez meant to say gangs are not just affecting the poor. Silverstein went on to say, “Almost all defendants who were put into alternative sentencing were Black and Latino.”
Silverstein said “The DA’s office believes in alternative sentencing,” and pointed out some crime prevention initiatives, such as Treatment Alternatives for Dually Diagnosed Defendants (TADDD).
Silverstein added, “Gangs are more organized. Many gang leaders are already in prison. Members are recruited within prison, or are already gang members when they enter prison.”
Silverstein further explained there is no difference between how gang members in public school and in Catholic and elite prep schools are prosecuted. They would all be treated the same way.