Probation and parole have the ability to hold offenders accountable for the crimes they committed while also providing them with the resources to turn their life around. Gang members are a unique criminal justice population – they account for a sizable chunk of criminal activities, and they tend to be repeat offenders. With this in mind, parole and probation working with gang members are in a unique position that allows them to significantly prevent and reduce criminality.
Joining Justice Clearinghouse to talk about supervising gang members is Sergeant Nathaniel Lhowe who has been with the New Jersey State Parole Board since 2008. He worked as a parole officer and was assigned to the Gang Supervision Unit where he’s handled parolees who are gang members.
His discussion covered:
- The hyper-local problem with gangs and the characteristics of gang members which makes them vulnerable to get sucked into the dynamics of gangs.
- Examples of gang literature exhibiting gang principles, culture, and rules that members abide by.
- Dynamics in jails and prisons that allow gangs to proliferate within and how gang activities flow from the streets to the facilities.
- How gangs are responsible for a majority of violent crimes in the streets which stem from gang rivalry and territory disputes, trapping gang members in a cycle of violence.
- Researches that highlight the greater likelihood of offending and recidivism for gang members.
- The myth that gang members cannot leave their gangs and the reality as to why gang members leave.
- Parole and probation agencies’ dual mission that provides them with more tools to effectively deal with gang members and prevent gang-related crimes.
- The different resources that parole and probation can access, provide, impose, and do to affect positive changes to clients affiliated with gangs.
- Strategies to identify gang members during intake through interview and identification of gang insignia in tattoos, or through colors, clothing, and appearance.
- Examples of gang tattoos and symbology that can help with identifying gang affiliation.
- Additional tactics when supervising gang members like special conditions, proper programming, and building rapport in an effort to gather intel when possible.
- Safety considerations for officers handling gang members taking into account that there’s a greater chance of these individuals returning to criminal activity.
- The qualities of an effective gang officer focusing on inherent curiosity and remaining self-motivated, humility and empathy, the ability to engage in conversation and build rapport, and flexibility when it comes to supervising these individuals and keep up to speed with changes in gang dynamics.
- The importance of networking for parole and probation officers and their agencies for information and intelligence sharing purposes.
- Training, education, and networking opportunities related to supervising gang members.
- The kind of information that a gang officer must be up to date with to supervise their gang-affiliated clients and serve the overall goal of crime reduction and prevention more effectively.
Questions from the audience were about:
- Adjusting the strategies for juvenile gang members.
- Intervention programs that worked in getting members to leave the gang.
- Using motivational interviewing for gang members.
- “Great training. I have no supervised a gang caseload yet, so I learned a lot from this.” — Beverly
- “The information regarding the different tattoos was very interesting. I took a lot away from today’s web.” — Betty
- “Super interesting and relevant to my current work.” — Emma
- “I personally enjoyed learning about the tattoos and hidden numbers- I can definitely use this during the initial interviews.”– Megan
- “All of the relevant information I learned, that I can add to my work experience as an Officer.” — Jasmine
- “This is such a major topic, I think more people need to understand the dynamics and psychology of gangs and it’s members and why they are so appealing to youth and adults. Youth gang affiliation/motivation is so different compared to their adult counterparts and it’s important to understand these differences when working with either population as well as the approach when addressing juvenile vs. Adult offenders. Awesome Webinar!” — Jess