No Way Out: An Analysis of Exit Processes for Gang Injunctions

02 Feb 2009 02:27pm Lindsay Crawford 

Gang violence in California has exploded since the 1970s. Today, California is home to approximately 300,000 of the nation's 800,000 gang members, and attributes 25% of all state homicides to gang activity. As it became clear in the 1980s that gang violence was impervious to traditional law enforcement techniques, cities across California turned to the civil justice system for help. Since the 1990s, law enforcement has increasingly used anti-gang injunctions as a tool for fighting gang violence. Today, there are approximately 40 gang injunctions in place across California.

Once in place, a gang injunction lasts forever. Years after a court issues an injunction, inactive gang members remain enjoined, implicating constitutional and practical concerns. In spring 2006, the Los Angeles Police Department revealed a startling statistic—no gang member had ever been removed from a gang injunction, though some of the city's injunctions were almost fifteen years old. The announcement generated public concern across California, ultimately resulting in the creation of an unofficial exit processes in Los Angeles in spring 2007, and in San Francisco in March 2008. Currently, these are the only two California cities that have administrative exit processes in place.

This comment argues that cities employing gang injunctions have a constitutional and practical imperative to create clearly defined and legally valid "unofficial" exit processes to aid inactive, enjoined gang members with removing their names from gang injunctions. Part I of the paper describes the current gang crisis and the proliferation of gang injunctions as a law enforcement tool across California. Part II describes the constitutional concerns implicated by the use of gang injunctions, and underlines the importance of creating an exit process. Part III discusses the practical consequences for gang members of being named in injunctions, particularly for those who are not active or who have never been active in a gang. Part IV considers two different examples of unofficial exit processes—from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and examines the constitutional and legal limits on the creation of local, unofficial exit processes. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of those limits on the design of exit processes and proposes recommendations for how exit processes should be designed in the future.

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