Homeboy Industries“Homeboys has given me hope. It’s given me a better understanding of myself. Before, I just never gave myself a chance. So it’s encouraged me to change my life.” Latisha Valenzuela is one of the thousands of Angelenos and persons worldwide that Homeboy Industries impacted. Founded by Father Greg Boyle in 1988, Homeboy Industries has become the world’s most extensive program that works at least with those involved with gangs and jailed. Recently, an international jury chose the nonprofit organization as the 2020 recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest yearly humanitarian award.

Homeboy Industries is a thought leader and innovator in the area of criminal justice. Its model is fundamentally based on context: standing with the demonized and marginalized, healing them and investing in their futures; it involves a culture of compassion, tenderness and kinship.

Poverty

In its 2018 annual report are the words: “For most, a criminal record is a life sentence to poverty.” Gang violence is an outgrowth of something more profound: deprivation or trauma that an individual experiences. These cause pain and insecurity, which youth (between 12 and 25 years of age as outlined in the report) who are gang members do not or cannot properly deal with, and instead of causing themselves and others pain. Their actions as youth affect their lives as adults.

Not only are gangs and crime a product of poverty, but gangs and corruption contribute to it. It is a cycle. Gangs, crime and poverty must be dealt with together.

Whether or not the following relates to poverty, Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) Niven Rennie said concerning the rise in gang and knife crimes that the “main driver” is poverty. Although there may not be a universal definition of “gang,” it is at least possible that there are potential connections between poverty and gang membership and gang violence:

1. Gangs usually exist in areas where there is a lack of opportunities and social exclusion.

2. Marginalized persons, such as those in poverty, are specifically targeted for recruitment, violence and pressure (p 4); however, gang activities even affect ordinary persons.

3. Gangs exist in developed countries, such as Scotland (at least the U.K., which comprises Scotland) and the U.S., and developing countries, including those in Latin America.

Actions, Not Only Words

Not only are compassion, tenderness and kinship important, so too is providing for those involved in gangs or jailed or are susceptible to becoming involved. Homeboy Industries offers tattoo removal, education, substance abuse support, legal assistance and solar panel training. It also has its very own social enterprises, job training for homeboys and homegirls. Businesses include a bakery and electronics recycling.

Additionally, the nonprofit has a global network, which launched in 2014. Over 400 organizations have emulated or engaged with it to whatever degree. Representatives from countries such as Denmark and Scotland, Nicaragua and El Salvador are part of the network.

In an interview with Devex, a social enterprise connected to the global development community, Boyle is attributed as saying, “Everything is about something else. … The trick in any country is to find the ‘something else.’… Try to find a lack of connection and kinship.” In Scotland, Boyle worked with “the VRU” (as seen in a BBC article) in Glasgow. Braveheart Industries is a charity based on the manifestation of his work in Los Angeles; it has a social enterprise located in Glasgow that employs people with convictions.

El Salvador has seen reductions in levels of poverty and advances in human development. Nevertheless, gangs are active in the country. After he visited Homeboys Industries, Jaime Zablah founded La Factoría Ciudadana in the country. As examples, it offers therapy and tattoo removal.

Hope

International Youth Day was on August 12. Not all youth become gang members; some are “fundamental drivers and critical partners” concerning work concerning conflict-prevention and peace-building. Poverty can hinder the potential of young people: the World Programme of Action for Youth recognizes that basic needs such as education and sustainable livelihoods are crucial for youth social development.

Homeboy Industries has been there for the youth, launching the Summer Youth Program in 2018 as part of its “expansive approach to putting an end to the cycle of incarceration and poverty.” As youth need compassion, tenderness, and kinship, so does the world need youth with great aspirations, such as helping those involved in gangs or jailed.

– Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

 

Philippines Incarceration System
In 2018, the Philippines held the sixth-highest prison population out of 21 Asian countries. As of 2019, the Philippines’ population rested at 108.31 million people, and 215,000 of those people were incarcerated. Therefore, the Philippines has an incarceration rate of about 200 per 100,000 citizens. There are 933 prisons running in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they are mismanaged and overcrowded. Below are five important facts about the incarceration system in the Philippines.

5 Facts About the Philippines’ Incarceration System

  1. Severe overcrowding – Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election in 2016. He promised to end crime within six months. This promise also included the killing of 10s of thousands of criminals. Duterte’s election led to the infamous war on drugs and eventually, overcrowded prisons. Manila City Jail, the largest jail in the Philippines, is split into dorms that safely house 170 inmates. Currently, these dorms house around 500 people. Similarly, a room designated for 30 people holds about 130 in the Quezon City Jail. This severe overcrowding in prisons leads to illness and death tolls in the thousands.
  2. Pre-trial detainees – According to The World Prison Brief, 75.1% of incarcerations within the Philippines’ incarceration system are pre-trial. In 2018, 141,422 of 188,278 prisoners were pre-trial detainees. Unfortunately, many people are serving sentences without conviction. Pre-trial detention is found in judicial systems all over the world. In countries like the Philippines, people may serve time that outweighs their crimes. On average, prisoners in the Philippines are detained for nine months without being sentenced.
  3. High death tolls – About 5,200 inmates die annually at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). According to Ernesto Tamayo, the hospital medical chief, these deaths are due to overcrowding, dirty living conditions and inmate violence. At a 2019 Philippines Senate hearing, Tamayo said that there were “uncontrollable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis.” In addition to overcrowding, poor living conditions and inmate violence, NBP lacks nutritional food and basic healthcare. On account of these living conditions, Tamayo reports that at least one prisoner dies at NBP each day. Thankfully, politicians and prison employees are working to reduce overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons. Human rights advocates have also called for the release of vulnerable inmates, hoping to protect them from poor living conditions.
  4. Vigilante justice – Duterte’s war on drugs escalated during his presidency. Jobless citizens were recruited to kill anyone suspected of dealing, buying or using drugs. This was one of few ways for some people to make money; many homeless and impoverished people joined the vigilante teams. In 2016, Duterte told the public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.” Together, the Philippines’ police force and unidentified gunmen have killed 7,000 known drug dealers and users since Duterte’s presidency in 2016. The Philippines’ war on drugs has created the belief that extrajudicial violence and murder are necessary to fight crime. But, the Human Rights Watch has turned the narrative around on Duterte; they are publicizing information about the vigilante justice in the Philippines.
  5. Corruption – In August 2018, the public learned a former mayor may have been released from prison for good behavior. He was originally charged for rape and homicide in 1993. Similar stories of corruption in the Philippines’ prisons continued to emerge. In September 2018, the public learned that a woman was told her husband’s sentence would be shortened if she paid 50,000 pesos ($970). Later that year, senators stated that inmates could “live like kings” for a fee. This information led to further allegations: prison workers and officials were taking bribes to bring and distribute contraband to inmates. The contraband in question included cigarettes, cellphones and televisions. Supposedly, inmates can also pay for personal cooks and nurses. Inmates who cannot afford a better life within the prison are stuck in overcrowded and dirty rooms; these inmates have a higher rate of becoming ill and of death. Now that the corruption has been unearthed, officials are taking steps to weed it out, one prison at a time.

Possible Fix

With increased awareness of the Philippines’ prison system, there is hope that conditions will be improved and vigilante justice will end. It will take time to fix the Philippines’ judicial and incarceration systems. However, with the help of advocacy groups like the Human Rights Watch, a change could come sooner than expected.

Marlee Ingram
Photo: Flickr