Guilt by Alt-Association: A Review of Enhanced Punishment for Suspected Gang Members

This essay, written in reaction to the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform’s 2018 Symposium entitled “Alt-Association: The Role of Law in Combating Extremism” (the Symposium), does not dispute the seriousness of gang-related violence. Rather, it examines ways in which current strategies for combating gang-related crimes are ineffective or problematic and suggests possible reforms. Part One of this essay will describe current methods used in labeling, tracking, and prosecuting gang members, which result in a cycle of enhanced punishment. Part Two will evaluate these practices and reflect on whether enhanced punishment is the best way to reduce gang-related violence, especially given that modern “gangs” have evolved away from the sophisticated and well-defined criminal organizations of the past. Finally, this essay will explore novel solutions for reducing the harms associated with gang activity in affected communities. These solutions will incorporate ideas from the Symposium’s “Design Jam,” a brainstorming session following the day’s panel discussions in which law students, professors, and guest speakers worked in groups to brainstorm effective ways to combat extremism.