A new initiative is teaching gang members in El Salvador vocational skills like farming and carpentry work, in an encouraging sign of government efforts to rehabilitate gang members rather than relying solely on repressive measures to address crime.
On October 29, over 200 incarcerated members of the Barrio 18 street gang began working on a prison farm in the town of Ilobasco in central El Salvador, learning vocational skills like farming, tailoring, carpentry, and construction work, reported El Mundo.
Some 400 imprisoned members of the rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang are expected to join the program in the coming days. In total, the initiative -- which is administered by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security -- aims to benefit at least 800 gang members, reported La Prensa Grafica.
The program will also offer basic education, health services, and psychological treatment, as well as a mechanics course sponsored by the United States, according to El Mundo.
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The vocational training program for incarcerated gang members is an encouraging sign for a country that has been overrun by gang violence. The inauguration of the prison farm is the latest in a series of initiatives taken by the Salvadoran government to find alternatives to the Mano Dura (Iron Fist) security strategies, which have only served to worsen the country's gang problem. In September, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced the creation of a National Council for Citizen Security that will include members of the public and private sectors in creating an action plan to reduce crime and violence.
SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 Profile
In addition to taking a more progressive approach to gang violence, the new initiative is also designed to reduce overcrowding in El Salvador's prisons. According to Minister of Justice and Public Security Benito Lara, the country's prisons are currently 325 percent over capacity, which poses both security risks and human rights issues.
It is worth noting that although Lara announced plans to desegragate the prisons in July, members of the country's two largest street gangs, the Barrio 18 and MS13, will be kept in different sections of the prison farm. This is in keeping with the government's controversial security policy, implemented in 2004, that divided prisoners from different gangs, a strategy that has been criticized for strenghtening the criminal groups.