I feel compelled to respond to Samual Foster’s recent suggestion of making gang membership a class A felony, his solution to the heroin problem (”Anti-gang laws could help solve drug problem,” letter, April 8). Foster lamented the inability to execute gang members in this state. As a criminal justice professor that has worked with gang members in and out of prison, I’d like to educate Foster and others about gangs.

It is true that some gangs traffic in drugs, while others focus on different types of crimes, and some gangs spend their time mainly getting high together. The more important information may be why young people join gangs. Nationally, 90 percent of them are racial or ethnic minorities and come from highly dysfunctional backgrounds. They lack adequate role models and have very few economic opportunities. They join gangs to attain status, find acceptance, and, quite simply, to make money in the only way that seems available to them. While some join for companionship, others actually join for safety in dangerous communities.

And finally, in response to his comment that “you cannot rehabilitate a gang member,” that is unequivocally untrue. Because they are typically between 12 and 25 years old, former gang members are very responsive to intervention. The best way to rehabilitate them is with a steady job and an education.

I would hate to think that our society has come to the point that it’s ready to lock up for life or even execute teenagers who chose a gang because their families and communities didn’t seem to offer them any better opportunities.

Tracey Horton