El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest homicide rates in Latin America. After the formal end of civil conflicts and authoritarian regimes throughout the 1990s, violence on a massive scale continued as an issue of great concern for the citizens of these countries. The youth gangs of the region, who have members in the tens of thousands, were blamed as the sole perpetrators of violence by media outlets and politicians. A decade after the transition to civilian rule, politicians chose to remedy their countries high homicide rates by initiating zero tolerance policies under the name Mano Dura or the heavy hand. This thesis explores the origins of the region's pervasive youth gang problem and the subsequent use of hardline anti-crime measures. I argue that the region's new violent manifestations and use of zero tolerance measures is rooted in economic conditions. Neglect, inequality and marginalization make up the main factors that drive youths to gangs. Political leaders unable to tackle these structural problems turned to the states security and penal institutions as a way of remedying their criminal problems. However, I argue that these measures are ineffective in reducing crime, promote human rights violations, and have pushed for a reemergence of the military in civilian affairs.