Anti-gang program evaluations show some kids improving more than others

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- Anti-gang programs for troubled kids here in Yakima County have better results if the kids want to be there. Those are the findings after evaluating two programs for a year and a half.

Hard work, heart and focus are some of the things it takes to get out of the gang lifestyle.

"They're in the community," said Yakima County Court Administrator Harold Delia. "They're young. They've grown up associated in the gang lifestyle. Maybe not in it, but they understand it."

Yakima County's effort to minimize gang influence has been going on for years. It picked up steam in 2011 with a grant of almost $300,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kids in the juvenile court system were assigned to one of two programs, Gang Court or Gang Project.

"If the community really cares about these children and provides service to them and holds them accountable then these children will improve dramatically," said Harold.

The grant money ran out and an evaluation of the programs showed different results.

KIMA went through this 13-page report that shows how kids were doing in the beginning and end of the program and found out that the kids in Gang Court were doing significantly better. They were doing things like staying in school and stopping the use of drugs and alcohol.

Kids in the Gang Project only improved slightly. There's a key difference in the programs. Those in the Gang Project were automatically assigned to it because they already had some kind of gang history. The kids in Gang Court had to be willing to participate.

Supervisors said that motivation might explain why it was more successful.

Yakima County is re-applying for a state grant worth more than $100,000 to maintain the programs. Managers also hope to get parents more involved while adding more mentoring and tutoring.