County on gang crime: 'You do the crime, you do the time'

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- More plea bargains for gang members and fewer trials is the trend here in Yakima County. But do those deals mean letting gang members off easy?

You do the crime, you do the time. It's the policy against gang members here in Yakima County.

Court Administrator Harold Delia said Yakima County leads the state for pursuing tougher punishments for gang crimes.

"I think we're getting our message out there that if you're going to commit a serious crime in Yakima and you're a gang member, you're probably going to be held accountable," Delia said.

Yakima County has had to find a balance to make sure gang bangers are held accountable despite prosecutors making more plea deals.

KIMA dug up the numbers. There have only been a handful of gang trials in the last three years. So far this year, there haven't been any.

"That type of behavior is starting to be reduced based on accountability of the individuals that have gone to trial," said Troy Clements, Yakima County gang prosecutor.

Prosecutors said the cases that go to trial are for serious violent offenses. That includes first degree assault, attempted murder and murder.

But, they say they've seen a drop in these gang crimes.

Despite that, prosecutors maintain they're getting longer sentences for plea deals. Deals that average 20 to 30 years.

While trials could get longer sentences, Action News asked whether there's a risk of more trouble when they get back on the streets.

"By the time most of these guys get out they're well in their middle ages," Clements said. "And, quite frankly, we don't see a lot of middle-aged gang members returning to a life of crime once they get out after those type of sentences."

It's a strategy prosecutors weigh heavily with every case. Trying to ensure gang bangers stay behind bars as long as possible.

There have been 17 defendants prosecuted in gang trials over the last three years. All have been convicted.

All except three are serving sentences that range from at least 36 years to life.