Yakima County juvenile gang court sees fewer kids

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- It's a problem Yakima County is desperately trying to stop. Kids getting caught up in gangs. The Juvenile Gang Court works with kids who get in trouble.

"It's an opportunity not to just get a good result on a case, but to get a better result on their life," said Yakima County Prosecutor David Soukup.

However, the Juvenile Gang Court isn't getting the results it wants right now. There are only four kids in the program. Officials said it's been that way for the past six months. So, why aren't more kids participating?

"A lot of the better candidates, the ones that are highly motivated to get out of the gang lifestyle and to do what they need to do are kids that are charged with more serious offenses," said Yakima County Defense Attorney Jennifer Barnes Swan.

These kids don't qualify. Neither do kids charged with crimes that are considered too minor.

"Are you finding that these kids want to participate or no?" KIMA asked.
"A lot of them do not," said Yakima County Court Administrator Robyn Berndt. "They do not want to get out of gangs."

Kids have to be willing to take part. Since the juvenile court started tracking referrals, 21 applicants have been rejected. Seven were rejected this year. Administrators downplay the low involvement.

"Even though it isn't a lot of kids, there's a domino effect," said Robyn. "If you get even one kid out of a gang, it's worth it. It's worth all the time we all spent in gang court."

Considering the size and scope of the gang problem, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officers would like to see a lot more kids going through the program.

Two kids are currently being considered for Gang Court. A decision on them should be made by next month.