House OKs Ladenburg’s plan aimed at curbing juvenile gangs: Rescuing kids before they’re lost in criminal maelstrom Tacoma lawmaker’s goal

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OLYMPIA — She’s talked with the judges and the judged, as well as folks whose life’s work and mission you might say is tattooed up and down the long arm of the law.

State Rep. Connie Ladenburg won full support in the House of Representatives yesterday for her plan to break the criminal cycle before it breaks young people. The House passed her legislation, 92-4, to encourage the formation of juvenile-gang courts in Washington communities. House Bill 2535 now goes to the Senate for more discussion.

“A youth-gang court is a strategy our towns can put right to work to rescue our kids and our communities from a nightmare,” Ladenburg has emphasized. “Juvenile-gang activities in cities and neighborhoods of all sizes are a threat to public safety, as well as being a terrible, dangerous menace for so many children themselves.”

Many Washington counties are currently operating “problem-solving” courts for specific offenders, including mental-health courts, drug courts, and DUI courts. Right now, most of these courts deal only with adult offenders.

Ladenburg told her colleagues on the House floor yesterday that she spent time this past summer talking with former and current gang members. She said many of the adults who did somehow survive their gang experience, and many of the young people still involved in such activities today, supported the idea of a juvenile-gang court, suggesting that it might well have steered or would help steer them toward a better, safer path.

Her legislation calls for “a strategic and collaborative approach” in putting an end to juvenile gangs.

Further, the measure notes that “many juveniles who become involved in gang activity have been exposed to risk factors such as anti-social behavior, alcohol and drug use, mental-health problems, and victimization. Evidence-based and research-based gang-intervention programs and strategies can provide services to these youth,” including mental-health counseling, education, and chemical-dependency treatment as a way to “increase their ability to develop into successful adults.”

Ladenburg’s bipartisan legislation:

* Authorizes counties to establish and operate juvenile-gang courts, in which young offenders who have been involved in criminal gangs will be continuously supervised while they receive services.

* Provides that a young person must meet basic requirements for admission to a juvenile-gang court.

* Allows counties to set stricter standards for admission and continuing participation in the gang court.

* Requires that counties operating juvenile-gang courts must keep track of information on participants, and that the state Administrative Office of the Courts must report recidivism information to the Legislature.

Yakima County is the lone county that has developed a gang court specifically for juvenile offenders. Sentencing is deferred for a year, but even if the young offender completes every requirement, the case isn’t dismissed. Potentially in such a case, the court might impose a more lenient sentence.

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