Act to reduce gang violence in the V.C.

Despite its small-beach-town appearance, tranquil palm trees and unimposing population of  about 108,000, the city of Ventura has a gang problem. Eight well-established gangs operate throughout the city perimeters dealing drugs, selling weapons and committing violent crimes.   O’Neal, Sordillo and Sullivan gave an in-depth exploration in the Nov. 21 edition of the VCRe-porter of the struggles of law enforcement to contain their activity and solve gang homicides.  The largest of these gangs is the Ventura Avenue Gangsters who comprise mainly Hispanic youth. Ventura Avenue, the territory these gangsters claim, is economically depressed and struggles with a number of socioeconomic challenges of which gang activity is one.

National studies show that gang activity and gang participation by youth is more prevalent in high-risk neighborhoods, high-risk being defined as those neighborhoods struggling with low incomes, broken families and comprising primarily ethnic minorities. According to a 2013 report by Frontline, one quarter of all serious violent crimes are committed by youth, and as adult gang members move through the prison pipeline serving lengthy prison sentences in state facilities, new younger members take their place on the street. According to The Sentencing Project (a prison research advocacy group), “60 percent of the people in prison are now a racial and ethnic minority.” This data suggests that a child who belongs to a racial or ethnic minority is at risk of ending up in prison. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) states that “Nationally one in three Black and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment in their lifetime … the rate of incarceration is endangering children at younger and younger ages.” These statistics have prompted CDF to establish the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign in hopes of bringing aware-ness to these statistics and reducing incarceration through prevention. Communities suffering from poverty and comprising mainly ethnic and racial minorities, like our own Ventura Avenue, have youth who are at the greatest risk of ending up in prison as adults. This racial disparity in the prison system is being dubbed by many prison advocacy groups as the “new racism,” with far-reaching implications.

Fortunately, there is a solution. H.R. 1318, referred to as the Youth PROMISE (prison reduction through opportunities, mentoring, intervention, support and education) Act is a bipartisan, legislation that seeks to interrupt the cradle-to-prison pipeline. The Youth PROMISE Act sponsored by Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott was introduced on March 21. The text of its full title states the goals of the PROMISE Act: “To provide for evidence-based and promising practices related to juvenile delinquency and criminal street gang activity prevention and intervention to help build individual, family, and community strength and resiliency to ensure that youth lead productive, safe, healthy, gang-free, and law-abiding lives.” The Youth PROMISE Act will give communities funding to support evidence-based intervention practices to support youth and adolescent development services, early childhood development, child protection and safety services, health and mental health services, substance abuse counseling, housing assistance, gang exit services, incarceration alternatives and transition services (The Peace Alliance).

In addition, The Peace Alliance published a study by the nonpartisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy that said, “For every dollar spent on county juvenile detention systems, $1.98 of benefits was achieved in terms of crime reduction and cost of crime to the taxpayer. By con-trast, diversion and mentoring programs produced $3.36 of benefits for every dollar spent, ag-gression replacement training produced $10 of benefits for every dollar spent and multi-systemic therapy produced $13 of benefits for every dollar spent.” This Act will put intervention resources directly into the community, funding local resources that are already in place but underfunded, like Project Understanding, the Boys and Girls Club and Catholic Charities.  This is a great bill that needs your support. Please visit the website:

http://youthpromiseaction.org/, become a citizen co-sponsor and petition our governor to endorse this life-saving act.

Camilla A. Lee

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