HD30 - The Study of Youth Gangs in Virginia

Executive Summary:
HJR 92 was conducted jointly by the Commission on Youth and the Virginia State Crime Commission. Three workgroups were established to aid in the study effort: Survey Design, Prevention and Intervention, and Law Enforcement and Prosecution. Both Commissions heard formal presentations by law enforcement officials, academic researchers and direct service personnel on both the characteristics and prevalence of youth gangs and successful prevention and intervention strategies. Three public hearings were held across the state to provide input to the study. All local law enforcement agencies and juvenile court service unit directors were surveyed on their knowledge of the prevalence of youth gangs and their specified procedures for responding to this population. All juveniles committed to a Juvenile Correctional Center between July 15 and September 20 and over 800 juveniles in secure detention were interviewed about their gang involvement.

Growth in reported youth gang activity has occurred throughout the country. Virginia has not been immune to this increase in gang activity as verified by three State Police surveys of gang activity conducted in 1992 and 1994 and the recent data collection conducted for this study. The presence of youth gangs was reported by law enforcement and court service unit directors representing 32 cities and counties statewide. The most recent survey results represent a 220% increase in the number of localities with youth gang activity and a 160% increase in the number of reported youth gangs operating in Virginia. While the growth has been experienced across the state, youth gangs appear to be an urban phenomenon in Virginia, with 88% of the reported gang activity in Northern and Tidewater Virginia.

Despite the definitional variations across the Commonwealth affecting the identification of youth gangs, there is unanimity on the need for increased monitoring, data collection and training on youth gangs. Many communities across the Commonwealth have components of a comprehensive gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategy in place; however, no community has fully implemented a comprehensive approach, as presented in this report. Jurisdictional variations in the types of youth gangs require careful analysis. Given the local nature of gang recruitment and activity and the high mobility of gangs, approaches must combine neighborhood-based intervention with inter-jurisdictional collaboration to share gang-related intelligence. The following recommendations are offered to better equip Virginia to stem the tide of youth gang violence.

Recommendation 1

Establish a consortium of universities with experience in working with communities to address youth violence. The consortium will provide training and technical assistance to local law enforcement, community 'organizations, school and court personnel, social services, and other stakeholders to help them assess their needs and strengths in responding to youth gangs and youth violence. The consortium will also help communities develop and evaluate programs designed to reduce youth violence and eradicate youth gangs.

Recommendation 2

The university consortium will administer a grant fund program to allocate funds to nonprofit organizations based in community neighborhoods to provide direct services to youth and their families. Services funded include, but are not limited to, educational and vocational programming, employment assistance, recreational programming and parental support. Emphasis in grant funding will be placed on community, regional and state agency cooperation and coordination of program efforts.

Recommendation 3

Amend Section 19.2-390 of the Code of Virginia which relates to the Central Criminal Record Exchange (CCRE) to include information on gang affiliation as defined by the Department of State Police guidelines.

Recommendation 4

The Board of the Department of Juvenile Justice should amend its court service unit minimum standards to require social history reports provided for in Section 16.1-273 of the Code of Virginia to include an assessment of gang affiliation of any youth who is subject to a dispositional hearing or transfer hearing in juvenile court.

Recommendation 5

The Department of Juvenile Justice should replicate the process used in adult jails to ascertain the alleged offender's gang involvement as part of the admission process in Secure Detention Centers. This entails expanding the information solicited on the face sheet for each juvenile placed in secure detention.

Recommendation 6

The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court, in collaboration with the Departments of Criminal Justice Services, Corrections, Education, Juvenile Justice, and State Police, the Commonwealth's Attorneys' Service Council, the Virginia Associations of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, and the Commission on Public Defenders, develop a training protocol to facilitate the education of relevant personnel on gang-related issues. Training should be provided on a regional, interdisciplinary basis. Funding should be provided for this training initiative.

Recommendation 7

The Department of Criminal Justice Services, in collaboration with the Department of State Police, should develop a training protocol for the investigation and intervention of gangs and their related crime.

Recommendation 8

The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be made responsible for the identification and analysis of local curfew ordinances in use in Virginia. Analysis should include whether ordinances have been subject to or upheld in court challenges. Analysis and development of model ordinances should be disseminated to local units of government. In addition, the Department of Criminal Justice Services should investigate the feasibility of using "599" law enforcement funds to support local curfew enforcement.

Recommendation 9

The Department of Criminal Justice Services should develop a central clearinghouse on strategies for graffiti abatement. The Department should develop funding recommendations to address abatement issues and report to the State Crime Commission in November 1997 with recommendations for the 1998 General Assembly Session.

Recommendation 10

Sufficient funds should be provided to the Department of State Police to develop a statewide data base on gang intelligence and gang-related crime. The Department should work with the Secretary of Public Safety and the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court to develop an integrated criminal justice information system which is compatible with current and planned databases for those agencies that supply or use information for the suppression of gangs.

Recommendation 11

Request the 'Commonwealth's Attorneys' Services Council to provide training on the use of vertical prosecution in addressing gang crimes.

Recommendation 12

The Department of State Police should study the current witness protection program for gang-related trials. The study should include an analysis of what resources are currently available and what resources are required to adequately fund the program. The Department should report the results of the study to the State Crime Commission by November, 1997, with legislative and budgetary action for the 1998 General Assembly Session.