county boards
County Perspective
Riverside County reduces gang participation through proactive measures
A decade ago, Riverside County experienced a surge in gangs and related violent crimes. Roughly 12,000 people, many of them youth, were gang members. In response, the Riverside County Office of Education and the Riverside County District Attorney’s office launched a preventative anti-gang educational strategy that has helped reduce gang participation and the number of youth sent to prison.

Beginning as a single presentation to 30 people in Banning, Calif., 10 years ago, the initiative has grown to become a countywide effort. In partnership with community organizations and businesses, the strategy includes outreach, intervention programs and support services.

To raise awareness, prosecutors deliver presentations across the county. The sessions center on teaching youth about the legal and social consequences of gang involvement, educating parents about signs of gang activity and how to deter their children, and training teachers and social service workers on gang prevention practices and intervention. There are now more than 250 presentations reaching roughly 25,000 people each year.

Additionally, Youth Accountability Teams comprised of over 60 members from 10 different agencies work with first-time youth offenders from the justice system. The Riverside COE brings these groups together each month to plan, coordinate and expand services. And the Riverside County District Attorney’s office has assigned 11 personnel to work with the COE through the juvenile Crime Prevention Unit. In addition, every District Attorney employee is encouraged to lead, participate and support school/community-based crime prevention programs against delinquency while emphasizing the importance of education, good decisions and a healthy lifestyle.

There are also internships enabling college students to shadow law enforcement officials and a partnership with CVS pharmacies to teach students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

The results are paying off. There has been a significant reduction in juvenile gangs, truancy and crimes, which has also contributed to lower suspension, expulsion and discipline rates. In the past five years, youth arrests and placements in juvenile hall have declined by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, the county graduation rate has risen to nearly 90 percent, the second highest of any comparably sized county in California. Equally positive, more than 75 percent of participating elementary and middle school students say they are less likely to join gangs. The latest available statistics also find that the number of documented gangs in Riverside County fell to 366 from 474 10 years ago.

The anti-gang programs in Riverside County aim to be replicable. The programs include annual meetings with 58 county high schools, 46 alternative schools, and with elementary and preschools to gauge needs and to ensure early intervention. The program, a CSBA Golden Bell Award winner, also provides a model for other school districts and COEs across California.

“The heart and soul of this enterprise is to catch kids at a crossroads to influence them and fight for their successes rather than their prosecution,” said Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White. “The RCSS and RCDA made a concerted decision to focus on the child today rather than the criminal adult tomorrow.”