04/29/07 — Grant will offer new anti-gang sentence

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Grant will offer new anti-gang sentence

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 29, 2007 2:00 AM

About two years ago, when she was assigned to the Lenoir County juvenile deliquency system, District Judge Beth Heath in the 8th Judicial District saw a problem -- more and more young people were becoming involved in gang activities.

"When I started, it went from a couple of kids to almost all of them having some sort of connection to gang activities," she said. "It's not that they're bona-fide gang members, but they're displaying that type of behavior.

"And I wasn't happy with what I could do with them."

So she began working to find a program that could provide intervention and prevention services and to find funding for such a program.

Earlier this month, with a two-year grant worth almost $60,000 from the Governor's Crime Commission, she found both.

She explained that the curriculum-based program has been developed by the school systems in Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties -- the counties making up the 8th District -- and A.R. Phoenix Resources, which offers both an in-school Gang Prevention Curriculum and a supplemental Gang Intervention Curriculum.

"It's a classroom-type program for kids identified as being associated with or as being involved in gangs," Ms. Heath said.

It involves both in- and out-of-classroom work, including written work and role-playing.

A large part of it, she continued, involves self-analysis -- why people make the decisions they do and what's going on in their lives.

"It asks questions and gets them to try and think about why they're doing what they're doing," she said.

Students can be court-ordered to attend the 10-week program. They also can be referred by their parents or schools. And, she said, it's exactly the kind of service that juvenile justice is meant to provide.

"Juvenile deliquency court -- the philosophy behind it is two part. One is to protect the community, but it's also focused on rehabilitation," Ms. Heath said. "A big factor is what kind of service you can provide for the child.

"And if a child was involved with drugs, I had drug rehabilitation programs I could use. But for those involved in gang activity, there was nothing specifically related to that."

At least until now, she added.

"We like the look of this program," Ms. Heath said. "We hope to have it open and running (in each county) by July."