Gang members getting max sentences; prosecutors hope word spreads

Gang members getting max sentences; prosecutors hope word spreads
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Its Yakima County's new school-of-thought in the fight against gang crime: combat the power of gangs with the power of the law.

"These guys respond to this. When the stakes are high they might not want to do it. They might not want to go out and do the gratuitous drive-by,” said Yakima County Prosecutor, Troy Clements.

Troy believes gang members commit crimes to achieve power and respect. It’s why Clements argues the most-effective way to stop gang crime is for gang members to respect authorities.

"When they see somebody that's gone out and done something get 50 years for not maybe even killing somebody, but attempting to kill multiple, that's got to have an impact," Troy said "Because all these guys talk."

Recent changes in state law work in Yakima County's favor. Gang members can easily be given maximum sentences. A typical drive-by used to be about a two year sentence. Now it's almost 20.

However prevention groups aren’t sold on harsh punishments as the way to win the war on gangs. They believe it’s the last step in what works.

KIMA asked Madison House Director, Tony Baker, if he thinks slamming the books on criminals is the as effective as prevention.

“No. I think it's an unfortunate side effect of a lack of prevention,” Tony said.

Tony’s organization focuses on preventing youth from entering gangs in the first place.

"If we can provide a place for them just to come and be a part of something that's a family-feeling as well, they're not so inclined to be a part of a family that may be gang-related,” Tony said.

Getting rid of gangs in Yakima is not an easy solution. For now, prosecutors say their new approach is working.

"The difference in the suppression side is you can see results because people are getting sentenced,” Troy said.