SANTA CRUZ -- Law enforcement leaders and youth advocates looked at some recent Juvenile Hall trends Thursday night to strategize ways to keep teens out of gangs.
At Barrios Unidos on Soquel Avenue, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission discussed recent arrests of minors, gang activity and demographics at Juvenile Hall.
The commission advises the county Board of Supervisors on youth policies and programs.
Mario Sulay, commander of the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force, said about 43 of the 365 people that the task force arrested from July 2011 to July 2012 were minors. Among those minors, 19 had gun allegations and 22 had gang allegations, he said.
"It didn't surprise me, because I see it on the street. But it's something to pay attention to," Sulay said.
Sulay and Sara Ryan, the Juvenile Hall superintendent, produced an informal report for the commission. The commission includes teachers, a youth representative and leaders of groups such as BASTA, or Broad-Based Apprehension, Suppression, Treatment and Alternatives.
Ryan said that in 2011, Watsonville police booked 27.8 percent of 576 juvenile arrests, followed by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office with 24.4 percent of arrests and Santa Cruz police with 20.6 percent of arrests.
Capitola and Scotts Valley police had about 3 percent or less of the arrests. County Probation, the California Highway Patrol, UC Santa Cruz police and other
The average length of stay in Juvenile Hall was 12.8 days for boys and 7 days for girls in 2011. Latinos made up 64 percent of inmates, whites 28 percent, blacks 4 percent and other ethnicities were 4 percent. Its average population was 22 inmates in October.
Ryan said that while the teens are incarcerated, they attend programs aimed at building their self esteem and resistance to gangs.
She added that Juvenile Hall authorities don't call them "gang prevention" classes, but the staff and guest speakers try to steer inmates to constructive activities like school and sports.
"We bring in the other angle of empowerment and esteem building," Ryan said.
The group talked about how juvenile court judges and teachers who deal with the same troubled teens sometimes coordinate with mentors and nonprofit groups to make sure they stay on a good path. More coordination needs to be done before their problems escalate, the said.
"Everybody's not going to be fixed," said Sulay, a 28-year veteran of county law enforcement. But if connections are not made, "We're just waiting for something to happen," he said.
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