Court leaders address youth gang violence

Juvenile court judge Daniel Heath said he's deeply saddened by the recent string of gang related violence in Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County court leaders are saying they’re saddened and disturbed by the recent youth gang violence in Fort Wayne. They’re searching for a solution.

Allen County Juvenile Center (ACJC) judge Daniel Heath, Allen County Juvenile Probation leader Nate Mendill and Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards all agreed on one idea: there’s not a single solution to this problem. They believe It’s going to take the entire community to stop the violence.

Heath has been a judge for 19 years and has never seen teenage gang members come into his court room this often.

“We’ve had young people come through here in the last week that have limped into my courtroom because they’ve been shot in the leg,” he said.

Heath said something has to be done.

“We are losing far too many young men to violence and it’s such a shame because they have such potential,” he said.

In order to help them, he believes people have to rebuild the family structure, emphasize education and find something good for the kids to aspire to. He hopes ACJC initiatives like Check & Connect, which utilizes trained mentors to cut down on skipping school, and BrightSteps, which helps develop promising young children, will help in the long run.. Heath is also writing a book on fatherhood for the kids in the court system to read.

Mendill said the juvenile probation office tries to get to the core of what caused the kids to join gangs in the first place: protection, identity and status, money, a sense of family and fun and excitement. He said his officers work on convincing the kids that the gang lifestyle often doesn’t end well.

“Their choices are going to only end them in a couple of places, behind bars or dead,” he said.

His office redirects their attention away from gangs and into community service.

“I think it’s important all year long not just when we’ve had tragedy in our community, that people are learning, that the young people are being involved in activities and the parents are being aware of their children’s friends and their surroundings,” he said.

Richards said her office is working with police to establish stronger curfew enforcement.

“I think one of the problems we have is young people should not be on the streets after a certain hour,” she said. “They should be home.”

All three agree it will take more than just law enforcement to bring the violence to an end.

“I think it’s the responsibility of society as a whole to try to deal with this,” Richards said. “It’s up to parents to parent their children. We certainly enlist and love to have the support of local social service agencies, clergy, churches, whatever portions of society can, as a village, raise our children because we certainly seem to be having some deficits.”

Judge Heath said community leaders will make a big announcement in the next few weeks. They’ll be launching and expanding what he calls an important set of programs to help with gang violence in Fort Wayne.

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