The Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall (SCJH) Neutral Zone is an innovation in this California detention center that began to experience serious gang problems among residents in the late 1980s. Despite having addressed overcrowding issues with a new classification system, SCJH still had serious gang problems, manifest especially in the form of assaults between rival Norteños and Sureños gang members in the facility. After years of increasing population, growing tensions, and gang fights, SCJH became a Neutral Zone for gang members. Members of these two violent gangs had been housed in separate units in the SCJH, yet this did not stop the violence. The very act of housing and classifying residents by gang affiliation gave undue recognition to the gangs, which served to exacerbate the violence between the two gangs.
A new gang management system was developed, based on age, criminal sophistication, and other commonly used classification criteria, rather than gang membership. SCJH staff helped develop the new classification tool and thus readily accepted its use. However, the rival Norteños and Sureños had to be persuaded to accept living in close quarters with one another. Staff from Barrios Unidos, an intervention organization, had already been coming to the detention center weekly to teach students on various topics of interest and had calmed residents when gang tensions were high. Thus they were able to negotiate a truce between the gangs and convince them to give the new classification system a chance to work. Other Latino counseling agencies also helped.
SCJH was declared a “Neutral Zone,” and “No Gang” contracts were developed that the youths signed at intake. By signing this contract, each resident agreed to give up all gang-related behavior. Any violations of the agreement resulted in severe restrictions of a youth’s program. Conversely, anyone able to get along with other residents earned full access to SCJH programs and privileges. The new gang management system worked.
National Gang Center: Promising program structure
Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall
3650 Graham Hill Road
Felton, CA 95018
Phone: (831) 454-3800
Fax: (831) 454-3827
Roush, D. W.; Miesner, L. D.; and Winslow, C. M. (2002). Managing Youth Gang Members in Juvenile Detention Facilities. East Lansing, MI: Center for Research and Professional Development, National Juvenile Detention Association, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University.