SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s gang problem is getting younger. Lawmakers are calling on the state to set aside money that would hopefully prevent gangs from recruiting little kids.
Elected officials say they’re hearing reports of fifth-graders already being involved in gangs, some of which are getting tattooed at a young age. Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera says, “Our last [gang-related] arrest was ten years old.”
Why are gang leaders targeting and enticing children? Senator Karen Mayne says young kids don’t get into as much legal trouble as adults do for committing crimes. Plus, she says kids are told to break into homes by fitting into small spaces adults can’t. “You’ll have a 35-year old gang member sending these children in to rob and to do their bidding for them… to deliver packages, to deliver drugs,” Mayne says.
She’s backing Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, which calls on lawmakers, educators and Utah’s citizens in general to combat against this problem. It also has funding attached to it. “That’s for $300 thousand now and $300 thousand every year, ongoing,” she adds.
The funding is specifically aimed for programs that will keep kids away from gang members. Mayne says, “The teachers who spoke to me say when they had after-school programs, it was better because the kids could have something to do after school and the counselors could see those children that were at risk.”