CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — Law enforcement agencies around Canyon County claim that they have an ever-growing gang problem coupled with an overcrowded jail.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said once someone is arrested for a gang-related crime, oftentimes there isn't any room to keep them in jail.
"Specifically, the last 10 to 15 years, it's been a more serious problem, because you have an increase in population, you have an increase in criminality, an increase in crimes," Donahue said.
Nampa Police Department Capt. Curt Shankel said rough estimates show they dealt with about 250 gang-related crimes in 2022. He also said the department has seen an uptick in gang activity and violent crime, as well as petty crime and graffiti.
"We're seeing these individuals get low bonds, right, they might get arrested on seven felonies, and they're out within a couple of days," Shankel said. "And they go and re-victimize somebody else the next day. We ran into that just in the last couple weeks."
One Nampa nonprofit is working with at-risk kids to try to mitigate the problem and keep people from joining a gang in the first place. Former gang member Luis Granados is the director of Breaking Chains Academy of Development (BCAD).
He said sometimes gang involvement can be a generational issue.
"I do see some of the same last names," Granados said. "When you wake up and all you see is that path that's laid in front of you, of course that's the path you're going to take."
The academy's mission is to provide youth with the tools they need to stay away from gangs and to also give them recourses that can offer them another path to take.
"What makes BCAD so successful in reaching our goals is that we build sincere, loving relationships with our youth," the nonprofit's mission states.
Idaho does have a lot of overcrowded prisons and jails. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Idaho's incarceration rates are among some of the highest in the nation. Keeping company with much larger states like Florida, Louisiana and Georgia.
Shankel said a lot of gang activity comes from repeat offenders.
"Why am I going to change if I know I'm not going to be held accountable, if I'm going to be out in a couple days," Shankel said.
Granados said many of the younger generations of gang members are inheriting traumas and issues, and paying a price for something that they have been born into. That is where BCAD comes in.
The nonprofit offers a lot of programs to give young people more options, like GED and high school equivalency prep, and mentorship. Granados uses his prior experience as a gang member to show people there is another way.
"I do believe that these individuals have the desire to change. Some of them just feel stuck. They don't know how to. I feel like maybe they don't know where the resources are, where the services are," Granados said.
For more information on Breaking Chains Academy of Development or to get involved with the program, become a tutor, or sponsor a student, people can go to the website.
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