Track III
Community Responses to Juvenile Crime

by Earl E. Appleby, Jr.

To address the problem of juvenile crime, communities have begun by assessing the nature and extent of factors contributing to delinquency and developing effective responses. Of particular concern is the growing problem of violence in and around schools. Communities are exploring a variety of ways to reduce the level of juvenile crime and violence. Promising methods include strategic approaches, violence reduction programs in schools, youth-oriented community policing, improved access to legal representation and resources for juveniles and their families, and grassroots initiatives.

Taking a Strategic Approach

Research has shown that many risk factors increase the chances of youth developing problem behaviors. Understanding these factors is the first step toward identifying effective ways to prevent delinquency. Equally important is the role of protective factors that buffer young people from the negative consequences of exposure to risks either by reducing the risk or changing the way the youth responds to that risk.

Workshop participants heard about the Social Development Strategy, a model that describes how hypertensive protective factors develop, work, and influence one another. The strategy demonstrates the need for effective delinquency prevention programs to:

  • Strengthen children's bonds with community, family, peers, and school by providing opportunities, skills, and recognition.

  • Reduce risk factors and work to strengthen protective factors.

  • Develop clear and consistent standards of behavior across families, schools, and communities.

  • Teach children the skills they need to follow such standards.

Communities That Care is a research-based preventive program that translates the Social Development Strategy into a comprehensive communitywide approach. Drawing on the experiences of community-based programs that have proven successful in the United States and Europe, Communities That Care brings together a diverse group of individuals to ensure that the community's prevention efforts constitute a long-term strategy rather than a hastily applied bandage.

Unsafe Schools: Responding to the Crisis

Every day, 16,000 crimes occur on or near school campuses. One in five high school students is worried about being victimized at school. The same proportion of students in grades 9-12 report that they had carried a weapon in the past 30 days--for 7.6 percent, of them the weapon was a gun. On any given day, 1 in 10 students carries a weapon to school.

Schools are taking the following steps, among others, to ensure the safety of students and teachers:

  • Hiring security officers, installing metal detectors, and creating weapon-free school zones.

  • Adopting zero-tolerance policies and setting up alternative schools for expelled students.

  • Instituting conflict resolution and peer mediation programs and employing violence counselors.

  • Developing student assistance and afterschool programs.

Safe schools include not only the schools themselves but also the approaches to and from school and places where school-sponsored functions are held. Safety is often a state of mind--that is, schools can be considered unsafe even without actual physical violence if students, faculty, and parents believe there is a problem.

Two programs that are working to reduce school violence were described. One is in Georgia and one is in North Carolina.

In 1994, Georgia launched an alternative schools program, called CrossRoads. The program removes chronically disruptive students in grades 6-12 from regular public school classrooms and provides them with the individualized instruction, social services, and transition to other programs that they require to become good citizens. In each participating local school district, the program requires local collaboration of educators; health, human service, law enforcement, and criminal justice professionals; parents; students; and representatives of the private sector to oversee the program. CrossRoads augments State funding with training and technical assistance from Communities In Schools (CIS) of Georgia, part of the national CIS network. CIS is committed to assisting young people to successfully learn, stay in school, and prepare for life.

The North Carolina Center for the Prevention of School Violence, a component of the Governor's Crime Commission, provides information on school violence prevention; offers technical support and program implementation expertise to schools, law enforcement departments, and communities; and researches and evaluates school violence prevention programs. An important feature of the Center's program is its Safe Schools Pyramid. The pyramid is a visual means to highlight some promising school violence prevention programs. These include school resource officers, law-related education, conflict management, peer mediation, S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violence Everywhere), and teen courts. The Center also operates a toll-free information line and disseminates a quarterly newsletter.

(Note: Readers interested in the issue of school safety may want to read OJJDP's forthcoming Bulletin Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools by J.L. Arnette and M.C. Walsleben. Copies of the Bulletin, one of a series on Youth Out of the Education Mainstream, can be obtained by calling the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800-638-8736. Other titles in the series, also available from the Clearinghouse, include Reaching Out to Youth Out of the Education Mainstream by S. Ingersoll and D. LeBoeuf, February 1997; Truancy: First Step to a Lifetime of Problems by E.M. Garry, October 1996; and Keeping Young People in School: Community Programs That Work by S. Cantelon and D. LeBoeuf, June 1997.)

Ensuring Justice for Kids

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional right for children to receive counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings (In re Gault). Congress expressed similar concerns when it enacted the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 and its 1992 reauthorization.

OJJDP has underwritten initiatives to examine juvenile offenders' access to legal representation and the quality of the legal services they receive. Working with the Juvenile Law Center and the Youth Law Center, the American Bar Association (ABA) conducted a survey of hundreds of juvenile defenders -- public defenders and court-appointed counsel -- across the Nation. The findings of this assessment, which also included site visits, interviews with professionals and clients, an extensive literature search, and consultations with advisers, were published in A Call for Justice. The report provides an assessment of the current state of youth representation and an evaluation of training, support, and other practitioner needs.

The ABA has supported the Baltimore Public Defender's office in its efforts to enhance defense services for juveniles and plans to offer additional training and technical assistance to local jurisdictions. Noting that the adult criminal justice system's rehabilitative track record is not superior to that of the juvenile justice system, OJJDP conference panelists urged participants to continue to work together to strengthen the juvenile justice system and improve the quality of legal counsel available to juveniles.

Grassroots Responses to Youth Crime

Although their financial and material resources are limited, grassroots initiatives have proven remarkably effective in curtailing juvenile crime and transforming the lives of youth with a violent past. The success of these grassroots initiatives can be attributed to the premises of their responses to youth crime, which differ markedly from those held by many conventional prevention and treatment programs. Successful grassroots leaders reject the idea that economic disadvantage and environment destine youth to violent behavior. The efforts of these leaders are based on the belief that young people have the capacity to overcome adverse conditions and the potential to effect positive changes in their environment.

Effective grassroots youth intervention programs throughout the Nation (e.g., Project R.I.G.H.T., Paradise Builders, and San Antonio Fighting Back) prove that life-changing transformation is possible, but they also demonstrate that there are no shortcuts to engendering a change of heart and values. Indeed, it is only when a youth's vision and values are transformed that external support, such as opportunities for education and employment, can have a lasting impact. Internal transformation is the harvest of consistent and constant efforts by adults committed to changing the lives of troubled youth.

Innovative Law Enforcement and Youth-Oriented Policing: Doing Something About Guns and Gangs

Guns are now the weapon of choice for youth; gun homicides by juveniles have nearly tripled since 1983. Teenage boys are more likely to die of gunshot wounds than from all natural causes combined. While recent downturns in juvenile arrests for homicide and other violent crimes offer some encouragement, the lethal mix of kids and guns demands our attention and response.

One promising response has been the Boston Gun Project, which is predicated on the premise that the nature of youth violence varies from one city to another. Accordingly, in depth analysis of local youth violence problems should precede the design and implementation of problem-solving initiatives. Of particular interest are the extent and nature of illicit gun markets, fears driving youth to arm themselves, and the role of gangs. Key findings from the project, located in high-risk neighborhoods where juveniles often carry guns, include the following:

  • The illicit gun market that supplies youth may be uniquely susceptible to law enforcement attention.

  • Both youth homicide victims and youth homicide offenders are principally criminally active gang members.

  • Fear is driving both gun acquisition and gang formation.

  • One of the most important ways to reduce fear and victimization would be to control the behavior of violent gangs.

  • Federal and local authorities have embraced the project's gun market/violence reduction strategy.

Although it is too soon to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of the Boston Gun Project strategy, its immediate impact is encouraging, and youth violence in Boston appears to have been substantially reduced.

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