Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Juvenile Violence
As a whole, the juvenile violence studies recommended that interventions to prevent and control juvenile violence should consider four problems/issues: gangs, guns, high-risk juveniles, and locations and times of highest risk for juvenile violence. It is important to consider that the recommendations from this group of studies focus on issues that arose from their particular findings. Thus, this section is not intended to present a comprehensive set of recommendations for the prevention and control of juvenile violence in all communities.
The findings of the violence studies suggest the importance of establishing effective intervention programs for gang-involved youth. An extensive body of literature on the offending profiles of gang members shows that gang members are more frequently involved in violence than similarly situated nongang youth (Thornberry, 1998). Gang members are also more violent during periods of gang membership than prior to joining or after leaving gangs (Thornberry et al., 1993). Clearly, successful efforts to reduce gang membership will also produce reductions in juvenile violence. Although many programs have difficulty meeting the challenge posed by youth street gangs, there are some promising strategies. These strategies tend to fall into at least one of three categories: prevention, intervention, and suppression.
The most promising and cost-effective antigang strategy is preventing youth from joining gangs in the first place (Howell, 1998). One example of this type of program is the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, a school-based gang prevention curriculum implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that has shown positive preliminary results. Students who completed the G.R.E.A.T. program reported lower levels of gang affiliation and self-reported delinquency (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997).
On a community level, there are a number of national youth organizations engaged in gang outreach that provide neutral territory for productive afterschool activities, thus providing youth with alternatives to gang involvement (Chaiken, 1998a). The Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach program is one example. This program serves as a referral network to link local clubs with courts, police departments, schools, social service agencies, and other organizations. The goal of the network is to recruit youth who are at risk for gang involvement to participate in club programs without the attachment of stigma. Preliminary findings have been encouraging. Other youth organizations serving youth who are at risk for gang involvement include the Girls Incorporated Centers, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of the United States of America, and Boy Scouts of America (Chaiken, 1998a).
Although prevention may be the most cost-effective antigang strategy, programs that target youth who are already involved in gang activity are critical. Some youth organizations already engaged in gang prevention activities also reach out to current gang members. However, gang suppression efforts, as opposed to prevention and intervention, tend to be the predominant strategy used by many jurisdictions to reduce gang activity. For example, the Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) in California is a comprehensive strategy combining gang interdiction, apprehension, and prosecution (Capizzi, Cook, and Schumacher, 1995). A Gang Incident Tracking System (GITS) is used to track gang members. Information from GITS is used by the TARGET program to select appropriate gang members and gangs for intervention. While these intervention and suppression efforts are generally considered promising, there is a need for more evaluation of these strategies.
There is general recognition among gang experts that the most effective strategies to deter gang involvement are likely to be comprehensive, multi-pronged approaches that incorporate prevention, intervention, and suppression activities, while encouraging collaboration among various community agencies. The Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program is an OJJDP demonstration initiative that is currently being implemented in five jurisdictions (Thornberry and Burch, 1997). This is a multiyear effort to implement and test a comprehensive model developed by Dr. Irving Spergel at the University of Chicago. The strategies in this model consist of a combination of community mobilization, social intervention and outreach, provision of social and economic opportunities for youth, suppression, and organizational change and development. The demonstrations are currently being evaluated.
Findings from the Los Angeles homicide study emphasize the high rate of involvement of gang members in adolescent homicides. The dynamics of gang homicides suggest that truce-making activities among rival gangs should be assessed (Maxson, 1998). Truce-making efforts have been initiated in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere but have never been adequately evaluated. Anecdotal evidence suggests that truces are difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, the sporadic nature of gang violence (Klein, 1995) and the contagious nature of the threat of rival gangs (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996) suggest that efforts to make peace and reduce the perception of threat by rival gangs should be considered. Truce-making might be one creative approach to reducing the lethality of gang membership.
The Los Angeles homicide study also found that firearms played a greater role in gang-related homicides than in nongang-related homicides involving juveniles. Thus, programs and policies attempting to reduce adolescent homicides in Los Angeles clearly must target the accessibility and use of firearms by gang members. Firearms reduction strategies should take into account gang dynamics and the features of gang homicides. For example, particular attention should be accorded to the legal and extralegal suppliers of firearms to gang members. Attempts to control the availability of illegal firearms should be informed by the demand characteristics of gang consumers. Other studies have indicated that gang members most often purchase firearms for protection and "on the street" rather than from licensed firearms dealers (Lizotte et al., 1997; Decker and Van Winkle, 1996; Sheley and Wright, 1995). The Boston Gun Project, which will be discussed in the next section, is an example of a gun violence reduction program that focuses on gangs in its intervention activities.
Data from the violence studies indicate that guns play a major role in juvenile violence. The findings also show that adolescents own guns for a variety of reasons, including sport, protection, and intimidation of others. Although society should certainly be concerned about adolescents carrying firearms in certain circumstances (e.g., at school), findings from the SC homicide study and Lizotte and colleagues' (1994) Rochester analysis suggest that not all adolescent gun owners are equally dangerous. Thus, violence prevention, whether it be school based or community based, should focus on high-risk gun owners.
Maxson (1998) suggests that the Boston Gun Project (Kennedy et al., 1997) is a well-publicized illustration of an intervention that narrowly focuses on gang firearm possession and use. Operation Ceasefire is one of the interventions included in the Boston Gun Project. This program engages multiple law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in targeted deterrence activities. Gang members are notified that carrying firearms will precipitate a swift and severe response (e.g., Federal prosecution and disruption of drug activities). Homicides of young men age 24 and younger fell by two-thirds in Boston after the Ceasefire strategy was put in place in 1996 (Kennedy, 1998).
The LINC report points out that recent research shows two promising measures for reducing the number of adolescent males who carry guns and, therefore, reducing the number of fatalities that result from fights between youth with guns: (1) close down the main sources of guns reaching youth, and (2) give youth face-saving reasons not to carry guns. At this point in time, it is not known how best to accomplish those two objectives. Thus, there is a need for impact evaluations of promising programs for closing down sources supplying youth with guns and for further experiments on techniques for discouraging youth from carrying guns.
The LINC report recommends identifying the 7% of neighborhood youth who are the most serious delinquents. Results from interviews of youth in three of the highest crime areas of the District show that about 7% are serious delinquents in need of immediate attention. These youth need to be told what forms of violent behavior (e.g., using a gun, aggravated assault, etc.) will result in massive crackdowns on them, their crews, and friends who are accessories. If they commit violent acts, they must be sanctioned immediately by those with authority to do so. If youth are to be deterred by such crackdowns and sanctions, they must be aware of the effort and believe that the consequences will actually take place. The process of handling juveniles in the courts and in corrections must be streamlined so youth realize that unlawful behavior results in rapid response. Teachers, police, and others who are mandated to control the youths' behavior may know who these youth are. A concerted justice system response working closely with the community can effectively control their worst behavior.
Locations and Times Associated With Highest Risk of Juvenile Violent Offending
As the results from the juvenile violence studies indicate, there are certain situational conditions that appear to be associated with an increase in juvenile violent offending. Thus, it is important for interventions to target the locations and times associated with the highest risk of juvenile violent offending.
Schools. The Washington, DC, studies suggest that since youth violence in the District tends to cluster near schools, especially high schools and middle schools, those areas may be promising targets for proactive police problem-solving, truancy prevention, and other activities to reduce youth violence.
One promising approach for reducing violence in the schools is bullying prevention. Bullying has been associated with a variety of adverse effects on adolescents, including antisocial behavior. The first intervention to reduce bullying among school children was developed by Olweus (1993) and launched in Norway in the early 1980's. This program involves interventions at multiple levels (e.g., schoolwide, classroom, and individual) designed to establish norms within the school environment that support prosocial and inclusive behavior among children and that discourage bullying and other antisocial behavior. Olweus (1993, 1991) observed a reduction in bullying, victimization, and antisocial behavior as a result of a bullying prevention program being implemented in Norwegian schools. Specifically, there were strong reductions in self-reports of vandalism, fighting, theft, alcohol use, and truancy.
Until recently, there have been few attempts to establish antibullying initiatives in U.S. schools. The SC Bullying Prevention study evaluated a bullying prevention program implemented in SC middle schools, a program based largely on the model developed by Olweus. Preliminary findings indicate that the program did reduce self-reported delinquency after 1 year. However, more research is needed on the long-term impact of this type of program.
Neighborhoods. The DC juvenile violence study found that certain neighborhoods are at greater risk for juvenile violence than surrounding areas and that the high-risk neighborhoods remained relatively stable over 2 consecutive years: 1993 and 1994. Current data should be analyzed to identify current "hot spots" for youth violence, existing programs in those neighborhoods should be inventoried, and new programs should be strategically placed to fill the gaps.
The year-to-year stability in juvenile violence rates strongly suggests that the high-crime areas are geographically stable enough for new programs to become established and attract participants before youth violence would move elsewhere naturally -- that new program locations will not be "obsolete on arrival." Other findings of this study suggest that, at least in the most troubled District areas, programs should address the needs of entire neighborhoods, rather than specific conditions at pinpointed addresses or intersections.
The Milwaukee homicide study found that neighborhoods experiencing high homicide rates are among the most desolate in the city of Milwaukee. As in the DC juvenile violence study, the Milwaukee homicide study found that elevated risk at the neighborhood level exhibited a high degree of stability during the 1989-93 time period. Thus, the Milwaukee findings suggest that there is a need for neighborhood-level intervention and prevention strategies. However, very few neighborhood-level interventions have been implemented and even fewer have been evaluated. Therefore, there is a need for further development in this area.
The Washington, DC, studies recommend intervening with youth at times when youth violence most likely will occur. Interventions such as youth curfews and midnight basketball presuppose that youth violence occurs at generally the same times as adult violence: in the evenings, especially on weekends. Instead, prevention activities should be implemented at three generally overlooked times of day, when the risk of youth violence is elevated: after school, at school lunch periods, and in the morning before school.
Late summer evenings are also peak periods for youth violence. This pattern emerges from an analysis by The Urban Institute on youth violence in 1993 and 1994, especially when school months and summer months are considered separately. The hours between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. are highest for juvenile victimizations during the school months, but not during the summer months.
In summer 1995, the District passed a curfew law aimed at reducing juvenile offending and victimization between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. By October 1996, a Federal judge overturned the law because the city council had not provided adequate data supporting the notion that a large number of crimes are committed during that period. In fact, during the hours associated with the curfew, youth are highly vulnerable in the summer, though less so during the school year. A recent LINC report, entitled Kids, COPS, and Communities, suggests that the best role police can play in the school and afterschool setting is to help contribute to the positive development of youth by participating in and supporting youth development programs run by professionals in the schools and youth organizations.
The Los Angeles homicide study notes that other incident characteristics provide some direction for program development. Programs should operate throughout the year with additional efforts expended in the high-volume months of May and July. The nighttime hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. are the most common period for adolescent homicide in Los Angeles, but elevated risk was detected earlier in the evening, beginning at 7 p.m. Although juvenile curfew laws may reduce some juvenile violence, the effects would be limited since so much violence occurs in the afternoon and early evenings, time periods that would not be covered in the curfew. One advisory board member for the Los Angeles homicide study suggested that probation conditions to stay at home after dark should be enforced, perhaps through the use of electronic monitoring techniques. Programs that productively occupy adolescents in the midevening hours might be more effective for homicide reduction than afterschool programs in Los Angeles. The high volume of street settings suggests that efforts to otherwise occupy youth might also be productive by keeping them off the streets. School and park facilities are convenient locations for adult-supervised activities.