Columbine Reports Cite Media, Congress Culpability

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On the first anniversary of the April 20, 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., a flurry of reports, studies and polls issued forth from a variety of sources with disparate conclusions.

Among them was a joint report released by the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute and the Covington, Ky.-based Children's Law Center, an update of JPI's 1998 "School House Hype: School Shooting and the Real Risks Kids Face in America." It found that since Columbine the number of school-associated juvenile crime and violent deaths is small and not increasing; yet in spite of this, Americans' fears about school violence (as measured in public opinion polls) has increased.

"Many Americans know what they know about [youth] crime watching TV," observes Children's Law Center Executive Director Kim Brooks, in Kentucky. "One of our recommendations is that the media needs to add more context to its reporting of incidents. After all," she says, "the news is good news."

As an example, the report states that school-associated violent deaths decreased 40 percent from 1998 to 1999, and last year there was a one in 2 million chance of being killed in America's schools.

A poll issued in the form of a report by D.C.-based Fight Crime: Invest in Kids concludes that "six out of 10 Americans say Congress and state governments have "taken little or no action which would substantially reduce school and youth violence." The organization, made up of some 700 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and victims of violence, commissioned Opinion Research to conduct a random nationwide telephone poll of 1,000 people between March 30th and April 2nd. The question posed included the range of "done a lot" to "little or no action."

Eight of 10 polled agreed with the statement: "America could greatly reduce youth violence if elected officials expanded preventive efforts like after-school programs."

Fight Crime Deputy Director Brendan Fitzsimons said he was "pleasantly surprised" that the November 1999 "Final Report" of the Bipartisan Working Group on Youth Violence appointed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt also adopted a strong view on the need for after-school programs.

But those recommendations haven't been followed up on. "Modest steps were taken by Congress last session," said Fitzsimons, "but there are still 5 to 7 million children out there with no after-school programs to keep them from becoming criminals."