Forum Addresses Youth Violence

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Representatives of six cities met in Washington earlier this month, at the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, to discuss their common problem: deadly, self-perpetuating violence caused by youths and young adults with no expectations for their own futures.

Teams from the six cities – Boston; Chicago; San Jose, Calif.; Salina, Kan.; Detroit; and Memphis – presented some concrete details about their plans to curb youth violence.

The Boston team spoke about its family centers, which seek to identify risk points for members of a youth’s family instead of keeping a focus on the individual. The centers might start working with a young teen after his first arrest for theft. They would then, for example, seek to connect the repeat-offending older brother with a case manager, the mother with housing assistance, and a younger sister with a mentor.

Information-sharing is critical to the success of the centers, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said, and he suggested that civil rights groups trying to protect that information were getting in the way.

“The ACLU was a creation of the 1960s. … We don’t need that right now,” Menino, a Democrat, said to tepid laughter, which subsided when he said, “I mean it.”

“The last thing I want to do is have some kid’s life story on the front page,” Menino said later. “But I’m trying to save kids’ lives here.”

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee explained how, with scarce dollars in a city struggling to rebuild itself, his city worked with the local Skillman Foundation to target services in high-risk areas around five of the city’s high schools. Johnathon Matthews, principal of Detroit’s Cody High School, explained an alternative to suspensions and expulsions that was to go into effect this week.

Common themes among the cities’ plans included job training, attracting the participation of local business communities and involving youth in the design of local programs.

The second day of the summit included speeches by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and panel discussions on leveraging private investments and moving from the planning phase to implementation.

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, which hosted the forum, also funds the Community-Based Violence Prevention demonstration program (CBVP), which spent $8.6 million in 2010 to start projects in Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; and New York. The cities must use the money to develop and implement strategies aimed at curbing youth violence.

President Barack Obama requested $15 million for CBVP in his fiscal 2012 budget.

The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention was intended to use limited resources to provide help to some other cities looking to create collaborative efforts to address violence, said Melodee Hanes, acting deputy administrator for policy at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Hanes said in addition to the forum, Justice will send contracted technical assistance providers to work with the six cities.

The Justice Department is funding outcomes evaluations for the four CBVP sites. The six cities involved with the forum must pay for their own evaluations, but Justice is paying researchers to survey participants about the value of any interagency collaboration fostered by the project.