Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why is punishment the default, and usually singular, solution to youth crime?

Ward 4 is dealing with a spike in crime, especially gang- and crew-related crime, according to a Convention Center Community Association (CCCA) summary of the October 9 Ward 4 crime meeting convened by Ward 4 CM Muriel Bowser.   Bowser held the meeting to update the community on efforts to address truancy, youth crime, gang and crew crime, and the use of guns.   Guests included Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, At-large CM Phil Mendelson, and Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) interim director Robert Hildum.   Video segments of the meeting, by issue, are on the CCCA web site.

According to Hildum, some recent crime is disproportionately committed by young people:   while six percent of crime overall can be attributed to youth, youth commit 48% of armed robberies.   Even more troubling is Hildum's statement about the prevalence of young men who are prone to violence.

Fox 5's John Henrehan reported that Chief Lanier asked the public to help the police by identifying unusual, atypical behavior.   Was that all the public was asked to do?

In contrast to this public event is the October 12 Bryan Weaver interview on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt (which appears not to have made it online).   Weaver—longtime community activist, youth engager, elected official—asked how the community can backstop parents who work two and three jobs and how we can better/best connect youth to organizations and opportunities that will divert them for an otherwise likely future of hardship and perhaps gang/crew and criminal involvement.

Weaver also asserted that Ward 1 (and presumably other wards) cannot move on by forgetting the past, its violence and turf challenges.   Gang and crew violence is much more than violent acts, it's a complicated mix of turf and personal experience.   In fact, we know that many beefs are intergenerational with the younger set not even knowing the details of the beef, just that there is one.

Since I did not attend the Ward 4 community meeting, I will not criticize the leaders for not talking more about solutions and prevention but will ask how much of the time was spent on talking solutions—policy and monetary.   In my experience, prevention and early intervention get short shrift.

DC and various state experiences show that jurisdictions cannot arrest their way out of the youth violence and gang/crew problems.   Assistant Chief Groomes agrees and is on the record with this sentiment.   Law enforcement does play a role but absolutely not the only one or even the primary one.

If we don't engage children, youth and families early, the violence pipeline will remain intact.   Candidate Gray has proposed a central fund to finance effect youth violence programs.   And the current anti-gang/crew/youth violence funding is working hard in parts of the city where activity is most prevalent.   These two solutions are not sufficient and more, much more, needs to be invested in prevention and early intervention or the costs on the back end will bleed the city dry.

What is your default position on youth crime?   What are you going to do about it?

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