Preventing youth violence is an important focus of our work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. So many of the defendants we prosecute have personal histories that include a troubled youth. If we can avoid some of the problems that these defendants faced as young people, perhaps we can prevent today’s youth from becoming tomorrow’s defendants.
With this goal in mind, we have been participating in the White House’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a national program involving six cities, including Detroit. Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Dawkins Davis has played an active role in our local effort, along with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee and former Deputy Mayor and U.S. Attorney, Saul Green.
The Forum answers President Obama’s call for increased awareness and action targeting youth violence. The purpose of the program is to bring representatives of each of the six cities together, along with national experts, to share ideas about best practices and data about programs that have proven effective elsewhere. The other cities in the Forum are Boston, Chicago, Memphis, San Jose and Salinas, California. Because each city has unique needs, each was asked to develop its own youth violence prevention plan based on these data and best practices.
City of Detroit Plan
The City of Detroit began its work by conducting listening sessions with stakeholders from various communities: law enforcement, education, business, non-profit, faith, public health, and youth. The young people told heartbreaking stories about the abundance of guns and drugs on our streets, the loss of life from gunfire, and their perceptions about the lack of opportunity in their futures.
The City of Detroit also used data to identify hot spots where youth violence is particularly prevalent. Based on the information that was collected, the City devised a plan that will pilot its efforts in the neighborhoods surrounding Cody High School on the west side and Denby and Osborne High Schools on the east side. A steering committee is now working to implement the plan.
Some key features of Detroit’s plan are Safe Routes, Safe Passage and Ceasefire. First, Safe Routes provides Detroit students with safe routes to school. We know from the listening sessions that sometimes students skip school because they are afraid for their safety. Volunteers from organizations such as MadeMen patrol the areas around the schools before and after school to protect students as they walk to and from school. These volunteers seek to prevent fights, deter predators, and come to the aid of any student in need of help. These volunteers are empowering students to get the education they deserve without threats to their safety.
Second, Safe Passage is an anti-truancy program and alternative to traditional suspension and expulsion. Students who are disruptive in school sometimes cannot be allowed back into the classroom. As a result, these students sometimes stop coming to school, instead loitering on street corners during the school day, creating risks for themselves and others. Without an education, the future options for these students diminish considerably. As an alternative, Safe Passage provides students with an in-school remedy, in which they can continue to learn, but with some consequences for their misconduct. In addition to attending the alternative classroom, students participate in community service, such as mowing lawns and removing graffiti, in an effort to help them learn the pride that comes with making an investment in their community.
Third, Ceasefire seeks to prevent violence by utilizing data to identify individuals likely to engage in violent conduct and implementing measures to reduce that risk. Detroit is working to develop a model that pulls together elements of other successful programs implemented in Chicago and Boston. The Chicago program uses trained “interrupters” to mediate disputes between individuals and groups. The Boston program uses “call-ins,” in which law enforcement officials meet with identified individuals and inform them of the penalties for future offenses, provide impact statements from victims, and refer them to services that can steer them toward non-violent, productive lifestyles. An objective of both strategies is to influence decisions before bloodshed can occur, with a longer-term goal of changing the mindset that violence is the best way to resolve disputes.
In addition to our work with the National Forum, our office continues its prevention efforts through Project Sentry, in which we talk to students about the consequences of gun violence, Camp DEFY, a camp for at-risk youth to learn life skills, such as drug awareness, conflict resolution and self-esteem so that they can make good choices in life, and our Explorers Program, in which students can learn about opportunities for careers in the law.
The young people in our community deserve a better future. Their success is the key to all of our successes. By preventing youth violence, we can prevent other crimes for decades to come.
To read more about the National Forum on Youth Violence, click here: http://www.findyouthinfo.org/topic_preventingViolence_detroitBrief.shtml
Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan