Trails that go nowhere and trails that take us places

We face two paths most of the time in dealing in youth violence.

In one direction, we slam it. We arrest, detain, shut down, curtail the wave. That’s the police and court solution.

In the other direction, we look at the forces below the volcano and try to deal with them before they erupt. Folks in the know tell us that this is the less costly and, in the long run, the most effective way.

Keep that in mind as you read this fine example of reporting from Angela Caputo of the Chicago Reporter on Chicago’s unique position as the leader in the nation’s big cities in sending youths to adult courts on felony charges.

When it comes to arresting 17-year-olds like Baldon on felony charges, Chicago tops the nation’s 10 largest cities that report crime data to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. And those arrests can carry harsh consequences.

That’s because Illinois is one of 10 states in the nation that automatically send 17-year-olds facing felony charges to adult courts. A Chicago Reporter analysis of criminal court data shows that an increasing number of 17-year-olds in Cook County have been convicted as adults compared with five years ago. In 2011, 907 17-year-olds were convicted, up 15 percent from 789 in 2007.

In 2012, Cook County is on pace to surpass last year’s record, tallying 41 percent more convictions as of April than during the same period in 2011.

The spike comes at a time when felony arrests of 17-year-olds in the county are down slightly—by 1 percent between 2009 and 2011—according to data compiled by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Despite the dip in arrests, the stakes are still high for 17-year-olds—especially in Chicago, where a vast majority of the county’s arrests are made.

In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, the number of 17-year-olds arrested on potential felony charges in Chicago—6,133 in all—not only trumped all major cities across the country, but nearly equaled the combined total of three cities with the next highest records: Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia. New York’s police department didn’t report its arrest data to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics that year.

If prosecuting minors in the adult system is supposed to be cutting the worst kind of crime, Jeffrey Butts, director of research and evaluation at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the strategy is falling short. Earlier this year, Butts released an analysis of national crime data that found violent crime hasn’t fallen any faster in states where a large number of minors are prosecuted in adult courts. “Overall, the rate of serious crime has dropped over the past 15 years,” Butts said. But, as those crimes have fallen, “police spend more time on the little things that used to be ignored,” he said.

Here’s the link to the article and I would read the rest of the issue as well.

Because we care about solutions, please pay attention to the Town Hall meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15 sponsored by the Columbia Links journalism program and the news literacy program at Columbia College.

At the meeting you’ll hear from a group of high school students who’ve been investigating – I like the way they describe their work – the way that several Chicago communities have been fighting off youth violence.

It’s wonderful to see folks looking at solutions since so much of our reporting is on the heartbreak of violence and little more.

The event is at 5:30 pm at the Music Center Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

And lastly, you may remember that we tried to get a sample of the cutbacks suffered by agencies that deal with youth violence. That was over a year ago. The results were worrisome.

We want to take another pulse and so, if you know of an agency that has had its funds cut or wiped out or has had to trim its work because of limited government support, please let me know.

Our hope is to tell the stories of these agencies and hold up the mirror to what we are doing, and ask, ask Angela does in her fine article, whether we are making mistakes.

office 312 369 6400




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