Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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The Art of Interrupting Deadly Youth Violence, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK — “I want these gang members to know it ain’t the only way,” Rico, a 27-year-old standing in the doorway of a dusty bodega on Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn, said. A long-time member of the notorious Blood street gang, Rico said it had been months since he picked up a gun – a change in lifestyle he attributed largely to the positive influence of a handful of guys from the neighborhood.

Outside the Albany Homes housing projects a few blocks down, a 20-something-year-old who refused to give his name, had a similar story.

“I thought for this man the other day. I had a thing for him [wanted to hurt him], but I stopped myself,” he said.

It’s small victories like these the outreach workers of Save Our Streets (SOS) Crown Heights work toward everyday, dedicating their time to act as role models and mentors in an attempt to tamper the spread of gun violence within a 40-block area of central Brooklyn. A walk down the street can be a testament to the work done by Lavon Walker, David Bookhart, Achisimach “Chis” Yisrael and Derick Scot each afternoon as they comb the community, and a reminder of the high stakes at play.

Around the corner from Albany Homes, leaning against a lightpole, is a makeshift memorial for Drizzy, who barely a month before, at age 18, became the most recent local casualty of gun violence. A few empty bottles and scrawls of “RIP” on water-logged pieces of cardboard were all that some of his friends had to remember him by.

Like many urban neighborhoods, parts of Crown Heights suffer from the image, and sometimes the reality, of high violent crime rates. SOS, however, aims to change the image and the reality of life in the neighborhood with a unique approach. They treat gun violence like a disease.

It’s a method known as the CeaseFire model, sculpted after an evidence-based initiative in Chicago that had shown results over the past decade. The approach confronts the problem head-on, working to establish a culture that speaks out against violence through an emphasis on community interaction, conflict mediation and other tactics in a troubled neighborhood with high levels of violence.

OP-ED: The Adolescent Brain and Substance Abuse: Looking the Elephant In the Eye, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Having devoted my professional career to working in the justice systems, I have seen first-hand the dramatic impact drugs and alcohol have on offenders, victims and their families.

I spent 14 years in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and for three years I oversaw the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. Since 2003, I have been working on child abuse and juvenile justice issues at the national level.

There has been a constant theme in this work – drugs and alcohol do serious damage to children, families and communities and the use of them has a strong correlation to offending. I have also witnessed the power of prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery and the dramatic impact it can have on those same children, families and neighborhoods.

Yet, despite the prevalence, I have encountered a reluctance to address the issue of substance abuse and addiction. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including public perception (that it’s a rite of passage into adulthood) along with the stigma associated with addiction.

With all the reform efforts that have taken place over the last 15 years in the juvenile justice arena, coupled with what we now know about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the adolescent brain and the correlation with offending, it is surprising that an issue of such magnitude is still kept in the background.

Anyone working in the juvenile justice field is aware of the tremendous changes that have taken place in recent years. The “get tough” policies and practices of the 1990s have given way to a system largely guided by research and evidence based practices.  A report recently issued from the National Academy of Sciences, “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach,” consolidates and highlights these advances in a platform for moving forward.

A central theme is the importance of having the science surrounding adolescent development inform the policies and practices within the juvenile justice system. The authors emphasize that critical to any understanding of adolescent development research involves knowledge of the developing adolescent brain. The report highlights how this biological immaturity and imbalance among developing brain systems influence juvenile delinquency. The report also emphasizes key environmental factors such as peers, families, schools and communities and the importance of targeted interventions to prevent re-offending.

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