Youth crime makes headlines, but solutions take time

  • Two teens were shot and 15 were arrested in Chicago this past weekend
  • Solutions to keep kids off the streets include engagement and productivity
  • Many of these solutions take time to work

(NewsNation) — A group of teens caused a disturbance in downtown Chicago, leaving two people shot and more than a dozen arrested over the weekend.

The mayor pleaded with parents to take control of their kids, asking them to instill “important values of respect for people and property.”

Solutions that help establish those values often include engaging teenagers in productive activities well before they’re involved in something dubious.

Organizations across the country have attempted to do just that. Here are a few programs that have found measured success.

Summer jobs

Every summer, major cities like Boston and New York hire thousands of teenagers in what are known as Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEPs).

SYEPs allow kids to do meaningful work over the summer while getting paid for it.

Northeastern University economist Alicia Modestino said research has shown these programs can lead to a double-digit drop in youth crime. In New York City, those who participated in an SYEP decreased their likelihood of arrest by more than 12%.

Modestino says the success of these programs comes from the “soft skills” they help teens build.

“Things like managing your emotions, resolving conflicts with a peer, asking adults for help, feeling like you have something to contribute to your community are all considered super highly correlated with a reduction in crime,” she said.

Sports therapy

For years, the Boston-area nonprofit Doc Wayne has used a sports therapy program called Chalk Talk in local schools to help kids improve their behavior.

Unlike traditional group therapy, which mostly involves talking, Chalk Talk pairs lessons with the athleticism of sports.

Liv Emerich, a licensed social worker who was one of Chalk Talk’s coaches, used basketball to impart lessons, introducing slogans to the group each day. One of her favorites is “Got your back.”

“What does it mean to have somebody else’s back? What does it mean to have your own back? And how can we see that in real-time?” Emerich said.

A 2021 study of the program found that children who took part in the program showed a reduction in harmful behavior; 72% were less aggressive.

More funding for schools

Kids spend the biggest chunk of their waking hours in school. The quality of those schools can make a big difference in their development.

Finding additional funding sometimes requires a change in how it’s allocated in the first place.

Michigan school officials in the 1990s decided to shift school funding away from local property taxes and instead have the state play a more significant role. This led to an influx of funds for some of the most low-income schools in the state.

Researchers followed students who were in kindergarten through third grade when the funding model changed. They found students who attended schools that got 10% or more in funding were 15% less likely to be arrested when they became adults.

Joshua Hyman, an economist at Amherst College who co-authored the study, compared increasing funding to schools with increased funding to police. More police “reduces crime now,” but better school funding “reduces crime 20 years from now.”

Improving teacher quality

Paying teachers based on the success of their students is designed to improve the kids’ performance in the classroom. But performance pay may have another benefit, according to a recent study of South Carolina schools.

University of South Carolina economist Orgul Ozturk looked at the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which pays teachers more for increasing student performance but also for coaching other teachers.

Ozturk found students at TAP schools were less likely to be arrested for a felony by the time they turned 18.

A key factor in the TAP program the emphasis on support and consistent feedback among teachers.

“There was feedback, there was not only observation, testing and evaluation, but also teachers were given feedback on their performance and their professional development was complemented with that,” Ozturk said.


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