Reducing Youth Violence: A PROMISE to our Community
Last Sunday, a 17 year-old Springfield High School student was shot and killed a few blocks from Wittenberg. While this single incident has devastated the entire Springfield community, unfortunately, this not the exception—but the rule.
As a nation, we are suffering from a plague of youth violence and incarceration. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], an average of 16 young people are murdered every day in America. In fact, a recent World Health Organization Report found that United States youth homicide rates are ten times higher than other leading industrial countries. The same study found that 52 percent of those arrested for murder and 65 percent of those arrested for robbery were under 25 years old.
To address this problem, we currently utilize “tough-on-crime” policies: the U.S. incarcerates more juveniles than any of the next 10 leading industrialized countries, and is the only nation on Earth that incarcerates juveniles for life.
In other words, our current policy is reactive rather than proactive. Instead of resolving violence before it happens, we wait until conflict erupts into violence, place human beings in a cage, lock the door, and throw the key away—a moral failing, to say the least.
These regressive policies are not only immoral—but also fiscally irresponsible: states currently spend roughly $5.7 billion each year imprisoning youth, at an average cost of $240 per day per youth.
While we spend an enormous amount enforcing them, these policies simply don’t work. They have done absolutely nothing to substantially reduce violence; in fact, they facilitate a vicious cycle of violence, to incarceration, back to violence and incarceration.
However, the status quo is never inescapable; the current system doesn’t have to be this way.
There is currently a piece of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with bipartisan support that would address youth violence in a proactive, constructive way: the Youth PROMISE Act [YPA].
The YPA calls for a restorative justice program that would utilize evidence-based strategies via local leadership and oversight to prevent and curb youth violence. The YPA would create local PROMISE councils—consisting of representatives from local businesses, non-profits, and various other sectors of the community—to develop a custom-tailored plan for their communities.
The methods driving YPA have proven effective: similar programs have yielded over 60 percent reduction in recidivism in young offenders as compared to traditional juvenile justice systems.
The programs created by YPA are also fiscally responsible: Pennsylvania recently adopted a similar approach to YPA, and, over a ten-year period, saved $5 for every $1 invested.
Despite the legislation’s moral and fiscal authority, Ohio federal Senators – Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown – have yet to endorse the bill. I strongly urge these two senators to cosponsor this bill; to be neutral and passive at a moment like this is simply inexcusable.
I also urge Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to be diligent in bringing this bill to a vote in the House when it passes the Senate. This isn’t an issue to play politics over; there is far too much at stake.
Finally, I encourage Wittenberg students to sign the on-line petition at youthpromiseact.org—for it is always the responsibility of the privileged to empower the marginalized segments of society.