Youth Violence


Youth violence has been a problem throughout history, but it has become both more frequent and more severe over the past decade (Snyder 1996). Violence and other causes of injury represent a serious threat to the health and safety of urban youth. Homicide now is the second leading cause of death for 15 to 19 year olds and the leading cause among African-American youth (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see Appendix A for table). For youth 10 to 14, unintentional injuries is the leading cause of death, and homicide is the third leading cause.

The traditional approaches of law enforcement and juvenile justice are necessary, but they are not sufficient to control this problem (Reiss and Roth 1993). Greater emphasis must be placed on prevention if we want to reduce the toll of juvenile violence and delinquency. This begs the question -- what works? Concern about youth violence has spawned a cottage industry of experts and organizations offering a bewildering array of programs, services and equipment. It is often difficult to determine what has and has not been evaluated.

Unfortunately, there is no "buyer’s guide" to violence prevention programs. The summary which follows is an attempt to fill that gap. First, we attempt to place the problem of youth violence in perspective. Much of the information cited in this section of the report was obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Second, we divide existing programs into three groups: those that have been evaluated and found to be effective, those that have so far yielded disappointing or mixed results, and those that are promising but have not been adequately evaluated. Our list of programs is extensive, but it is not exhaustive. New ideas and initiatives are emerging every day.

To support our conclusions, we have assembled an extensive bibliography. We also identify (OJJDP), and can be obtained by calling the National Program Office. The Guide is a user-friendly and authoritative work. Part I provides a blueprint for implementing OJJDP’s comprehensive strategy for juvenile offenders. Part II reviews evaluation research on programs to prevent juvenile crime and violence. Part III outlines a detailed approach to graduated sanctions for juvenile offenders, and Part IV presents a practical approach to risk assessment and classification. Our review draws heavily from The Guide . We strongly recommend that you obtain a copy.

Not everyone will agree with our assessment of the relative value of various violence prevention strategies. Many of the programs we have identified as "less effective" have strong advocates. Few have been sufficiently evaluated to reach a firm and final conclusion about their usefulness. More evaluation research is needed.

Unfortunately, the support for generating high-quality evaluation research is weak. Federal agencies including The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are interested in evaluating promising strategies, but the resources available to fund evaluations of violence prevention programs are meager. Many programs are evaluated for insufficient intervals of time (i.e., only one to three years).

That is why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s initiative, America’s Promise, is so important. Cities involved in this initiative are being encouraged to take risks, invest in efforts that have a long-term payoff, and stick with them long enough to learn whether they succeed or fail. If you are willing to learn from your failures and share your successes, we will accomplish a great deal in the next 10 years. The staff and of the National Program Office and your program consultants are ready to help whenever possible.