Youth Violence Interventions

Community-level Interventions

Community level programs enjoy widespread support, but most have not produced consistent results when subjected to careful program evaluation.

Neighborhood "clean-ups"

Neighborhood characteristics can exert a profound influence on rates of crime, violence and juvenile delinquency (Sampson 1985). Several studies suggest that rates of crime and violence are directly related to levels of poverty, unemployment, and social disorganization in the neighborhood. Graffiti, vandalism, public drinking and prostitution signal a loss of neighborhood control that may result in an increase in crime (Skogan 1991). Criminals assume that neighbors who are indifferent to their surroundings will be unlikely to confront strangers, intervene in a crime or call the police. Unsafe neighborhoods are characterized by anonymity, weak control of public space, limited participation in local organizations, and groups of unsupervised youth (Sampson 1985).

Density of housing and population mobility are important factors in explaining neighborhood rates of violent crime (Lacayo 1996, Roncek 1981) and population turnover impairs a neighborhood's ability to control juvenile delinquency (Block 1979). Poor neighborhoods with high rates of population mobility often have substantially higher rates of violent crime (Block 1979, Sampson 1985, Sampson 1995); the same effect is not noted in more affluent areas (Smith 1988). Large, multi-unit housing complexes increase anonymity and decrease the likelihood that neighbors will look out for each other (Roncek 1981). A large percentage of apartments in multi-unit housing has been linked to high rates of crime in Cleveland and San Diego (Sampson 1995).

Safe communities (in contrast) are characterized by strong, locally based social networks, stable populations, neighborhood control of public spaces, and shared supervision of neighborhood youth. To capitalize on these characteristics, community-level interventions seek to prevent or reduce violence by modifying the neighborhoods in which it occurs. Some involve redirecting traditional criminal justice activities, such as community policing. Others involve "non-crime" strategies like sponsoring after-school activities for youth, promotion of neighborhood clean-ups, and economic development. Community "cleanups" of graffiti, trash, needles and crack vials can promote a climate of safety and order. Neighborhood-based cleanups have been shown to increase perceptions of safety (Rosenbaum 1991).

Crime breeds fear, and fear drives business from neighborhoods with rising rates of crime. When businesses relocate to the suburbs, opportunities for legitimate employment are decreased. Erosion of the tax base due to unemployment eventually leads to a reduction of municipal services and decreased support for public education. These, in turn, contribute to further deterioration in the social and physical condition of poor communities (Skogan 1991, Wallace 1990). Improving economic and social conditions may discourage crime (Sampson 1995). "Non-crime" policies such as zoning, provision of municipal services, tax incentives for new business and other strategies to promote economic development may play a crucial role in reversing the downward spiral of low income, high crime areas.

High-crime neighborhoods must organize to effectively communicate their concerns. Many decisions that profoundly influence quality of life are made by agencies and officials residing outside the affected neighborhoods (Sampson 1995). Unstable or disorganized communities cannot defend their interests against competing agendas.

Participation in neighborhood organizations can strengthen social ties between families. Examples of activities include forming citizen patrols to provide safe corridors to and from school, picketing crack houses, and organizing a neighborhood "night out."

Community mobilization strategies have been evaluated in a number of settings, mostly involving non-equivalent neighborhood comparisons (Howell and Bilchik 1995). Interventions of this sort have generally been associated with improved community perceptions (less perceived crime and disorder, greater perceived police presence). However, most have failed to produce significant decreases in neighborhood crime rates or self-reports of victimization (Wyckoff 1985, Rosenbaum 1986, Lindsay 1986).