Editorial: School and community must ally to curb delinquency

The criminal justice framework that our local and federal authorities enforce has increasingly been focused strictly on punishment and penalizing offenders. For example, Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., is pushing legislation that would limit the crimes for which minors could be incarcerated. He is seeking to do away with jail time for status crimes, such as curfew violations and truancy. Although these are necessary issues to address, it is more difficult, but also necessary, to address youth crime’s roots. 

In reality, the problem is far more complicated than a one-size-fits-all approach to produce full efficacy. However, state governments and local advocacy organizations, more specifically, have to find and implement solutions to reduce juvenile delinquency in communities. In particular, school and community programs can play a central role in this.

To start, school districts that haven’t implemented such initiatives should establish programs within schools to provide personalized guidance to students who otherwise could not have such support or opportunity. The notion that guidance counselors and teachers need to be more than merely academically oriented is a very apparent concern. These educators have to be able to proactively teach students inside and outside the classroom. With this, students can be helped immediately if teachers and school officials notice behavioral irregularities.

Establishing after-school programs, such as academic, arts and sportsrelated ones, could help to instill interests in these areas among students. Doing so would provide the resources for students to grow intellectually, creatively and athletically, and would also provide focus and discipline. Progress has been made in these areas, but there is certainly more room to expand, especially when outside contributions are made. A sense of belonging and fulfillment in these areas could directly lead to the detour of criminal behavior. A 2005-2006 study proves just that. With other factors (such as location and student-teacher ratio) held constant, the report illustrated that schools with higher sports participation had lower crime and suspension rates. The more opportunities students have to get involved in such groups, the fewer opportunities students have to fall through the cracks.

School districts, though, should not have to do this alone. School districts should collaborate with groups in the community to set up services for students. In Pittsburgh, the Black Political Empowerment Project has worked throughout the city to encourage development and enfranchisement. They have taken an active role in fair housing campaigns and voter participation. Outreach groups such as B-PEP can turn to our schools to assist Pittsburgh’s youth. Other groups, ranging from nonprofits to businesses, should partner with schools to help fund and foster student participation in extracurricular activities that would empower those who otherwise would be left alone and vulnerable to criminal involvement. In fact, the highest crime rates for youth occur between 3 and 7 p.m.

Local organizations and advocacy groups that focus on getting troubled kids into the right environment are viable options for schools to ensure they have a role throughout their students’ lives. While it’s important to ensure that teachers and administrators are proactive in their students’ behavioral tendencies in school, community firms can help to facilitate such proactivity at home — a place where children are negatively influenced the most. We hope that this involvement will, in turn, benefit students and districts. Overall, providing vulnerable students opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have is something that every school and community should strive to achieve.