Anti-delinquency Agency Targets Zip Codes with High Youth Crime

July 25, 2002
by IAN DEMSKY
The Miami Herald

The state has come up with a new strategy for making its juvenile delinquency prevention programs more effective, officials announced Wednesday.

For the first time, the state Department of Juvenile Justice used computerized mapping to find ZIP codes with high concentrations of juvenile offenders.

Areas with high numbers of offenders create an environment where young kids are exposed to negative peer pressure that may lead them toward trouble, said the department’s Tim Center, chief of delinquency prevention.

“It makes a lot of sense,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the program on youth and justice for the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. “I haven’t heard of anyone else doing that, but it follows the general trend of locating services where the client is.”

Statewide, the department is giving $7.5 million – $2 million of which comes from federal grants – to 95 new community-based delinquency prevention programs. The money will help more than 15,000 kids and their families.

Broward and Miami-Dade counties got 11 grants totaling more than $965,000 for their programs.

Broward’s ASPIRA REACT received a $100,000 grant for its programs.

This summer, young aspirantes – from the Spanish word for striving and aspiration – are going on field trips, putting on plays at local children’s hospitals and painting murals.

“It’s very fun and I meet new people, learn leadership and build self-confidence,” said Jacqueline Castilla, 13, an aspirante and eighth-grader at Hollywood’s Apollo Middle School. “Without ASPIRA I’d probably have a lower self-confidence and be at home bored.”

These are all components of a successful prevention program because they foster social skills, Butts said.

The program also works intensively with parents, said Raul Martinez, president of ASPIRA’s Florida chapter.

“You have to raise your children not only for you, but for others,” he said.

Using computerized mapping, state analysts highlighted five ZIP codes in Broward and five in Miami-Dade as the most high-risk communities.

Local juvenile justice boards and councils then worked with state officials to try to fund programs that serve the at-risk kids – aged 10 to 17 – in or near those areas.

In general, prevention programs are effective, Butts said.

“Good programs must be well-funded, well-targeted and address the factors associated with future crime,” he said.

These factors include little involvement in school, little parental supervision and a home environment where kids are exposed to crime, drugs or abuse. The state’s prevention programs will work to find kids who aren’t in trouble with the law, but are at risk from these factors, the department’s Center said.

However, programs that are too narrowly on kids from certain ethnic groups or income levels may not have enough appeal, Butts said.

“The whole theory behind prevention is to paint with a broad brush,” he said. “While race, ethnicity and income levels may be factors associated with crime, it would be inappropriate to focus on them.”

To make programs effective, they should provide concrete services that are meaningful to kids’ lives – things that help them stay in school, manage conflicts and prepare them with job skills, Butts said.

Florida’s prevention programs will include runaway shelters, alternative schools, substance abuse programs, mentoring and tutoring.

The department closely tracks kids in its programs.

Some 93 percent of kids don’t become offenders while in the program or for six months afterward. Of the kids in the department’s residential programs, 60 percent stay out of trouble for a year after, Center said.

State records show Florida’s juvenile crime rate is down 8 percent over the past five years and juvenile murder arrests are down 30 percent since 1999.

In the past four years the department spent $275.5 million on delinquency prevention.

Rafael and Liduvina Amaya’s children Rafael Jr., 19, and Jasmin, 13, have been involved in ASPIRA for several years.

Rafael Jr. got involved in the program in middle school, after graduating from the program, became a counselor.

“I see a very positive effect in our community,” said Rafael Amaya Sr. “I’m very happy that this program exists and very proud of my children.”

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