Kent Professor shares ideas on how to curb local juvenile crime
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, March 2007) Tackling the problems that cause juvenile crime in Cleveland will not be easy, warned a guest speaker at the SAFEighteen Winter Conference. “The problems are complicated and will not go away without your involvement and commitment,” said clinical psychologist Dan Flannery. The Kent State University Professor was one of many guest speakers at the January 30th SAFEighteen Winter Conference held at the West Side Community House at W. 93rd and Lorain Avenue.
Flannery warned the group that the problems associated with juvenile crime “took a long time to get where they are today.” In turn, he noted, it would take a long time to fix these problems. “There are no quick fixes,” he warned.
Flannery, who grew up on Lawn Avenue on Cleveland’s West Side, was impressed with the commitment of about 80 Ward 18 stakeholders who weathered a blizzard to attend the conference, which focused on a neighborhood problem described by Ward 18 Councilman Jay Westbrook as “juveniles engaged in criminal activity.”
Sharing some insights from academic research on the problems of negative juvenile behavior, Professor Flannery made some recommendations.
“There is a lot of evidence,” he said, “that identifying a problem early and intervening can make a difference”. For example, changing the behavior of a 12- or 13-year old is easier than changing the behavior of a 17-year old youth. Flannery praised diversion programs, which intervene to help change the behavior of youths who have committed minor crimes.
“Neighborhoods and families are key to making things better,” said Flannery. Of the youths that enter the juvenile justice system, “90% come back home to peer groups and family.”
The one thing that parents and community members can do that will make the biggest difference, said Flannery, is to “keep kids in school longer.” Flannery noted that research shows that the longer a youth stays in school, the less likely he or she is to get into trouble with the law.
Another way that parents can help is to tell their child that their behavior is inappropriate or wrong. While this may not have an immediate impact, Flannery said research shows that youths whose parents have expressed disapproval of their behavior do better in the long run.
The problem of families and communities addressing negative juvenile behavior is complicated and involves not just law enforcement but also treatment programs for substance abuse, the mental health system, schools and other community resources, said Flannery.
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