Tuesday April 22, 2008
A new program designed to deter youths from joining gangs has been awarded a $209,000 grant from the federal government, Mayor Jerry Abramson announced today. The grant from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Project Safe Neighborhood Anti-Gang Initiative will fund the West Chestnut Street CHARACTERS program. Administrators say the program is one of only a handful in the country being funded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to target young offenders – 12 to 16 years old – who are at most risk of joining a gang.
“Gang demographics have changed in our community,” Abramson said. “Instead of two or three dominant gangs across our city, individual neighborhoods or blocks have small groups that begin recruiting members while they’re still in middle school. This program seeks to prevent those young people from getting pulled in to an early life of crime.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office funded the grant, which will provide programming for approximately a dozen youth offenders assigned to the project. Administrators are targeting teens who live in the 40210, 40211 and 40212 ZIP codes, which include the California, Beecher Terrace, Chickasaw, Algonquin, Portland, Russell, Shawnee and Park Hill neighborhoods.
Approximately 12 youth offenders will be chosen to participate. Each teen will be referred by a juvenile court judge and will be either a first or second offender for charges that would normally be adjusted for community service (theft, drug possession, or non-violent school offenses).
“It’s time to take a different approach to youth gangs and youth violence,” said David Huber, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky. “We are pleased to have assisted the city in the possible prevention of crime rather than our usual role of prosecution. Now we’re looking at the other side – preventing youths from joining a gang in the first place, which could prevent crime down the road.”
The anti-gang initiative will include an after-school commitment (two days a week for eight to 12 weeks), in which participants will receive education on substance abuse/prevention, life skills, victim impact and goal setting. Individual case management will include home and school visits, and each teen will be responsible for at least 12 hours of community service. The program is considered an alternative to juvenile detention.
Program meetings will take place at West Chestnut Street Baptist Church. “Youth crime is an issue that requires commitment of many community members,” said Reverend C. Mackie Daniels. “Our church felt strongly that we needed to take an active role in the work of preventing gangs and violence in our neighborhoods, and offering our services to the CHARACTERS program is one way we can help.”
Administrators are already screening potential applicants for the first session. The Louisville Metro Criminal Justice Commission will distribute the grant money, while Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services and the Division of Community Based Services will oversee the program.
“The CHARACTERS program will have significant impact on the lives of young people in our community who are at a crossroads – deciding whether they’ll pursue a dangerous lifestyle or choose a path toward education and success,” Abramson said. “I’m pleased that our community partners are ready to take on the task of preventing youth violence.”