The public belief that youth are engaged in more crime during the summer is a myth, according to a report released May 26 by DC Lawyers for Youth.

Using data from the Metropolitan Police Department, the report, “Debunking Urban Legends: Summer Heat, Vacation Don’t Lead to More Youth Arrests,” showed fewer youth arrested are made during the summer months when compared to the rest of the year.

Daniel Okonkwo, the executive director of DCLY, said the report was released to help policymakers refocus on positive activities for youth and change the public’s misconception about youth violence during summer months.

“One of the misperceptions of young people is that their running around getting into trouble. We’re saying let’s have an honest conversation about how young people spend their time,” Okonkwo said. “One of the primary drivers of how effective juvenile justice reform will be in the city is how it’s supported by the mayor and the city council.”

According to the report, DCLY examined juvenile arrests for violent offenses from 2007 to 2010 and found that youth arrests were lower in June, July and August when compared to the rest of the year. The analysis also reports that the only seasonal spikes found in juvenile arrests were in the fall of 2008 and 2009, and in the spring of 2007, 2009 and 2010.

While Okonkwo said the report was not issued to speculate on the cause and effect of youth crime, some community leaders such as Kimberly Douglas, the theater manager for the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), said the availability of activities for youth have a direct correlation with a rise or fall in youth-related crimes.

“When young adults have an outlet to exercise their creativity or develop other life skills, they become open to better life choices, gain a support system that they may not necessarily have, or learn a skill that could potentially impact their future,” said Douglas, who said she has seen firsthand how the THEARC Technical Theater program has impacted the lives of youth.

Douglas said programs must have adequate funding in order to engage youth so they will stay out of trouble. “The issue is that most government agencies do not see the importance of such programs and have cut funding, which ultimately impacts young adults when they can no longer or have to accept a minimal amount of services being offered.”

Among those key programs, advocates say, is the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program. This year, funding for the program was cut as the District faced a multi-million budget shortfall this year and faces a looming $350 million gap for FY 2012.

Neville Waters, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Employment Services, confirmed the program has been restricted in terms of enrollment.

“One of the things this year is that we are a bit more limited in terms of hiring young people,” he said. “We had over 20,000 registered, of which we were going to only employ 12,000…Part of it is simply because of the budget.”

Waters said DOES has been working with other agencies to identify other programs that can help D.C. youth remain “productive” and “occupied” for the summer.

Despite those positive steps, Okonkwo said, there is always going to be a certain amount of crime committed by young people, which will be reported by a news medium. But he said that should be a balanced by news about those young people that are doing positive things in the community.

“There are young people in our city that commit crimes—we’re not saying that doesn’t happen,” he said. “ the good stories are never what you see. What I would like to see is incidents reported as they are, not as a trend.

“We’re trying to push back against that sort of reporting.”

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer