How bizarre to see the Violence Policy Center think tank's report revealing a bloodbath of murdered young people in California, led by such picturesque and/or laid-back NorCal places as gorgeous Monterey County, pricey San Francisco County, and dusty, farming-oriented San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
No surprise to see Alameda County in fourth place, given the bleak inner-cities in Oakland, Berkeley and other East Bay flatlands. Yet in L.A., homicides of youths are so comparatively low (9.5 per 100,000), that we're also behind the Bay Area's Solano County; Merced County (where everybody seems to work for a packing company); and Contra Costa County, a strange region of snooty wine country mixed with decayed East Bay places like San Pablo and Richmond.
Even wonderful Tulare County, site of Sequoia National Park, has a higher killing rate of youths than L.A. What the hell?
Some of the reasons are related to heavy gang activity in California's rolling farmlands and in the many towns along some of California's famed scenic routes, where the spillover of urban gangs and their affiliates — not to mention the ugly influence of the far-reaching Mexican Mafia — has a grip on medium-sized cities and small towns.
But even worse than this, according to the think tank, is California's decision decades ago to stiffen the punishment on low-end lawbreaking by young people, thrusting them into a system filled with much tougher and more violent peers who end up influencing these kids far more than any law.
According to the report, quoting the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and others:
Less exposure to the juvenile court system decreases the likelihood of recidivism by reducing association with delinquent peers …
Indeed, researchers at The National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice arrived at a similar conclusion, stating: “…data indicate that incarceration is a spectacularly unsuccessful treatment.”
Robert Listenbee, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention observes: “As a growing body of evidence underscores the corrosive effects that system involvement and confinement can have on healthy adolescent emotional, mental, behavioral and social development, many jurisdictions are examining and developing ways to divert nonserious offenders from entering the system.”
The researchers singled out two Los Angeles groups that are saving kids from the broken corrections system through innovative means, plus one group in Oakland: the Coalition for Responsible Community Development run by Mark Wilson in L.A., the InsideOut Writers education program led by Wendelyn Killian in L.A. and Oakland's Youth UpRising violence prevention program.
Killian, of InsideOut Writers, told the researchers, “You can’t create an adult system and expect the kids to seamlessly flood into it. They’re kids, so there have to be differences in how you take care of them and discipline them. If you’re going to have rehabilitation, then make it meaningful.”