Cybele K. Daley, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Conference on Safe Schools and Communities
September 29, 2007
Thank you, Bob. It is, indeed, a pleasure to be here at this national conference on school and community safety.
I’d like to thank the Hamilton Fish Institute and George Washington University for bringing us together, and for being valued partners with the Office of Justice Programs. In particular, I want to thank Dr. Beverly Glenn [Director of the Hamilton Fish Institute] and Ruth Marshall [Deputy Director of HFI] for their tremendous efforts in putting on this annual event.
I also want to thank our federal partners for their involvement, particularly the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service. I appreciate their support and participation.
Finally, I want to acknowledge Bob Flores and his staff, particularly Scott Peterson, in our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Bob, Scott, and the rest of the OJJDP team work hard every day to support schools and communities in their efforts to keep out crime and delinquency. I want to thank them publicly for all their good work.
This is an interesting time to be talking about school safety. Just seven months ago, we witnessed the worst mass murder in our nation’s history at a university. Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the terrible tragedy in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. And as recently as early this month, a high school in Cleveland was the scene of a shooting in which four people were injured and the gunman killed himself.
Talking about these tragedies gives you the sense that we’re losing the fight to keep our schools safe. And yet, the statistics tell us a different story. In truth, school violence is on the decline. Two years ago, an annual study by our Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education found that violence in schools was at its lowest level in a decade. And last year’s study showed that the rate of serious violent crime in schools continued to fall.
What are we to do about this paradox? Obviously, we must be doing something right if school violence is going down. To be sure, schools are among the safest places for our children. But we can’t pretend that what happened in Blacksburg, Nickel Mines, and Cleveland are just tragic aberrations. We have to do our best to prevent anything like them from happening again.
A few years ago, our National Institute of Justice joined with the Secret Service and the Department of Education to profile school shooters and to assess ways to prevent future shootings. The study was important for a couple of reasons. First, it overturned some stereotypes about shooters, such as the belief that they act impulsively and in immediate reaction to some grievance.
Second, we learned how critically important it is that we listen to our young people. In more than 75 percent of the cases examined, the attacker had told someone about his plans – a friend, a schoolmate, or a sibling. In one case, the attacker had made comments to at least 24 friends and classmates.
The problem was that, in almost all cases, the people who were told about an attacker’s plans were peers. And rarely was that information brought to the attention of an adult. Clearly, there is a major barrier to communication here, and one we need to look at very closely.
That’s why one of our major thrusts at the Office of Justice Programs is to strengthen and expand our partnerships with youth and youth-serving organizations. Over the past six years, we have made tremendous progress in soliciting the involvement of both young people and adults in working with at-risk youth.
Our Youth Court Initiative, led by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is a prime example of our success. As some of you know, youth courts target juveniles who commit non-violent offenses such as theft and vandalism, and hold them accountable through community service, restitution, and other means.
Youth courts have quietly emerged as one of the most replicated juvenile justice programs in the nation. In 1994, there were fewer than 50 youth court programs in about 7 states. Today, more than 1,200 youth courts are in operation in 49 states and the District of Columbia. And, more than 110,000 youth volunteers are involved.
We see youth courts not simply as a means of unburdening the juvenile justice system, but as a way of empowering youth. By giving them a legally and socially sanctioned forum for holding their peers responsible for their actions, youth courts teach problem solving, respect for the law, and accountability. Perhaps more importantly, they build self esteem and send a message that the opinions and decisions of our young people matter.
Another means of reaching our youth is through mentoring, and OJP has been very active in supporting mentoring programs in communities across the country. Our alliance with groups like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Police Athletic League has resulted in an extensive network of mentors for young people.
The Big Brothers/Big Sisters program alone is serving more than 265,000 at-risk and court-involved youth. And the quality is just as impressive as the quantity. In an evaluation of more than 600 delinquency prevention programs, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program was determined to be one of only 11 highly effective models.
Our partnerships with Boys and Girls Clubs and the Police Athletic League also have greatly expanded the reach of mentoring. For example, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kenai Peninsula in Alaska pairs Coast Guard members with local youth. Mentors provide one-on-one tutoring, participate in recreational activities, lead outdoor education sessions, and help out with civic duties such as community clean-up and senior assistance.
This program, and many others like it, have helped us give countless young people healthy alternatives to truancy, crime, and delinquency.
Closely tied to our mentoring and youth court programs is our work to mandate community service for youthful offenders. Traditionally, community service has had a strictly punitive connotation. But we’re working to make it a much more meaningful practice.
Most of you are familiar with the concept of service learning. Community service learning blends service learning with mandated community service by allowing offenders to learn about the law and many other areas through hands-on experience.
For example, rather than simply assigning an offender the job of removing trash from an urban streambed, a service learning approach might have him take a class to learn about water quality analysis. He might be required to develop strategies for reducing local pollution. He could even be asked to talk to community residents about how to carry out those strategies. In other words, the offender is not just paying a debt, he’s engaged in an educational process that should better serve him – and society – in the long run.
Community service learning adopts the principles of balanced and restorative justice by giving young offenders the chance both to make amends for the wrongs they have done and to understand the consequences of their actions. That’s the learning part – helping them to appreciate the impact of their behavior against the larger canvas of the law and public policy.
I believe that heightening the role of service will lead to many good things – reduced recidivism, fewer re-referrals back to courts, increased volunteerism, and perhaps most important, greater involvement with our youth. Giving young people the chance to serve their communities will lead to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to assume the most important role in our society – that of a citizen.
Community service learning, mentoring, and youth courts are all vital components of the First Lady’s Helping America’s Youth Initiative. The HAY initiative is a multi-agency partnership designed to give young people healthy alternatives to delinquent and violent behavior. You’ll hear more from our partners at a panel later this afternoon.
I’d also encourage you to visit our Web site, particularly our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s home page. If you’ll go to the map on the OJJDP home page and click on your state, you’ll see a listing of contacts who can talk to you about funding and other resources available for these activities.
I want to thank everyone here for the work you do every day on behalf of our youth, and on behalf of the safety of our schools and communities. By giving young people a voice and a role, you are helping them to avoid the behaviors that could jeopardize their future and the safety of their peers.
I urge you to continue to value young minds, give young people a chance to be heard, talk to them and respect them. It’s the only road to a safe future for all of us.