The impact of gangs and gang activity on public safety, public education and community development is a central issue facing criminal justice planners and policy makers both in America’s cities and in suburban communities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that more than 30,000 gangs with 800,000 members operate in 2,500 communities across the United States. Criminal justice experts believe one of the main avenues for addressing the gang problem in America is intervening with young people before they enter a gang and providing services to help current and former gang members re-enter society.
RIT’s Department of Criminal Justice is playing a central role in this effort through its participation in Rochester Safe and Sound, a multi-year research and intervention initiative that also includes the Rochester City School District, Rochester Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York. The $2.5 million program is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and is a component of the federal government’s community-based crime-prevention program.
“Rochester Safe and Sound is providing comprehensive prevention programming to assist local schools and social-service organizations reach kids before they join gangs and help prevent past offenders from returning to the gang lifestyle,” notes Jason Scott, assistant professor of criminal justice at RIT and a member of the initiative’s planning team. “At the same time, the program seeks to provide better ana-lysis techniques and technologies to assist policing agencies improve their current gang enforcement programs.”
The initiative is conducting a targeted program aimed at juvenile offenders currently on probation, implementing violence-awareness and behavioral-control efforts in several Rochester city schools and working with the Hillside Family of Agencies to provide life coaches for at-risk youth. It is also working with the Rochester Police Department to provide better data on gang activity and violence in the region. The RIT team is also developing the data analysis and reporting criteria that will be used to evaluate the overall success of these efforts and report findings to the justice department.
“It is our hope the data developed through this program will help improve gang enforcement, prevention and re-entry programming not only in Rochester, but throughout the country,” says Scott.
The RIT research team has also included multiple graduate and undergraduate students as well as John Klofas, chair of the criminal justice department, and Thomas Castellano, professor of criminal justice, who recently passed away.
“We encourage our students to undertake activities where they can work directly in the criminal justice field while still in school,” says Klofas. “This initiative provides an excellent opportunity to gain hands-on experience and make a difference at the same time.”
Rochester Safe and Sound is a component of a broader collaboration between RIT and the City of Rochester through the Department of Criminal Justice Center for Public Safety, which works with local and national public safety agencies to advance crime analysis techniques to better evaluate the impact of crime and crime-prevention programming in communities.
“One of the main issues facing law enforcement and social service agencies is how to evaluate whether or not a program is working,” adds Klofas, who serves as director of the Center for Public Safety. “By providing better data for better decision making RIT is attempting to enhance the robustness and efficiency of crime analysis and make programs such as Rochester Safe and Sound more successful.”