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United States and Latin America share experiences to prevent youth violence

Officials from the IDB and Latin America review lessons learned from U.S. youth programs

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) this week held a two-day training clinic with top specialists and law enforcement officials from the hemisphere, showcasing programs from Boston, Baltimore and San José, California as examples of best practices that could be adopted to help Latin America and the Caribbean combat youth crime.

The clinic, which was held at the IDB’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, included a site visit by participants to the City of Baltimore’s Office of Violence Prevention, which has sought to combine public health and other service models in support of traditional public safety strategies. The group was hosted by Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

This is the fifth training clinic organized by the IDB, and the first since the Bank launched its new citizen security initiative in March, which puts an emphasis on knowledge sharing between Latin American countries as a key component to help lower crime rates. The IDB approved more than $300 million in citizen security projects over the past decade.

“Programs that have worked well in Boston or Bogotá could hold the key ingredients to constructing effective programs to lower violence and crime among youths throughout the region,” said Ana María Rodríguez, manager for the IDB’s Institutional Capacity of the State sector. “The clinic is one way to deepen our understanding of what works, how it works and what does not work in preventing young people from turning to violent behavior.”

Mario Maciel, the head of the Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Prevention in San José, Calif., said policing has to be accompanied by other actions. “We are focusing at an early age, in elementary school, when the kids are six or seven years old, and driving home the point they have to make positive decisions, they have to understand the legal consequences.”

He said parents also had an important role to play, in spotting when a child is on a wrong path. “This starts from home,” he said.

Barbara Ferrer, the executive Director of the Boston Department of Public Health, said three strategies show promising results. Education and job training give young people hope that “they have a future.” Another strategy is teaching skills on “how to handle their emotions and how to handle their anger.” Third is building public and private partnerships to offer youths an environment that promotes safety, by cleaning up empty spaces and providing recreational services.

Participants in the clinic learned about ways to engage members of the community to prevent violence in cities. They also studied effective police crime-prevention programs from the hemisphere, focusing especially on community and law enforcement that operates on evidence and data to improve police work.

Top U.S. national and local officials shared views on programs such as the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention – a network of communities and federal agencies that are pooling their expertise to come up with effective measures to prevent youth violence. Top police chiefs, public officials and civil society organizers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean heard from officials including Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP), William Evans, the superintendent of the Boston Police Department and Gen. Ricardo Alberto Restrepo Londoño, of the Colombian National Police, among others.

Cambridge University professor Lawrence W. Sherman presented a protocol for evidence-based crime prevention and the IDB released its discussion paper on the subject, called Citizen Security: Conceptual Framework and Empirical Evidence, which presents “best bets” programs and interventions from the Latin American and Caribbean region and beyond. These programs have not only been subjected to rigorous evaluations but have a proven track record of effectiveness.

Overall, 80 participants took part in the clinic. Previous clinics were held in Santiago (2008), San José (2009), Montevideo (2010) and Rio de Janeiro (2011).