There are myriad aspects to the issues of youth violence: Brain development (which continues into the mid-20s), hormonal shifts and mood swings, plus exposure to violence and trauma can all put young people at risk, Harold Spivak, deputy director and chief of staff at the National Institute of Justice, told meeting attendees. In fact, children who had experienced abuse had little to no activity in their temporal lobe — the part of the brain that controls listening, memory and emotion. Violence is literally injuring children’s brains.
So at Monday’s session on the topic, “Health in Criminal and Juvenile Justice Policy,” advocates looked at how public health might approach this public safety problem. Theron Pride, chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, called on public health to help protect children and prevent them from turning to violence.
“If you like to fix things, if you really like to solve problems, this is one that could really use solving,” Pride said. “We know enough. Youth violence is preventable. I believe one day we will have a cure for cancer. But we have a cure for violence now. Kids killing kids is not inevitable.”
The goal, in addition to prevention, is also to make sure that kids who do turn to violence are set back on the right path. The juvenile justice system plays a role in that, and advocates hope to move from a punitive system to one that addresses the root causes of violence, said Robert Listenbee, administrator at the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The goal is to have fewer punishment-based interactions with high-risk kids, Listenbee said.
“We need to tailor our responses to heal that which has been harmed,” he said.
To learn more about youth violence prevention, visit youth.gov.