Dozens of wary young felons, some in handcuffs, file into a Cincinnati courtroom not for trial, but to hear an ultimatum that the killings must stop. If you want out of the violent street life, they are told, there’s help. Call in, and you’ll get the chance at a good-paying job, no matter how bad your past. For the next two hours, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer, an unprecedented assembly of police officers, prosecutors, employers, social service professionals, victims’ relatives, and former gunmen tells violent offenders that the rules have drastically changed.
Not yet a year old, the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence is being called a national crime-fighting model. It’s credited with helping reduce homicides by nearly 24 percent in the city last year. Since the program began, 117 convicted drug traffickers, armed robbers, and other young felons have been summoned to court and offered a best-chance deal for themselves and their comrades in crime. So far, 161 chronic violent offenders have asked for help. Forty-one have completed job training, and 25 are employed as metal products assemblers, meat cutters, cooks, screen printers, and paper and food packagers. Mayor Mark Mallory praises the program, which was inspired by John Jay College of Criminal Justice criminologist David Kennedy, architect of the “Boston Miracle” gun project that cut youth homicides there by two-thirds in 1996. Not everyone is sold on it. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters argues that his no-plea-bargain policy for gun crimes and the fact he locks up 3,000 violent criminals a year account for much of the lower violent crime rate. “I think CIRV is 20 years too late,” he says. “We should stop subsidizing bad behavior.”