Denver police Capt. Joseph Padilla used to refer young toughs on the verge of gang initiation to youth-intervention programs, the Denver Post says. Now, “We have no service providers to send them to,” he. “There’s no prevention.”
Since last summer, the Post reports, millions of government dollars have evaporated from prevention programs that pair counselors with teenagers considered most likely to join gangs or other criminal enterprises. As a result, gang experts aren’t surprised by shootings such as one in a park on Sept. 4 that left 15-year-old Bennie Williams dead and his brother injured.
The number of young homicide victims in Colorado has steadily risen since 2000, when 13 people ages 11 to 20 were killed. In 2001, that number grew to 23; last year, it reached 24.
Most programs that have been cut had their roots in Denver’s 1993 “Summer of Violence,” when gang warfare was out of control. A special legislative session led to millions of dollars for gang, crime and violence prevention. The budget crisis now challenging local and state governments has shrunk most of that spending to nothing. After the Summer of Violence, state money for juvenile pretrial diversion programs jumped from $905,248 to about $2 million annually. Last summer, it dropped to zero.
A state audit that found pretrial program is a clear money saver. Diversion takes first-time, nonviolent offenders out of court and places them in education and rehabilitation programs. If the offender completes the program successfully, charges are dropped and the teen gets the chance to restart life with a clean slate.