With the dramatic rise in shootings in Boston, the percentage of victims who are teenagers has skyrocketed, says the Boston Globe. In the first four months of 2006, 45 percent of non fatal gunshot wound victims were under the age of 20 compared with 35 percent last year, 34 percent in 2004, and 20 percent in 2003, reports the state Department of Public Health. The spike has alarmed community leaders and public officials and fueled a debate over how to combat the crime wave most effectively. Officials have announced a flurry of expenditures aimed at quelling youth violence.
Funding for prevention programs aimed at youth “reduces crime in the long run, and that’s a goal people everywhere share; however, it doesn’t do much to prevent crime in the short run,” said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox: “If you want to impact the life of a 17-, 18- or 20-year-old, you have to start when they’re 10, 11, or 12. You can’t take a kid already running with a gang and say, `Here’s a program for you,’ and expect him to say good bye to his buddies and sign up.” An ongoing difficulty with youth programs — both for scholars and for public officials trying to make decisions about funding them — is the elusiveness of hard data to judge their effectiveness. “It is very hard to measure them, and very hard to evaluate them,” said David Hemenway of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center.