Service: October 2009 Archives

Jens Ludwig discusses Crime Lab

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It sounded like everyone attending latest Divinity School Wednesday Lunch had a story about crime in Hyde Park. Before Professor Jens Ludwig of the Social Service Administration School spoke about the work of the University of Chicago's Crime Lab to combat street violence in the city, the students and staff at my table traded stories about our own dangerous encounters in the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

But while we were worrying about getting mugged, more than 36 Chicago Public School students were killed, most by gunfire, during the past school year. And Ludwig was more interested in talking about how gun violence is affecting students in the city's public schools. That includes children like Nequiel, a ten year-old girl who was killed last September after members of the Latin Kings gang opened fire on their rivals, the Latin Dragons, around Chicago's 8700 S. block, he said, playing a slide-show of her faimily.

According to Ludwig, Chicago has some of the highest homicide rates in the United States after Detroit, St. Louis and Baltimore, because of social problems like poverty and gang violence. He blames public schools in part for failing to keep children at the bottom of the educational achievement percentile engaged in school. Instead, youth who can find more stability in gangs than at school or at home may turn to violence to vent their frustrations, he said--and if they have access to a gun, that violence can turn lethal.

Impulsive behavior, especially the tendency of young people who feel unhappy to overreact to provocation, is just one factor in the youth gun violence equation that Crime Lab would like to see combated through mental health and counseling programs.

Crime Lab is also examining ways to make prisoner re-entry programs more effective and training more police officers to deal with these issues.

Ludwig (and I do, too) recommends this very insightful series on youth violence and education in the Chicago Tribune.