City Council to discuss Child First Drop in juvenile crime has been linked to similar after-school programs

April 29, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

In Ottawa, an after-school program at a public housing project is credited with reducing juvenile arrests by 75 percent over three years.

In Austin, Texas, students who were most active in after-care programs at two public schools had higher grades and self-esteem than those who did not participate.

The success of these programs, along with anecdotal information from parents and school officials, helped persuade leaders of BUILD, a church-based community group, to push for an after-school program for Baltimore students.

Today, the City Council takes up the issue with a bill to formally establish the Child First Authority. Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said the bill will be "fast-tracked" for approval by June 15.

BUILD, which stands for Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, came up with a novel way of paying for the program --creating a public authority largely financed by private funds, including contributions from the Orioles and Ravens, Baltimore's professional sports franchises.

The Maryland legislature recently passed enabling legislation for the authority and approved $400,000 in bond money to help with equipment and construction costs. The council, like the legislature, is expected to support the measure overwhelmingly.

The program is to begin in 10 city public schools by fall, offering tutoring and cultural and recreational activities. The key goals of the program are to keep children safe from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., key hours for juvenile crime, and to help boost academic progress.

While few studies have been published about after-school programs, they generally are considered successful by a range of experts. Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno favor such programs.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings credits a speech Ms. Reno delivered in March to legislators during a juvenile justice conference with helping win passage of the Child First Authority legislation. In the speech, Ms. Reno mentioned after-school programs as a weapon to fight juvenile crime, said Mr. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and a key sponsor of the legislation.

Mr. Curran's "battle plan" for fighting crime, released to the legislature in January, said after-school programs that "address the risk factors of alienation and association with delinquent and violent peers have shown demonstrably positive effects."

Mr. Curran's report referred to the Ottawa program, where children ages 5 to 15, from low-income families, were enrolled in such after-school activities as sports, music and the arts for three years. Not only did juvenile crime drop there, but reports of juvenile misdeeds to the housing project's security force also significantly declined.

By comparison, at another housing project in Ottawa without an after-care program, juvenile crime soared 67 percent over the three-year period.

Some BUILD leaders visited the two Austin after-school programs last fall. Those programs "affirmed our confidence that [an after-school program] will make a difference here," said Kathleen O'Toole, a BUILD organizer.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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