School violence is topic of all-day conference State bar association sponsors discussion of ways to reduce crime

October 08, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

At 13, Grant Coombs already is doing his part to keep the peace in public schools. A peer mediator at Cockeysville Middle School, he talks other teen-agers out of fighting with each other.

Yesterday, he joined top state law enforcement officials and more than 50 middle school students at an all-day conference sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association to discuss ways of reducing school violence.

"I hope to get some pointers on what to do to stop all the fighting," said the eighth-grader.

Held at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, the event drew state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia and Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.

They, along with lawyers, guidance counselors and students, discussed programs intended to make schools safer and reduce juvenile crime.

"Unfortunately, violence in Maryland public schools continues to escalate," said Paul D. Beckman, president of the state bar association.

ZTC He pointed to state Education Department statistics showing that 23,647 students were suspended during the 1995-1996 school year for physically attacking other students.

To help combat that problem, Beckman announced a program of the bar association and middle schools that will bring volunteer lawyers to teach students mediation and conflict resolution.

Curran told the gathering about programs in local schools -- and one in West Harlem in New York City -- that provide children with "enrichment programs" after school.

"From 3 o'clock on, that's when the crime rate goes up" among juveniles, said Curran.

Returning to a theme he has repeated for a year, Curran said violence on television promotes violence among children.

"The average youngster watches 28 hours of TV each week," said the attorney general. "They watch 8,000 murders on TV by the time they leave elementary school."

In the past, Curran has asked parents to "tune out the violence" by turning off their televisions. "Media violence can be controlled. All you have to do is turn it off," he said.

Dr. Steven Sharfstein, Sheppard Pratt's president and medical director, told the conference attendees, "Violence is a public health issue. What smoking is to lung cancer and cardiac disease, violence is to mental health.

"If we reduce violence by 20 to 30 percent, we will have far fewer patients at Sheppard Pratt."

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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