Rand Institute Leads Expansion of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Program

In 2009, the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers–Camden was chosen by New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General to lead community stakeholders in Vineland to identify potential policies, practices, and programs which could prevent or reduce juvenile delinquency.

The initiative has been a landmark community achievement, proving, as the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti discusses the expansion with Cumberland County leaders.

Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti discusses the expansion with Cumberland County leaders.

On the heels of its success, the Rand Institute is now shepherding an expanded coalition to include two other Cumberland County cities, Bridgeton and Millville. Work on the expansion began a year ago as the county government agreed to provide funds – initially earmarked for public safety – for a widened effort, according to Tracy Swan, senior project coordinator for the Rand Institute. Cumberland County leaders met in late September to discuss the future of the program.

The expansion of the initiative has been championed by Cumberland County freeholders, the prosecutor, and other key stakeholders on the county and municipal levels. “I am confident that we can prevent young people from heading down the wrong path by joining forces across disciplines to implement best practices that serve the needs of children,” says Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae. “As Frederick Douglass said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’  My hope is that, through the work of this coalition, Cumberland County can work towards doing just that.”

Consistent with the effort in Vineland, the Rutgers–Camden policy research center will provide logistical and technical assistance, and utilize city- and county-wide data to improve upon gaps and redundancies within current prevention strategies, explains Swan. The bolstered coalition will focus on three critical issues most in need of changes in policy or prevention programming: juvenile crime, domestic violence, and education, she says, cautioning that the initiative entails more than merely replicating successful strategies in two new municipalities.

In doing so, the coalition intends to introduce a wide range of strategies that display a positive impact on youth, such as a required community-service component for high school seniors. Swan notes that community service gives “kids more skills, which will make them more marketable and employable, while putting them more in touch with their communities.”

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae addresses Cumberland County leaders.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae addresses Cumberland County leaders.

According to the Rutgers–Camden project coordinator, the coalition also plans to increase the scope of the chaplaincy program, a successful initiative in Vineland which has expanded exponentially since the Rand Institute became involved with it four years ago. Through an agreement with the Vineland Police Department, chaplains deliver a variety of services, including station house adjustment.  Under this arrangement, youth who are arrested for a first-time, non-felony offense meet with a chaplain, who provides counseling and assigns them four hours of community service.

Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti lauds the expanded initiative for offering Cumberland County’s most at-risk youth an opportunity to change course from a future of diminished expectations due to crime and substance abuse. “This program will provide a path for them to follow in order to achieve their dreams,” says Codispoti.

Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joe Derella echoed the notion, saying that the program enables law enforcement to take proactive – rather than reactive – measures in confronting issues concerning at-risk youth.

As the initiative moves forward, the Rand Institute is working with the municipalities on an individual basis, explaining what steps have taken place in Vineland thus far, what it proposes to set forth in Bridgeton and Millville, and what the process will entail. Swan notes that the next steps will involve recruiting individuals who will take part in the planning and prevention effort, conducting an extensive data analysis, and then mapping the data along with assets in the community. “Is crime happening where we have access or where we don’t have access?” Swan asks. “That will be the basis for really starting to look at what the issues are in these three municipalities.”

Swan emphasizes that the Rand Institute will consistently analyze this data through the lens of juvenile delinquency, even when the findings are seemingly disconnected from youth issues. “For instance, we will be examining domestic violence,” explains Swan. “Domestic violence happens in homes where there are youth, and plenty of research shows that these youth will be more likely to commit domestic violence or be a victim of domestic violence. We want to stop that cycle; we are protecting kids and preventing them from any kind of delinquent behavior or future adult criminal behavior.”

The Rutgers–Camden policy research center was established in 1999 to honor the legacy of Senator Walter Rand and his tireless efforts to increase resources for southern New Jersey. The institute utilizes the academic, programmatic, and facility resources of Rutgers–Camden by addressing regional challenges in partnership with public, government, non-profit, and community stakeholders.

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