Analyzing the Unthinkable-a Statistical Approach to Preventing Youth Violence

“If we could confidently predict which youth would be prone to commit violent acts and at which stage in their development such delinquency was most likely to erupt, it would significantly strengthen our efforts to prevent juvenile violence.” –John J. Wilson

I was 17 years old during the shootings in Red Lake, Minnesota—one year older than the perpetrator. I don’t remember what I thought of the attack at the time; I’ve got a vague memory of a school official giving an earnest but obviously unscripted announcement in relation to that or some other attack, asking students to speak to a guidance counselor if we “have any problems.”

redlake_title

I also recall overhearing a conversation between two adult men in a restaurant a couple of weeks after the attack. “The Indian kid who shot a bunch of people,” they called it. “That’s why I keep a close eye on my boys. They know what’s up. You pop ’em in the mouth now and then—they know what’s up.”

People have a natural desire to protect children, but hearing news of youth committing crimes, being harmed, or harming others puts a fear in people that has to be resolved. Incidents compel decisive action, insist that attitudes be adjusted, and blame be assigned. Society can’t afford to not have an opinion, but if answers are not readily available people tend to resort to their prejudices, assumptions, anecdotes, or to politically motivated authorities.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other health research organizations, makes statistics and analysis reports available on incidents of disease and violent crime which are instrumental in allowing both legislators and medical professionals to prepare for and prevent outbreaks. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, when the germ theory of disease was only beginning to become widespread, doctors were using statistical analysis to detect and deal with disease vectors, as in the famous Broad Street cholera epidemic.

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Injury Prevention & Control: Division of Violence Prevention

I’m not suggesting that youth violence is an epidemic—in fact that’s exactly the kind of hyperbole I want to dismiss. As much as youth violence has been in the media, it is poorly understood by both parents and school administrators. As a result, disinformation can easily spread as it has happened with a survey purporting to show the rise of violence and immorality within American schools since the 1940s—this information was widely distributed by news agencies despite being entirely fabricated and in contradiction to actual data.

This is the reason a clear, concise, and accurate source of information on school and youth violence is vital and why it is so important that parents and educators know the truth about violence among our children.

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