After gun violence took the lives of five youth in 2008, then-Mayor Greg Nickels started the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative to provide mentorship, employment opportunities and counseling to 1,000 at-risk youth in Central and South Seattle.
Mayor Mike McGinn now wants to add 400 students to the program, so that it can serve 1,400 at a time, but City Council President Sally Clark is asking to delay expanding the program until the city council can gauge its effectiveness.
“I really want to understand the outcomes to make sure we are not just doing a good job at getting kids in the door, but doing the right job,” Clark said.
Clark suggested city council staff evaluate the program for individual outcomes of participants, and not just data for the region.
A 2011 progress report from the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative showed some positive results: arrests and juvenile court referrals in the neighborhoods the program serves declined as much as 20 percent.
But Clark pointed to school data that showed a 12-percent increase in school suspensions and expulsions during the same period. If the program is working, she reasons, why are students getting in more trouble at school?
The Atlantic Street Center, which runs community centers in South Seattle, asked the city to preserve and expand the programs.
Aaron Pickus, spokesperson for the mayor, said the program has strong support in the community. As evidence, he noted that there have been no youth deaths due to gun violence since 2008.
“This is a program we know works,” Pickus said, adding that there is “incredible and moving turnout for kids who have been in it.”
Rev. Harriett Walden, the executive director of Mothers for Police Accountability and a volunteer for the youth violence program, said she’s seen the success of the program at Boys and Girls Clubs she visits.
She said the city has had only four years to confront youth violence, which she said has been a problem since the early 1990s. It’s a prevention program, which she said costs more money and takes more time.
“We’ve never given prevention the chance to work, because it takes longer than it does to just lock (youth) up,” she said.