Gang project targets 300 youths – news/ – Gang project targets 300 youths
February 06, 2009.   Donovan Vincent, city hall bureau

One of the largest anti-gang initiatives the city has ever undertaken will roll out this summer, aimed at steering at-risk youths into jobs and school.

The 3 1/2-year pilot project – Ottawa will provide just under $5 million in funding – will offer intensive case management for 300 youths ages 13 to 24 from three Toronto communities where gangs are a problem: Jane and Finch, Jamestown-Rexdale and Weston-Mount Dennis.

Criminologist Scot Wortley, who has spent a lot of time interviewing local gang members about what attracts them to that criminal lifestyle, will evaluate the effectiveness of the project, which will be detailed at city hall today.

“The youths we select will already be gang-involved or on the verge of joining a gang,” Wortley said.

They’ll learn about conflict resolution, anger management, goal setting, avoiding drug abuse, and the impact of crime on victims and neighbourhoods. Staff will work with them to broaden their job and educational opportunities.

Wortley is an expert on the subject. Aside from extensive writing on the intersection between race, crime and policing, the University of Toronto associate professor recently conducted research for the Roots of Youth Violence task force. Co-chaired by former provincial ministers Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling, the task force used his work to recommend ways of reducing youth crime.

Wortley also provided data for the School Community Safety Advisory Panel, chaired by Julian Falconer, which explored ways to improve school safety after the shooting death of Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate.

A few years back, Wortley co-authored a study that interviewed 125 active and former gang members about why they joined, and why they stayed.

“One of the things was how distant and removed these youths felt from mainstream society. They really felt, at a very young age, that they just didn’t have a stake in conformity,” he said in a 2005 interview about the study.

Wortley will assess how well the anti-gang project works in reaching at-risk youths before hardened attitudes set in.

In selecting the three communities, city staff worked closely with Wortley to develop an assessment tool called the Toronto Youth Crime Risk Index, which identified the most needy areas in terms of high percentage of youths, high poverty and unemployment, lack of community services and high incidence of violent crime.

“Then we met with Toronto police, particularly members of the guns and gangs unit, who have particular inside knowledge on where gangs may be operating. … They agreed that nothing in our data analysis (conflicted) with their own intelligence,” Wortley says.

Working with a list of community agencies, soon to be released publicly, the pilot will screen young people to see if they fit the criteria for the program, then provide intensive help for them and their families.

“As opposed to a drop-in program, where we give all the youths the same attention,” Wortley says, “this is made to measure.”

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