Athens gang report calls for more after-school activities, job opportunities
Young people in low-income neighborhoods need more and better after-school activities, as well as more opportunities for mentoring and job training to lessen the possibility they’ll join gangs, according to a report released last week.
About a third of high school and middle school students surveyed said they knew someone in a gang, and more than half said it was easy for someone their age to get a gun. But most of the students said they were not likely to join a gang.
Nearly 40 people discussed those and other research findings during a meeting last week at the Clarke County School District’s H.T. Edwards Complex. The meeting and report were the results of a task force created by the Athens-Clarke County Commission in 2014 to explore ways to steer young people away from gangs.
Researchers with the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work presented the task force’s findings to about three dozen people last week, many of them community leaders such as Mayor Nancy Denson, Police Chief Scott Freeman, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Doc Eldridge, interim School Superintendent Jack Parish and Athens-Clarke County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Harry Sims, who has been active in youth programs designed to blunt gang activities.
Researchers tapped into several data sources for the report, said Rebecca Matthew, a faculty member in UGA’s School of Social Work who shared highlights of the 118-page report with the group.
The data included information from the Athens Wellbeing Survey, crime statistics, discipline records from the Clarke County School District and surveys of youth and their parents in or near two Athens low-income neighborhoods — the privately owned Rolling Ridge area and the Nellie B community.
Parents in both communities said they wanted to participate in the study, which is why they were picked over a number of other neighborhoods, said Dawn Meyers, executive director of policy and school support services for the Clarke County School District.
Adults and youngsters told researchers they had “concerns regarding gang activity” and “overwhelming interest in supporting positive youth development,” Matthew said.
Among the results:
• About a third of the young survey respondents said they knew someone in a gang. A large majority of adults — 72 percent in Nellie B and 89 percent in Rolling Ridge — said they thought gangs are active in their neighborhood.
• More than half of the youth said it’s easy for someone their age to get a gun. But most said they feel safe in school as well as going to and from school.
• Just under half of the youth said someone in their family had been in jail or prison at some time.
• 75 percent of parents in Rolling Ridge said gang activity was the top concern in their neighborhood, ahead of drug dealing, burglary and robbery. About 44 percent of Nellie B parents said drug dealing was the biggest concern; 26 percent said gang activity was the main problem.
• All the young people surveyed in Rolling Ridge said they probably would not join a gang.
• 84 percent of the youth in Rolling Ridge said they were interested in part-time work.
Members of the group will talk more about how to follow up on the research and the researcher’s recommendations, Meyers said.
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