MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, advice on avoiding the kinds of scams that have left thousands of investors high and dry. Our regular personal-finance guru Alvin Hall is with us.
But first, murder. Nationally, there has actually been good news to report. The homicide rate has actually been relatively stable in recent years, except for one group: black, teenage boys. New research confirms what too many grieving mothers already know - that the homicide rate for black teens has actually surged since 2000 and 2001. Joining me now to talk about the findings is the lead author of the study, James Alan Fox. He's professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. Professor, thanks so much for speaking with us. This is very disturbing.
Dr. JAMES ALAN FOX (Criminal Justice, Northeastern University): My pleasure. Well, it is disturbing. And for many people it is news, because we've been lulled into a sense of complacency and calm by the fact that we're at a relative low point right now in America in terms of homicide. We heard that we're at 30-year lows, and the increases we've seen since 2000 are quite minimal. Yet, hidden within that overall calm is the surging rate that you mentioned. As much as 50-percent increase in killings by young, black males with guns. And unless we do something about it now, unless we get back to the challenging and sometimes expensive task of crime control and crime prevention, like we did in the 1990s, things could get worse, so that we'll look back at - some day at 2008, and say, boy, those are the good old days.
MARTIN: That - I want to give you just some of the top lines of the report. You found that from 2002 to 2007, the number of homicides involving black, male juveniles as victims rose by 31 percent, as perpetrators 43 percent, and in terms of gun killings - what you were just talking about - the rate of increase was 54 percent for young, black males as victims. And you compare this, you say this is a - true across the country; it's true across regions; it's true compared to other demographic groups, like, young white teens. The obvious question is, why? Why is this happening, particularly to this one group?
Dr. FOX: Well, we got so complacent that we started seeing budget cuts particularly at the federal level. Since 2000, the money invested in the community or into the policing program - cops program - has been slashed by over 80 percent. Funding for juvenile justice and other grant programs, for prevention programs for kids, have been slashed as well, under this notion that our problems have been solved. No, we don't solve the crime problem; we only control it. And we start paying attention elsewhere and ignoring the issue, it can rebound.
Now, let's also understand that the situation today is not anywhere near as horrible as it was in the early 1990s. Yet, this growth among young, black males is not a one- or two-year aberration. It's been mounting since the year 2000 as we've had shifting priorities in Washington. And it could get worse, and I'm hopeful actually that, with the new administration in Washington, things can be turned around, and they can be, if we worked hard at it. Obama, for example, talked during the campaign about his concern with how Congress is dealing with illegal gun markets. There's an amendment called the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability to identify illegal gun sources in markets. We need to look closely at that. Also, the vice president-elect, Joe Biden, was the mastermind, actually, behind the 100,000 Cops Program of the Bill Clinton years, and he has talked about trying to restore that funding. So, I'm optimistic...
MARTIN: Could you talk a little bit about what that program is, though? I don't know - I'm not sure if most people know what is it. What programs or, like, interventions do you think are actually effective?
Dr. FOX: Well, it's really a blend of policing and smart policing, as well as crime prevention for younger kids, you know, short-term and long-term initiatives. We now have a substantial number of at-risk youth. In fact, the numbers are growing. And even though we're in recession right now, you can't tell an eight year old living in a high-crime neighborhood in Baltimore or Philly or Detroit, hold on for a few years until the recession's over; we'll get back to you. You know, kids continue to develop, and gangs are always recruiting, so we have to invest funds in prevention programs, after-school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs initiatives, as well as anti-gang initiatives that police departments maintain. And if we don't, the situation, as I said, could get worse. Now, I know the economic times are tough, but we're bailing out the banking industry; we're bailing out the auto industry. We needed a bailout for at-risk youth. Really, the choice is ours: Either pay for these programs now or pray for the victims later.
MARTIN: The incarceration rate in this country is already at a high, and it's a historic high. And internationally, our incarceration rate is - exceeds that of every other Western, industrialized country, in comparison to that of, I think, Russia and some totalitarian regimes. So, how many more people can you lock up? Or are you - is that not what you're saying?
Dr. FOX: I'm not talking about locking up. As has been put very well by others, trying to deal with the crime problem by building prisons is trying to deal with cancer by building cemeteries. Prison is the last step. It's exceptionally far - greater value and significantly less costly to invest in prevention programs than to build prisons down the road. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of prison time, absolutely. We know that; we know the prevention does work, but it takes investment now. And it takes strong leadership because that kind of investment, investing in programs for youth, doesn't necessarily show results today or tomorrow; it may take years down the road when we have a generation of kids that aren't as violent as today's. And unfortunately for many political leaders, that's not a very palatable situation, of investing funds now so that down the road there's a return.
MARTIN: James Alan Fox is professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. Professor, it's a pleasure to speak with you. I'm sorry about the subject, but thank you for speaking with us about this.
Dr. FOX: Thank you very much.