In Bid To Curb Violence, Chicago Gets Some Ideas From Teens Behind Bars As law enforcement tries to combat the startling number of murders in the city, two young people share what they've learned in a detention center.
NPR logo

In Bid To Curb Violence, Chicago Gets Some Ideas From Teens Behind Bars

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Bid To Curb Violence, Chicago Gets Some Ideas From Teens Behind Bars


In Bid To Curb Violence, Chicago Gets Some Ideas From Teens Behind Bars

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


When it comes to gun violence, often both the victims and perpetrators are young people. In Chicago, where the number of shootings rose last year, young people with close ties to street life are now advising law enforcement and community leaders on the crisis there. NPR's Cheryl Corley has this report, which begins with a siren passing by.


CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: I'm standing outside the Cook County Juvenile Justice Center, a huge white building on the city's near west side that takes up more than a city block. On any given day, there are about 200 to 300 young residents at the temporary detention center, which is a part of the facility. It houses young people awaiting trial.

LEONARD: My name is Leonard, and I'm 17 years old.

NIGEL: My name is Nigel, and I'm 17 years old.

CORLEY: Because of the rules of the juvenile court, Nigel and Leonard's full names and specifics about their cases can't be disclosed. They and several other detainees were part of a summit on violence in the Chicago area where participants shared strategies about how to decrease it.

Last year in Chicago, there was a huge jump in the numbers of murders to more than 760 and more than 4,000 injured by gunshots. Leonard, tall and with dreadlocks, says the violence isn't always about gangs fighting over drugs or turf.

LEONARD: Some people do it just to make a name for themselves, to try to get some fame or something. Some people do it because they actually loss people and they (unintelligible) or they're forced into it.

CORLEY: Forced, he says and trying to avenge a friend's death. Most of the young people at the detention center are male, and the most common offenses are for violating probation, aggravated battery and unlawful use of a weapon. Nigel says while revenge is often a motive behind some of the violence, peer pressure can be intense.

NIGEL: I get mad at the fact that it's a lot of kids out here that are so, so incredibly smart, and they look at the other person with all the money and girls that don't go to school and want to be just like them when you could be way more than that.

CORLEY: Both young men say while at the detention center they've learned how to resolve differences or difficulties they may have had in the street through counseling and other programs. Nigel, who wants to be a welder or a juvenile justice activist, says he was able to find himself at the detention center, but he couldn't in his neighborhood.

NIGEL: What prevents that is you don't got nobody trying to show you, you know what I'm saying? You never had nobody to tell you. There's people in here that actually care about us, and they tell us and teach us about how can we do better - what's more to life, you know what I'm saying? Everybody - most people out there, all they know is the corner. All they know is the block.

CORLEY: There's often a collision of issues for at-risk youth in long-neglected areas - homelessness, mental illness, high levels of poverty. What's missing in the neighborhood, say Leonard and Nigel, are mentors and role models who can steer them the right way. Other detainees call for limits on guns, more neutral zones in neighborhoods, more afterschool programs. Leonard says for young people trying to stay out of the streets, more recreational opportunities and sports programming are crucial.

LEONARD: We've got one recreation center, but the gym only go from - what? - 6 to 8. And if it's on a school day, they'll open it up from 2 to 8. So what's left - the streets?

CORLEY: Leonard Dixon, the supervisor of the juvenile temporary detention center who spearheaded the summit, agrees.

LEONARD DIXON: One of the things that I think communities have to understand - recreation is for kids what work is for adults. That's how they learn how to get along.

CORLEY: Nigel adds that actual work is also what's needed. In some of the city's impoverished areas, the unemployment levels rivals those set during the Great Depression. Nigel says it's important for younger teenagers to have jobs.

NIGEL: They can't even get a good job - you know what I'm saying? - to provide for them. They - OK, they get a job over the summer. And after the summer, now what are you going to do?

CORLEY: What's equally important, say the young detainees, is making sure the funding for jobs and anti-violence programs stays intact. Officials with the juvenile justice system say as a coordinated effort to stem violence in Chicago continues, they will pay close attention to the voices of the young people who are surrounded by violence every day. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.