Federal task force examining violence and children wraps up in Detroit

Apr 24, 2012

A federal task force looking into the effects of violence on children held its final meeting in Detroit Tuesday.

It was the last of four task force meetings held as part of US Attorney General Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative.

The task force heard from experts who said exposure to violence during childhood has lifelong consequences. And many of those children end up in the criminal justice system themselves.

Robert Listenbee, Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. He says there are proven ways to help kids who end up in the system.

“We know that, in the juvenile justice system, diversion programs that take low-level offenders that are at low risk of re-offending out of the system early rather than mixing them with high-risk offenders…we know that those things work," Listenbee said. "But we’re not using them very well.”

Listenbee says violence is a “virus” that should be treated like a public health problem.

But many experts and members of the public testified about how pervasive violence has become the social norm in many communities—both rural and urban. And it’s leaving a generation of traumatized children in its wake.

That was the case for Lawnya Sherrod. She used to be a gang member in Detroit. Now she helps kids who want to transition out of that life.

“This is what I see every day, all day," said Sherrod. "I step out, I hear gunshots. It’s common. Hearing gunshots is like hearing the school bell ring.”

The task force will outline their findings and suggestions to combat the problem in a report later this year.