One Stroke of a Pen Could Mean Less Violence, More Vibrant Communities for California

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Jack Calhoun, director of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network and senior consultant to NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the U.S. Department of Justice, wrote the following post on youth violence prevention legislation in California, which is cross-posted at Mr. Calhoun’s Hope Matters website at

Assembly Bill (AB) 526 sits on the desk of California’s Governor Jerry Brown.  The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, would underscore the core principle that preventing violence and building communities that don’t produce violence requires the active involvement of all key community entities – law enforcement, schools, business, the faith community, health, housing, child welfare and more.

Single interventions such as offering afterschool programs, locating Boys & Girls Clubs in mistrusting neighborhoods, and applying targeted enforcement can help, but they are insufficient in the absence of a broader, more strategic approach.  In most cases, municipalities that have crafted and implemented more comprehensive, citywide plans blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry for returning prisoners can point to reductions in youth and gang violence and improvement in other indicators of safety and well-being.

Preparing, launching, and sustaining such a plan takes enormous political will and a proven capacity to write effective grant applications and secure funding from a wide variety of sources.  In carrying out their plans, city and county leaders draw upon numerous disparate funding streams to support a wide range of efforts such as family resource centers, early childhood education, mentoring, drug abuse prevention, community-oriented policing, and job training for returning prisoners.  Yet while most of the funding exists to support the necessary range of efforts, much of it is trapped in fiscal silos, which makes it extremely difficult to pull together and activate a comprehensive community effort.   California has identified roughly $2.2 billion located in several funding streams that can and should be applied to youth and gang violence prevention.   But it can’t get where it is needed without AB 526 and support from the state level.

AB 526 enhances violence prevention work taking place at the local level – in the communities and neighborhoods that need help in restoring or maintaining public safety – making it easier to braid various funding sources into a comprehensive effort that fits the community’s needs.  It would require the newly-minted Board of State and Community Corrections to “…identify delinquency and gang initiatives and prevention grant funds and programs for the purpose of consolidating those grant funds…moving toward a unified single delinquency intervention and prevention grant application…”  And it will produce better results while costing the state no additional funding.

Underneath AB 526 lies a commitment to community-wide solutions, engagement of local leaders, and streamlined funding from the state level that will generate efficiency, effective coordination, and increased in-kind engagement of the community’s own resources.

Persistent violence leads to fear, citizen isolation and blame.  “It’s the fault of the police…it’s the parents’ fault…it’s violence in the media,” some say as they grasp for answers.  Perceived single causes of violence often lead to single interventions – usually by law enforcement – that struggle and often fail to address a multi-faceted problem.  But law enforcement cannot help beleaguered parents parent, conduct afterschool programs, provide jobs and job training, or mobilize neighborhoods for action. The causes of crime are problems of the community.  The whole community must do the work.  Every element of the community can and must play a role.

Abraham Heschel, one of the 20th century’s leading theologians, said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but ALL are responsible.”  AB 526 helps California’s communities fully utilize their talents, coordinate their efforts, and allocate state funds to address the local conditions that have generated community safety problems – building prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry into the fabric of communities.  That’s what really lies under this revolutionary bill, AB 526.

We eagerly await Governor Brown’s signature.