One criminologist, commenting on the state Department of Justice report that overall crime in North Carolina was down for the fifth year in a row, said prevention programs have made the difference. There are more effective programs now, and courts are being more imaginative in the way they handle juveniles, whose crime rate was down 12 percent last year and 30 percent since 2008.
Individual communities also have increased the number of programs that focus on high-risk youngsters. State Attorney General Roy Cooper cited organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and the presence of school resource officers. His opinion was echoed by, among others, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
The downturn in the crime rate is, happily, a long-term trend. Statewide, the overall crime rate has dropped over 20 percent in the last 10 years, and the rate of violent crime has dropped over 21 percent.
The late John Baker, sheriff of Wake County for over two decades, always believed in law enforcements doing more than arresting people and locking them up. Baker, a former pro-football player from Raleigh, went into low-income communities virtually every day and talked forcefully to young people about the need to stay out of trouble. That mission is continuing in some form in most communities, where prosecutors and law officers and judges understand that intervention is a much better alternative than incarceration.
When we see young people in particular misbehaving, the temptation is to shrug our shoulders and wonder whether they have any chance at all to straighten out their lives. After investments in community programs and more awareness on the part of neighbors and teachers and officers, the answer is, Yes.