Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Fulton County, GA Targets Truancy and Crime
By: John H. Eaves
Chairman of the Fulton County Commission

As the holiday season approaches, many of us who are shopping for children are thinking of recent reports of lead paint in toys, and fearing the harm lead paint could cause our babies. But there is also a lead crisis facing our teenagers, every day - coming from the barrels of guns. Too often, that gun is aimed at a young person, but it is also true that young people are too often the perpetrators. By allowing this trend to continue, we are failing young people, and failing our communities.

In this nation, there is a 50% chance that a murder victim is African-American, although we make up just 12% of the total population. And among African-American murder victims, there is a one in three chance that the victim will be between the ages of 13 and 24.

Murder is not the only crime facing our teenagers and young adults. Burglaries in South Fulton County are up 13% over the past six months, and an overwhelming number of the perpetrators are teenagers.

Youth is often a time of experimentation with risky behaviors, and we see a range of indicatiors demostrating that trend, including high rates of teen pregnancy and a rise in HIV rates among youth. However, a willingness to abandon formal education is one of the chief indicators of an individual's future criminal activity.

Last year, in the Fulton County School System, 748 students dropped out in grades 9 through 12. A small number of these students dropped out due to incarceration or involvement with the justice system. However, the majority were removed due to poor attendance - the simple act of showing up at school was apparently too much of an investment in their future.

In the mean time, taxpayers are making tremendous financial investments on behalf of high school dropouts. The Fulton County Jail is at or near capacity on any given day, costing residents $79 per inmate per day. Nationally, 43% of state prison inmates lack a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Fulton County allocated $100 million for indigent care at Grady Health System this year. High School dropouts are much more likely to live in poverty and, therefore, are more likely to receive indigent health care.

We should be concerned when we see teenagers in the community on school days. Truancy has a "double whammy" effect - not only are students not learning, but they have the opportunity to commit crime or otherwise get themselves in trouble.

This trend was tragically highlighted after three teens committed a burglary in the middle of the afternoon on Dec. 4th. While fleeing the scene, they crashed into a power pole on Bethsaida Rd. in South Fulton, killing the driver and severely injuring the other two. Despite extensive news coverage, a 16 year old committed virtually the same crime two days later, suffering minor injuries in a crash. Why weren't these young men in school instead of terrorizing neighborhoods?

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice has predicted that the number of violent youth offenders will increase by 33% from 2007 to 2011, over the previous five-year period. the number of at-risk youths is the chief reason for this - children in foster care, single-parent families in poverty, adults using drugs and alcohol.

In 2005, nearly 10% of our nation's teenage males - regardless of race - reported having carried a gun within the previous month. In Georgia, more than 7.5% report of high school students having carried a weapon on school property. It is no wonder, then, that 8% of Georgia high school student report missing school due to fear for their own safety.

How do we solve this problem? None of us can do it alone. The teenagers themselves are prevented by biology and inexperience from understanding the consequences of their actions - all the more reason to continue our protective watch. To reverse the trend, teenagers need the support of every adult in their lives, to keep them in school, keep them safe, help them make responsible and healthy choices. Parents need help - they may not be able to achieve the task alone. Indeed, increasing rates of divorce and out-of-marriage births have led to a number of single-parent households. Despite their best intentions, single parents face an even tougher challenge, with one less adult to keep watch. Additionally, these families run a higher risk of poverty - another risk factor. More than 40% of female-headed households with children are living in poverty in Fulton County.

On Thursday, a group of Fulton County agencies will join together with law enforcement, the courts and social services agencies to map out solutions to the crisis our young people are facing. In the mean time, every adult has a responsibility and opportunity to look at the teens who are close to them and steer them on the right path.

Hip-Hop Youth, Education and Parenting!