What is the best way to keep young people in troubled areas away from criminal behavior? A new book suggests that one of the keys is identifying a hobby or activity that will draw attention away from illicit activity and give youth a meaning and purpose that transcends their current environment.
In their book, Coming of Age in the Other America, sociologists Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin claim that finding a passion, or an “identity project,” as they call it, “… serves as a bridge between a difficult lived reality and an uncertain, but hopeful, future.”
Talking to TheTrace.org, Clampet-Lundquist and DeLuca describe their 10-year examination of some of the most at-risk youth in Baltimore. They discovered that those who were passionate about some activity—be it basketball, painting, dancing, car restoration, or something else—were more likely to avoid illegal behavior than their colleagues who lacked a similar passion. Overall, more than 90 percent of the young people in the study with hobby about which they were passionate avoided criminal behavior, compared to 70 percent of those who did not.
Parents and other adults in the community also play a role in helping youth avoid criminal activity, the study concludes. “The strongest identity projects connect kids to institutions that are supported by caring adults who help nurture those interests,” Clampet-Lundquist says.
The best way to reduce juvenile incarceration rates is to keep young people from engaging in crime in the first place. Parents, churches, and communities can work to do this by engaging with youth, encouraging them to pursue their passions and providing them with opportunities to do so. Most importantly, adults can remind these youth that they have infinite value in the eyes of God, and that He has created them with skills and talents to serve others. As young people discover their passion and their purpose, they learn who they are, and the need to participate in criminal activity in order to fit in becomes less compelling.
Prison Fellowship believes that restoring communities is a vital part of any effective criminal justice reform. By creating opportunities for youth that deter crime, and by providing second chances for men and women as they return to their neighborhoods from prison, the cycle of crime is being broken. To learn more about Prison Fellowship’s efforts to renew and restore communities, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/advocacy.