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Crime symposium addresses strategies to reduce New Orleans murder rate

Loyola press release - October 31, 2012

The Office of the President and the Department of Criminal Justice at Loyola University New Orleans hosted a daylong symposium Oct. 26 aimed at ending the cycle of violence in New Orleans and restoring community peace.

“Preventing Lethal Violence in New Orleans: A Public Symposium on Effective Community Based Solutions” began with opening remarks by New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Ph.D., and Marc Manganaro, Ph.D., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Loyola. Loyola’s William E. Thornton, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and professor of sociology, and Dee Wood Harper, Ph.D., emeritus professor of sociology, served as the moderator.

According to Thornton, Louisiana imprisons more of its people than any other state with an incarceration rate of 867 per 100,000. New Orleans currently has the highest per capita murder rate in the United States.

“In New Orleans, ‘doing time’ in prison has become a way of life in many neighborhoods and literally destroys families and entire communities. Louisiana has some of the harshest sentencing laws in the country, which fuels a high incarceration rate,” Thornton said.

For Loyola University President Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., Ph.D., this forum comes at a critical juncture for New Orleans and the university.

“Our hope with this symposium is to offer some alternative perspectives to the prevention of violence in the city and to engage national and local leaders, practitioners, researchers and concerned citizens. For the last century, Loyola has always strived to be part of the ‘conversation,’ in this city. With this symposium, Loyola is in the position of producing positive and effective results that will be felt for years to come,” Wildes said.

The morning session, “Community Perspectives,” featured panelists Robert Sampson, Ph.D., Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Karen DeSalvo, M.D., New Orleans health commissioner and professor of medicine for Tulane School of Medicine. The afternoon session featured David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and Nikki Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Sampson, acclaimed researcher and author of “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect,” focused on the significant impact of the history and culture of a place in decreasing rates of crime and violence. Sampson’s work suggests that only through strengthening collective efficacy, which promotes informal social controls, and building community capacity and reinforcing trust, can the gripping effect of violence be lifted.

DeSalvo, who presented the session “NOLA for Life: A Public Health Approach to Murder Reduction,” believes it is critical to address mental health and substance abuse when looking at the overall health of a community. She notes, “Fundamentally, the safety net for these services has a key role in protecting the public’s health and safety and its strength in our fight against violent crime.”

In the afternoon session, Kennedy—who is involved with “Operation Ceasefire” in many cities including New Orleans— focused on his noted model and successful group violence reduction strategy, which is highlighted in his recent book, “Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.”

Jones offered insights based on her studies of African American adolescent boys and men with criminal histories reintegrating back into the community. Her recent work, “The Hustle” depicts the problems these young males experience, including the long-standing political, social and moral divides and struggles within the black community. It supports the view that people must address the social challenges of particular communities in order to help these troubled youth change their lives.

“Presenting overwhelming evidence of positive long-term and enduring effects of broad-based community development and neighborhood interventions not only offers important solutions to violence, but also renews hope,” Thornton said.

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