Michigan needs a stronger emphasis on early intervention and prevention to reverse the crisis of violent crime in its most dangerous cities. Governor Snyder should be applauded for the crime response efforts he outlined in his "smart justice" initiative; however, it fails to commit enough resources toward identifying and referring troubled youth to preventive and therapeutic resources before they commit acts of violence or crime.
School attendance is a key indicator of future success. While addressing truancy is an important step, Michigan schools force far more absences through their use of zero-tolerance "get tough" policies. Over 20,000 suspensions were administered in Detroit Public Schools alone last year and public perception is that charter schools are notorious for the overuse of such policies. The ACLU reported in its "School-to-Prison Pipeline" study that suspensions and expulsions are precursors to truancy, school dropout and incarceration. The use of creative intervention strategies and alternatives to suspension programs by school districts must be encouraged to help our troubled youths who are headed for the inevitable intersection of violence and crime.
The placement of social workers in schools has the potential to deliver numerous positive results to improvement of academic outcomes and adolescent crime reduction. As a complement to his "smart justice initiative," the governor should require the Department of Community Health (DCH) to develop a streamlined approach to helping school districts, students and parents connect to prevention, early intervention, and therapeutic counseling resources. A case history review of violent criminals would likely reveal numerous missed opportunities for effective intervention by schools and state agencies. Saving families from the tragedy of violent crime requires a commitment to being more proactive in identifying and resolving family problems. This should be a standard not just for our troubled cities, but for all of Michigan.
Additionally, prevention and early intervention are only possible if we address the adverse environmental conditions that affect our kids. One of Michigan's best-kept secrets is that our children are still being poisoned by exposure to lead paint and victimized by the irreversible cognitive damage. This is particularly true in older urban cities and those targeted by the governor's crime reduction efforts. Prosecutors are reviewing a growing body of evidence connecting early childhood exposure to lead and increased impulsivity, aggression and future criminal behavior. Recent cuts to federal and state funding have reduced lead abatement efforts and present a serious environmental risk to our efforts to improve early childhood development, reading levels, and crime reduction. The governor would be wise to implement aggressive policy and funding initiatives to address this and other "environmental impact issues" as part of his long-term public safety and quality of life planning.
The governor also included support for substance abuse in his message, but again his emphasis is on the back end of the problem at the law enforcement level. The need to expand drug and violence prevention efforts in Detroit is particularly acute and it's time the legislature provide Detroit with its fair share of the hotel and alcohol sales convention tax targeting prevention of drug use and violence. In addition, the commitment to public safety would be significantly enhanced by assuring block grant prevention dollars are given on a "need basis" instead of population which would boost Detroit's public safety efforts to impacted programs by $5 to $6 million. Appropriations based on "need" are not only fiscally responsible, but are a "cost avoidance best practice" that will produce better long term outcomes for Michigan, as will a much stronger commitment to prevention strategies.