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Summit considers puzzle of kids and violent crime


Maryland's second Governor's Crime Summit begins today seeking answers to some of the nation's most troubling questions: Why do young people resort to violent crime, and what can be done to deter them?

With Montel Williams in Baltimore today to film a special edition of his television talk show and newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to speak tomorrow, the crime summit would seem to be just about guaranteed of receiving widespread attention.

Saying he is looking for "the root causes of crime," Gov. William Donald Schaefer is encouraging participants at the two-day summit to talk about how families and communities can help prevent crime.

"The state can't build sufficient prison space to cope with prison overcrowding or violent crime. We must, and we will, seek input from the people for new ideas to combat violent crime," the governor said.

The summit is at Coppin State College in West Baltimore and is expected to attract more than 1,000 religious and community leaders, lawyers, police officers and prison officials.

Workshops are scheduled on such broad themes as dropout prevention, community mobilization, peer mediation and prenatal and child care.

"The Montel Williams Show," to be produced from the Johnson Auditorium on campus, is to focus on youths from disadvantaged backgrounds, some of whom have committed crimes.

Violent crimes, such as rape, robbery and murder, have increased by 40 percent in the last 18 years in Maryland, while the rate of property crimes per 100,000 residents has remained unchanged, according to state statistics.

Violent offenders are increasingly teen-agers, especially in Baltimore, where members of a growing sub-culture of gun-toting youths sell drugs and complain that the only world they know is crime, said LaMont Flanagan, commissioner of the state's Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

For the past 11 months, Mr. Flanagan has conducted meetings nearly every week with juvenile offenders between the ages of 13 and 17 who are awaiting trial at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

"Most are in for murder or major drug dealing . . . many of them perceive their future as inevitable imprisonment or death," said Mr. Flanagan, who will be participating in the summit.

The boys call themselves "Hoppers," a term derived from a culture known as "Hip-Hop" -- characterized by youngsters whose focus comes from the rap music to which they listen.

The suspects at the jail speak to Mr. Flanagan in an "off-the-record" discussion about what caused them to turn to crime. Usually, the reasons are that they want good-paying jobs but they aren't patient to earn them, so they turn to crime, Mr. Flanagan said.

"I talk to them about the death penalty . . . it doesn't bother them," Mr. Flanagan said. "They say they live with the death penalty every day on the street. They face summary execution on the street every day, so why should they care about it in prison?"

The boys accused of killing people on the street are not without consciences and not without values, but have no direction, Mr. Flanagan said.

"They all believe in God. But they don't think about God when they're committing crimes, only when they get hurt," Mr. Flanagan said.

"They all say they don't want their brothers, sisters and children following in their footsteps. These are teen-agers saying this; that shows there are positive values there. But what can we do to bring those positive values out before they kill someone?"

Mr. Flanagan said the crime summit should make some people aware that state officials can't be expected to battle the crime problem by themselves.

"The government can't solve this problem alone. We need participation," he said. "It has to be a combined endeavor."

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