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Chicago’s ‘feedback loop’ for violence

The Sun Times reports Saturday on Ondelee Perteet at the sentencing hearing for the young man who shot and paralyzed him in 2009. Ondelee shows impressive maturity and generosity of spirit.

At the Chicago Reporter, Kari Lydersen talks at length with the 17-year-old West Side resident and his mother about the personal costs of surviving violence: Ondelee struggles to maintain his positive attitude, and his mother struggles to care for him and pay the bills.

It’s part two the Reporter’s “Too Young To Die” series by Lydersen and photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz, and it’s part of the Local Reporting Initiative, which you can follow at the Community News Project blog.

Classmates of Ondelee interviewed him for a video by the Westside Writers Project, another LRI participant, in 2010.

Last week the first report of the Reporter’s series showed that Chicago’s homicide rate is double that of New York City. At Chicago Magazine’s The 312 blog, Whet Moser has a fascinating piece looking at differences between the two cities that may help account for that.

New York has less than a third the number of gang members that Chicago has, and various experts suggest this could have to do with differences between the two cities in public housing and incarceration policies.

The CHA’s Plan For Transformation displaced a hundred thousand people, while a massive public housing renovation program in NYC was the “exact reverse,” carried out without displacement. Chicago’s approach ended up replicating the segregation that was originally built into the CHA high-rises.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s incarceration rate rose sharply in the early 1990s and has hovered near historic highs, while New York has seen a marked decrease in incarceration. The greatest expansion of gang activity here was a result of increased incarceration of youth beginning in the early ’90s, according to sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh.

That creates what one expert calls a “feedback loop.” “Young men were shuffled back and forth between two environments that were ideal for the organization and growth of gangs,” writes Moser. “While New York was rebuilding, Chicago was continuing the shuffle.”

Another Reporter piece looks at the mechanics of incarcerating teens as adults; Illinois is one of the few states to do so. In gun possession cases, most teens were imprisoned without having been clearly identified as having a gun; indeed, guns were actually recoverd in less than half the cases.

Now the General Assembly is considering legislation to incarcerate 15- and 16-year-olds as adults, according to the Reporter.

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Category: criminal justice, public housing, violence

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