Juvenile Justice

Convicted of Murder at Age 13, Ex-Con Assists Ambitious Juvenile Justice Study

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Updated With Clarification: Xavier McElrath-Bey has firsthand knowledge of gang life.

Convicted of murder at age 13, he is now a field interviewer for an ambitious study of more than 1,800 Chicago youths who entered the juvenile justice system at an early age, the New York Times reports. The study, begun 17 years ago, will continue to track its subjects throughout adulthood.

Directing the study is psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Linda Teplin of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The findings so far include these grim statistics:

• At any given time, 20 percent of the study participants are incarcerated.

• 71 percent of the males tracked and 59 percent of the females are unemployed as adults.

• Out of 1,829 youths originally enrolled in the study, 119 have died, most of them violently.

• More than 80 percent of the study subjects belonged at some point to a gang.

According to the Times, “The researchers are in the process of trying to tease out the factors that allow youths to succeed despite considerable obstacles. But in Mr. McElrath-Bey’s view, such transformations often have little to do with the promises of politicians or the cyclical crackdowns by law enforcement. Instead they are often prompted by less tangible forces: the support of a parent, the insistence of a girlfriend, the encouragement of a priest or pastor, the mobilization of a community, the birth of a child.”

Updated at 12:30 p.m. to accurately state the views of McElrath-Bey.

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