“We’re Brokers”: How Youth Violence Prevention Workers Intervene in the Lives of At-Risk Youth to Reduce Violence

Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
“We’re Brokers”: How
Youth Violence Prevention
Workers Intervene in the
Lives of At-Risk Youth to
Reduce Violence
Janese L. Free
This study explores the strategies youth violence prevention workers (YVPWs) employ to intervene
in the lives of at-risk youth. Data drawn from 47 in-depth interviews with YVPWs in a large city in
the northeastern United States revealed five main strategies they use to reduce violence, namely (1)
sharing information with other YVPWs, (2) collaborating and networking with the community, (3)
“being a presence” and building relationships with clients, (4) responding to clients’ conflicts and
crises, and (5) providing clients and their families with resources and advocacy. Focused deterrence
theory and pulling levers strategy are used to explain the findings and policy and program recom-
mendations are discussed.
youth violence, violence prevention, focused deterrence, pulling levers strategy, at-risk youth
The rates of youth violence and homicide peaked in the 1990s in the United States causing signif-
icant concern and responsive actions in cities and communities across the country. The rates then
declined for more than a decade and remained relatively steady in the following years. Yet in the past
5 years, rates of youth violence have begun to steadily increase once again (Center for Disease
Control, 2016). Youth violence and homicide remain serious ongoing concerns that have lasting
effects on the physical, mental, and social health of young people, in addition to their families and
their communities.
Youth violence is defined as violence occurring outside of the home between people aged 10 and
29 years; these individuals are not relatives and may or may not know each other (World Health
Organization, n.d.). Youth violence includes acts such as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and
armed robbery (Cunningham et al., 2009). Arguably, youth homicide is a severe form of youth
Department of Sociology, Emmanuel College, Boston, MA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Janese L. Free, Department of Sociology, Emmanuel College, 400 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Email: freej@emmanuel.edu
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(3) 281-302
ª2020 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820907663
violence, and it remains the third leading cause of death for young people aged 10–24 in the United
States. In 2017, there were over 5,000 youth victims of homicide in the United States; this is an
average of 14 victims per day (Child Trends, 2019).
Gang affiliation and involvement are significant risk factors that increase youths’ likelihood of
being a victim or a perpetrator of violence and homicide (Braga & Dusseault, 2018; David-Ferdon &
Simon, 2014). As a result, most large cities in the United States have established youth violence
intervention and prevention programs that employ youth violence prevention workers (YVPWs) to
intervene in the lives of at-risk youth (Center for Disease Control, 2016). In this study, I use the term
“youth violence prevention workers” (YVPWs) to refer to individuals who are employed by state
agencies or nonprofit organizations to provide support, advocacy, resources, and mentorship to at-
risk youth—many of whom are gang-involved.
Due to the concerning rate of youth violence in the United States (Center for Disease Control,
2016) and the lack of extant literature focusing on YVPWs, it is salient to examine how YVPWs
intervene in the lives of at-risk youth based on their own perspectives and experiential knowledge.
My decision to use the YVPWs’ own voices and words is purposeful because the individuals who are
actually doing the work can provide meaningful, unique, and important knowledge to our under-
standing of youth violence prevention efforts (Donges, 2015).
This exploratory study aims to address the gap in the extant literature regarding YVPWs by
identifying and analyzing how they intervene in the lives of at-risk youth in order to reduce youth
violence. Better understanding of the strategies that YVPWs use to reduce youth violence can help
inform recruitment, training, assessment, and effectiveness of YVPWs.
YVPWs seek out and engage the full spectrum of at- risk youth as thei r clients; this ra nges
from the highest level of risk to the lowest level of risk. Although there is no universal definition of
at-riskyouth”(alsoreferredtoas“youthatrisk”), the term typically refers to individuals who are
of ages 12–24 and are most susceptible to negative life outcomes (i.e., early school dropout,
substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration) often due to low socioecono mic status (Bouf-
fard & Bergseth, 2008). YVPWs’ responsibilities vary from providing clients with personal
support and guidance, social services, financial resources, employment, and educational oppor-
tunities to directly intervening in conflict and violence and responding to acts of youth violence
and homicide in the community.
The current study explores and analyzes YVPWs’ perspectives and experiential knowledge based
on 47 in-depth interviews with YVPWs in a large city in the northeastern region of the United States.
More specifically, this study examines the following research question: According to YVPWs, how
do they intervenein the lives of at-risk youth in orderto reduce youth violence? This articlebegins by
discussing the applicable theoretical perspectives, namely Braga’s (Braga et al., 2001; Braga, 2015)
focused deterrence theory, Kennedy’s (1997, 1998, 2007) pulling levers strategies, and Cullen’s
(1994) social support theory. These frameworks deepen our understanding why YVPWs intervene
in the ways that they do with their clients. Then, I review the existing body of research on YVPWs,
their role in youth violence prevention programs, as well as attempt to clarify the differing types of
YVPWs based on prior literature and data. The subsequent sectionsdescribe the method, participants,
and analyses used to answer the research question. My findings suggest that there are five salient
strategies that YVPWs use to intervene in their clients’ lives in order to prevent violence. The final
sections integrate the results of the current study with the theoretical framework and the prior related
literature. The article concludes with suggestions regarding policy implications and future research.
Theoretical Framework
Braga’s (Braga 2015; Braga et al., 2001) focused deterrence theory, coupled with Kennedy’s (1997,
1998, 2007) pulling levers strategy, offers valuable insight and deepen our understanding of the
282 Criminal Justice Review 45(3)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT