space holder space holder
B y  M a r y  A n n  M e y e r s
BY THE TIME A Southwest Philly corner boy and sometime housepainter nicknamed "Dool" graduated from Penn in 1980 with a BA in economics and political science and an MA in political science and public policy, the possibility of his getting an "indoor" job looked pretty good. Awarded tenure at Princeton University just two years after earning a Ph.D. at Harvard, John James DiIulio, Jr. had published several books and numerous articles and newspaper op-ed pieces on criminal-justice issues when he was thrust into the public eye last year over his coining of the term "super-predator" to describe the most violent and remorseless young criminal offenders. The resulting controversy made the 38-year old political scientist a sufficiently emblematic figure to earn a profile in The New Yorker magazine -- which duly noted that his "work gives many of his peers fits."
DiIulio argues that churches hold the most hope for preventing youth crime in distressed inner-city communities.

   DiIulio turned up in the pages of The New Yorker again early last summer in an article by Joe Klein, C'68. That piece had to do with a growing movement in urban- policy circles to, as the magazine's contents page blurb put it, "let the churches have the inner cities," and DiIulio was introduced as a leading proponent. Churches are the most efficacious institutions operating in distressed communities, he says, and leveraging their financial and human investments holds out the best hope of preventing another explosion of juvenile crime. DiIulio began doing the research and reflection that led him to this view in early 1994, and since the fall of 1995 -- when he went on half-time leave from Princeton -- he has been working with inner-city ministries, studying their programs for successful models and assisting them in attracting funding. Having been "coerced by the data" revealed in his own and others' research, he says, "morally and intellectually" he hasn't any other choice.
   "It is increasingly clear that the presence of active religious institutions mediates crime by affecting the behavior of disadvantaged youth," says DiIulio. "A recent study found that controlling for all relevant individual characteristics, such as race, gender, education, and family structure, urban young people whose neighbors attend church are more likely to have a job, less likely to use drugs, and less likely to be involved in criminal activity. Inner-city ministries are centers of social health and vitality on America's meanest streets."
   DiIulio -- cradle Catholic, Democrat -- actually can't be pigeonholed on either side of the political spectrum. Both right and left have cited his research in support of their remedies for civic ills. He is up front and outspoken about the social benefits of incarceration, believing that locking up more convicted criminals for longer terms reduces crime. The sweeping 1994 federal crime law, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars for new prison construction, was influenced by his views. On the other hand, he is also among the architects of the federal prison system's prison-based drug treatment programs.
   For DiIulio, the fight against urban crime demands a whole arsenal of weapons. He supports swift and sure punishment for chronic violent offenders, but he is convinced that the only real hope of turning back the tide of murder, assault, rape, and robbery is early intervention in the lives of youngsters trapped in the most deprived neighborhoods. "In the end, what is even more important than making cities safe is saving children," he says.
   DiIulio takes little comfort in the heralded six-year drop in reported crime, which fell three percent in 1996, with especially big reductions in New York and Los Angeles, following a nine percent plunge in 1995. As of September, Boston had not had a gun-related youth homicide since July 1995, he notes, "largely because of the partnerships struck between police, probation, and our network of clergy in preventing youth violence." Even Philadelphia, which had lagged behind other big cities in seeing crime statistics fall, experienced a 17 percent drop during the first half of 1997 ("In part, but only in part, the result of changes in reporting practices," DiIulio adds). Continued...
October Contents | Gazette Home
Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/29/97