Art instead of theft? Art programs as crime prevention

crime or peaceLast summer a bored 16-year-old tried to steal our vehicle while we slept. He didn’t have success with ours, but did take a neighbour’s truck for a midnight ride, smashing the front end. This same teen was also accused of stealing two ATVs and ditching both in a nearby river.

Before the thefts, I watched him wander the neighbourhood. I felt sorry for him because he was new to the area and always alone, kicking stones and peering down gopher holes. One question kept looping: why isn’t he doing anything? He wasn’t learning responsibility through a summer job, or away having fun at camp, or sitting in the park and playing a guitar.

I went quickly from feeling sorry to being concerned for our property. Besides installing motion sensor lights so sensitive that circling moths illuminated the yard into a prison compound, what could be done to help him feel engaged and me feel safer?

The Center: South LA and its ‘I art LA’ initiative believes that art can reduce crime, dropout rates and behavioural problems. Good thing, considering the numbers from Los Angeles County are bleak. More than 40 percent of young offenders land right back in jail.

“Crime prevention pays far greater dividends than prosecution,” says District Attorney Richard Romley in Maricopa County, AZ. He makes funds available to after-school arts and social programs for at-risk children. The goal is to stimulate their imagination and develop their skills. “Children whose hearts and minds are nourished and challenged in wholesome ways – such as by art, dance, theatre and sports – are much less likely to succumb to the lure of crime.”

youth street band

Street band as a youth activity

rethink urban consultant Steve Woolrich is a strong proponent of creating art initiatives to reduce crime. “By embracing the arts, communities around the world have the opportunity to create their very own masterpieces, which can have direct and long-lasting effects on neighbourhoods and our youth.”

In Red Deer, AB, Canada a great example is an Art in the Park summer program. In Steve’s “Art and Crime Reduction” article, he explains how the program attracts at-risk youth. As a crime prevention practitioner, he says the program “prevents them from becoming further entrenched in street activities that may lead to crime. This process encourages the participants to showcase their talents and abilities and helps build more than just self-esteem, but also community.”

In Silver Spring, MD, the Carroll Avenue Quebec Terrace Project is using ‘Arts on the Block’ to increase safety and promote community pride. Arts on the Block “offers an innovative year-round job training program that enables diverse participants ages 14 to 21 to strengthen their artistic abilities while developing professional skills such as making presentations, working as a creative team, and managing client relationships.”

From LA to Maryland to central Alberta, may these inspiring programs continue.


[Photo credits from
Hooligans – Clarita
Art on the street – Xenia
Street band – Anita Patterson]



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