Youth Violence Prevention Conference generates important dialogue between practitioners, researchers

by | Apr 8, 2019

Retiring Professor Finn-Aage Esbensen organized the conference for his 18th and final time last Thursday in the J.C. Penney Auditorium.
18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference

Finn-Aage Esbensen opens the 18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference last Thursday in the J.C. Penney Auditorium. Esbensen started the conference in his role as the E. Demond Lee Professor of Youth Crime and Violence and is retiring at the end of this academic year. (Photos by Steve Walentik)

Shanequa Tolliver had no idea what she’d learn from the 18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference when she first walked into the J.C. Penney Auditorium last Thursday morning as the event got underway on the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ North Campus.

She was intrigued to hear University of New Mexico Professor Lisa Broidy, who was presenting on “Identifying and Addressing the Developmental and Criminogenic Needs of Girls in the Criminal Justice System,” and UMSL Professor Beth Huebner, who presented on Youth Violence and Strategies for St. Louis.”

Tolliver, a community health educator with BJC HealthCare, thought she might glean something from each of the five presenters on the schedule in a conference sponsored by UMSL’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Des Lee Collaborative Vision and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I work with youth in a lot of different areas and some of the areas are areas known to have high crime, so trying to figure out how to better serve the youth is part of the reason why we go to conferences and try to build our knowledge around different topics that could help in the classroom,” Tolliver said. “I’m always looking for positive things that we could be doing, like early education that can help reduce delinquent behavior.”

18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference

More than 100 local practitioners, including police officers, educators, counselors, family court workers and juvenile detention workers, attended the 18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference last Thursday at J.C. Penney Auditorium.

Tolliver was just one of the hundreds of area practitioners – among them police officers, teachers, counselors, family court workers and juvenile detention workers – who have come to benefit from hearing from some of the nation’s leading researchers since Finn-Aage Esbensen, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Youth Crime and Violence, began organizing the annual conference.

“If we’re going to have a safer community, then that means that we need to be intervening in a way that’s going to reduce crime,” said Norman Malloy Jr., a regional training coordinator for Missouri’s Division of Probation and Parole who received his master’s degree from UMSL in 1997 and was attending the conference for the second time. “I see the sincerity and the genuine application of the research information. It’s extremely helpful but it also gives us an opportunity to think outside the box so that we can employ evidence-based practices versus going by anecdotal information.”

Esbensen has aimed to generate that dialogue between researchers and practitioners since he launched the conference shortly after arriving at UMSL in 2001. The conference typically has attracted more than 200 local practitioners each year.

In some years, the conference has focused on a particular topic. One year it was cybercrime. Another it was the children of incarcerated parents. Still another it was on gun violence and trauma.

Last Thursday’s event was more general.

For the relatively low cost of $35 – which included lunch – this year’s audience had the chance to hear from Broidy and Huebner as well as University of Washington Professor Emeritus Robert Crutchfield on “Race, Ethnicity, Crime and Justice: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly;” Florida State University Professor Eric Stewart on “Street Culture, Youth Violence, and Mechanisms of Change;” and Michigan State University Professor Edmund McGarrell on “Youth Violence: Guns, Groups, Neighborhoods and Prevention.”

18th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference

Robert Crutchfield, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, begins his presentation on “Race, Ethnicity, Crime and Justice: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

“I think anybody who works with youth in any capacity will find something to take away from one or more of the presentations,” Esbensen said.

That’s always been the case.

“The feedback from the community has been so great,” said Patricia Zahn, the director of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision. “The different professors come in with their interests and knowledge and then to be able to really bridge that research that we’re doing here at the university and make it practical for everyday folks who are out in the community working with youth.”

Local practitioners aren’t the only ones who have gained from the experience. The researchers who present are just as eager for the interaction.

“Conferences like this are extremely rare,” Crutchfield said in response to one question Thursday morning. “The reason Finn can ask us to come to this conference is because we all delight in coming here. There are so few opportunities for academics and practitioners to speak with each other.”

Esbensen, who chaired the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice from 2009 to 2018, recently announced he’d be retiring at the end of the academic year.

“It’s a huge loss to our department,” Huebner said. “I don’t think anyone in the department has brought in as much grant work and has worked as closely with serving the community as he has. Finn will be missed.”

He is hopeful one of his colleagues might pick up the mantle of organizing the conference in future years.

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik