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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Pitt Center to Convene City-Wide “Think Group” to Tackle Community Violence

PITTSBURGH, May 29, 2012 – In a comprehensive effort to reduce inner-city gang and handgun violence nationwide, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) will bring city and community leaders together to help design optimal community violence prevention programs.

GSPH’s Center for Health Equity has selected Richard Garland, M.S.W., executive director for the anti-violence program One Vision One Life, to convene a “think group” that will review youth and community violence prevention programs throughout the United States. The group will determine which aspects of these programs work and which don’t, as well as the situations in which they perform best.

“Ultimately, we’d like to create a computer simulation where city leaders nationwide could input community characteristics, such as the type of violence and the populations that experience it most. The model would suggest ideal prevention strategies,” said Steven Albert, Ph.D., chair of GSPH’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences.

“Perhaps their city would benefit from stronger handgun control or maybe it would be a social networking program that works with gang leaders,” he said. “Our goal is to help cities determine where to concentrate their resources for the most effective outcome.”

Garland has a proven track record of bringing perpetrators, victims and law enforcers together with the shared goal of preventing violence through early intervention. An ex-con, Garland understands the situations in which urban youth find themselves. In his hometown of Philadelphia, he was involved in gang wars and drugs, landing in prison for more than 23 years. While at Western Penitentiary, Garland enrolled in college courses. In 1992, a year after he was released from prison, Garland earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1994, he started graduate work and earned his master’s degree in social work two years later.

“I know what the kids in these gangs are up against,” said Garland. “Their story is my story – I’ve been there, done that and now I want to help them change their lives so that they can be productive citizens.”

Representatives from the City of Pittsburgh mayor’s office, police department, criminal justice system and community groups will be asked to join GSPH’s Center for Health Equity in the think group, which will meet monthly. Initially the group will review previous studies and literature that examine youth violence prevention programs.

These programs take many forms, ranging from positive after-school activities and in-school anti-drug programs to underground movements that negotiate deals between rival gangs.

 “These programs show some benefit, but not as much as we would like and not as consistently as we would like,” Albert said. “We think that by incorporating different parts of these programs into an ideal mix, we can provide scientific guidance to community groups that will make significant strides toward ending youth violence.”

A video of Richard Garland discussing community violence prevention efforts is available at http://youtu.be/eOIcPJ0bjaw.

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