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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Safety net can’t save Philly youths

January 7, 2001

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— The two young men were chosen more than a year ago as among those most likely to be killed or to kill someone else.

An experimental city probation program was supposed to save them. It didn't.

Within a month of each other, 20-year-old Carlos Rivera was killed and 18-year-old Charles Drumm was charged with a double homicide, despite the battery of social services, supervision and counseling designed to keep them from their fates.

"This should have worked," said counselor Iniko Scotton, who had recommended that Drumm be taken off probation three weeks before he went on a drug-induced rampage that ended with two deaths. "It really broke my heart."

Drumm and Rivera were among the first youths ordered into a North Philadelphia pilot program serving 100 of the city's worst violent young offenders. Dubbed "the toughest of the tough," the teens and young adults in the program were drafted from parole lists, school tardy sheets and repeat-offender rolls.

Police and probation officers provided participants with intense supervision, visiting almost daily rather than about once a month under traditional probation. Participants also were given unprecedented support in getting sober, finding a job, getting a high school diploma even learning to read.

But for Rivera and Drumm, the Youth Violence Reduction Project failed at its most basic goal preventing homicide.

"Ultimately we hope these kids will be law-abiding citizens and not use drugs and not be delinquent. But our goal is we want to keep these kids alive," said Assistant Dist. Atty. John Delaney, who helped found and leads the project. "I don't know what happened."

Since its creation in June 1999, more than 300 youths have come through Philadelphia's program, a cooperative between prosecutors, police, probation officers and counselors from the nonprofit Philadelphia Anti-Drug Anti-Violence Network.

About 25 or 30 participants have been involved in lesser crimes while part of the program, which will now gradually reduce supervision rather than letting kids immediately get off probation, Delaney said. Drumm was the first to be charged with homicide; Rivera the first killed.

Drumm had a history of drug-dealing and weapons convictions. After about a year in the program, Drumm kicked his marijuana and LSD habit, got a job and had moved from bad influences in his neighborhood, said Scotton, his counselor. In early October, a judge approved his release from probation.

"He did a total 180 as far as his behavior," said Scotton, who saw him at least three times a week for lunch, basketball games, movies or just to talk. "He was one of my dream clients, he was doing so well."

Rivera's past lifestyle was so dangerous he was at risk even walking outside his door. He was shot to death Nov. 25 half a block from his home in what authorities and neighbors think may have been a drug-related case of mistaken identity. "I would tell him, 'Be careful out here, it's crazy.' But I couldn't tell him not to go out there. It's his 'hood," counselor Anthony Bannister said. "He'd be like 'It's all good. It's just guys in the neighborhood."'

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