Not Evenings, but Idle After-School Hours Are the Prime Time for Juvenile Crime Recent Research Upstages Conventional Wisdom of Combating Youth Violence with Curfews

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It's 3 p.m. on a weekday and the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club teems with squirming children.

They come to this sand-colored building, in one of Boston's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, to shoot hoops and boot up computers in a safe place. But a perusal of the crowded rec room reveals a vital missing ingredient: teenagers.

"We don't allow teens in until 5:30, says Michael Mitchell, the club's director. Unlike some other area Boys and Girls clubs, the Roxbury club does not have funds for a separate teen center. "The main issue for this community is child care," he says. The lack of after-school programs for teens is not unusual. Many communities have tried to combat a troubling rise in juvenile crime with evening curfews and programs such as midnight basketball. But recent research is prompting a fundamental shift in perceptions about lawbreaking among teens: The true prime crime hours are between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Criminologists now have hard data that shows more juvenile crime occurs between those hours than after dark. Only 17 percent of violent juvenile crime occurs after 10 p.m., compared with 22 percent that takes place in the after-school hours, according to FBI statistics. "This is the time period that really needs our attention, not after midnight," says James Fox, dean of the college of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston and author of a recent study on juvenile crime trends. "The lion's share of juvenile crime occurs in the afternoon, when kids have too much time to kill, literally." President Clinton touted this new research when introducing his youth-crime initiative in Boston in February. To help prevent juvenile crime, the president called for the funding of 1,000 after-school programs. Congressional committees are now drafting the legislation. Roxbury's Mr. Mitchell would welcome any boost for teen programs. "With funding, we can possibly do something more," he says. But criminologists say financing 1,000 programs would only begin to address the challenges faced by impoverished teens at a time when many other education and social programs are being cut back. "It's a drop in the bucket. All this is symbolic politics," says David Brotherton, sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. …