WASHINGTON - Murder rates are again on the rise in many major U.S. cities after years of decline. In Washington, DC, the number of homicides even reached a seven year high last year. Now DC lawmakers want to fund a program that calls for paying money to "at risk" young people not to commit crime.
Erica Briscoe once lived a life of crime but now she's an aspiring fashion designer, learning to make clothes for young people.
She said the training program has given her a new outlook on life.
"It really opened me up for real and let me know that I can do it, and I will do, and it is a must that I do it because I'm good at it," said Briscoe.
Erica said she is determined not to repeat past mistakes.
"I use to always go to the grocery store to steal food just to have food in the house for me and my younger siblings. And it got bigger than that. I went out and started stealing cars, robbing people, breaking in peoples houses and served nine and a half months at the jail as a juvenile," she said.
Erica turned her life around thanks in part to a program that gave her psychological support as well as job training skills. For doing well and meeting certain conditions, she is paid a stipend of more than $8 an hour.
"For some people you do have to pay a stipend to get them to do the right thing. With me its different because I am gaining a lot of information to better myself to be successful and progress in life," said Briscoe.
Now, Washington DC's city council wants to fund a stipend-based program to provide so called “at-risk” individuals with counseling, job training, and money to prevent them committing crimes.
"Why can't we invest to help young people heal from their wounds and become productive citizens? So it is either we pay now or we pay later," said community activist Ronal Moten.
Moten, who became an activist after getting out of prison, remembers a successful program eight years ago that paid young people $300 a month to stay out of trouble.
"We are not talking about welfare. We are talking about helping to sustain somebody. Helping them get transportation, helping them put food on the table while we change the negatives in their life and then make them productive citizens where they are prepared for work or outreach workers and come back and do work in their community," said Moten.
Moten said violent crime declined for four straight years in Washington until the stipend program was abandoned. But critics say another stipend program will produce few results and could cost the city nearly a half a million dollars to enroll about 200 people. DC officials have not found the money.
"We give rewards for information towards the closure of crimes, but not specifically to stay out of trouble," said Vendette Parker, DC’s police commander.
Parker said the department cannot discuss the merits of the program. But Moten hopes politics will not get in the way of progress and the anti-crime stipend program will be available to help young people stay on the right track.