PINE BLUFF, Ark. — People in Jefferson County met Tuesday night to discuss solutions to youth violence. Officials and citizens questioned national experts on preventing gang violence and improving the juvenile justice system.

“It gives us the opportunity to think outside the box,” explained Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods.

Pine Bluff native, Berinda Eugene, works with kids and said the event meant a lot to her.

“It actually says that our community does care about our young people as well as our future,” Eugene added.

When the Gang Reduction Initiative of Pine Bluff (GRIP) was formed last year, its chair, Sheriff Lafayette Woods, knew help was needed.

“What we’re doing right now isn’t working,” the sheriff admitted. “Recognizing there is a problem that is the first key to it, and we’ve done that.”

GRIP has a three-pronged approach: prevention, intervention, and suppression. To push prevention, GRIP worked for weeks to organize the forum with experts from Virginia and Delaware with a combined 98 years of experience working in the field of Juvenile Justice to share what they learned.

“We’ve got one common interest one common goal, and that is to reduce violence, particularly with our juveniles,” Woods stated.

The guest speakers included Michelle Darling, Robert “Bob” Bermingham, and John A. Tuell.

Michelle Darling, a Senior Program Director and Senior Consultant for the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice.

Bob Bermingham currently serves as an independent consultant focusing on juvenile justice topics such as juvenile probation practices and the treatment of youth and families that have concurrent involvement in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

John A. Tuell currently serves as the Executive Director for the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice at Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.

Bermingham said, “We know why today kids are committing crimes. It’s not a secret like it was in the past, and it isn’t just that they are bad, but there are some real reasons that drive them to make the decisions that they do.”

He suggested assessments and screenings the first time a kid touches the system to identify the underlying factors that influence a child

“We owe that to children who are really screaming out for some level of assistance through their behavior that we do everything that we know that can potentially but not always produce the best opportunities for them,” Bermingham insisted.

He also said no data can supplement what the community can do.

“The answer to gangs if there is a gang problem here, and the data suggests that, relies in this room. It’s a community response.”

Berinda Eugene attended because when she moved back to Pine Bluff, she noticed it changed from her childhood.

She said, “The way I look at it is if I don’t do my part to be part of the solution, our future which is our young people will probably not have the chance that I had growing up in Pine Bluff.”

And ensuring a future with discussion and application is what the parents, educators, and lawmen are hoping for.

In Sheriff Woods’ words, “To make sure Pine Bluff, Jefferson County becomes a place you can raise a family, you can raise your kids, but also you can just live.”

According to the National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, a federal grant helped make the meeting possible and other Arkansas counties like Pulaski will be seeing the benefits of the grant over the next two and a half years.