ATLANTA — Crimes including aggravated assaults and car thefts in the Atlanta metro area are up from the same time last year. Currently, police and prosecutors are trying to get a handle on the surge in violent crimes.
At the same time, a new summer program kicked off Monday with the goal of helping teenagers involved in those same types of crimes turn their lives around and help make Atlanta a safer place to live.
Under the umbrella of the U.S. Attorney's Office crime prevention initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods, 20 Fulton County teens are participating in the Youth Summer Violence Intervention program.
In the past, Project Safe Neighborhoods has focused on helping incarcerated adults re-enter society and turn their lives around. Now the focus is being put on teens serving probation for violent crimes.
"By me serving 11 and a half years, that would kind of qualify me as a credible messenger," said Arthur Powell.
Powell is working with the program as a mentor, or what the program calls a credible messenger. Gang involvement starting at a young age quickly landed Powell in prison. Now he uses his experience to mentor teenagers heading down the same path he once walked.
Powell is part of a team of mentors from similar backgrounds who have left behind a life of crime.
"The object is to help these young people look at the consequences that come from being involved in criminal activity and help them make better decision choices, hearing from someone that has been down that path and been through the system and made bad decision choices."
The summer program will run for 10 weeks and requires the teenagers to attend 10 hours of programming each week. Their parents or guardians can also attend.
Career training, life-skills lessons, and other support will all be offered with the aim of giving the teens options in their lives for a future not involving crime.
The program is run through partnerships between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, Fulton County Juvenile Court, and Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, the Offender Alumni Association.
On Monday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine talked with the teens in the program.
"Juveniles have been a source of violence in our community, unfortunately, this program is specifically designed at heading some of that off so that we can prevent violence that occurs in our community," Erskine told 11Alive.
As part of the program, wraparound services including housing and career assistance are being offered to the parents of teenage participants, with the goal of making their entire family's lives better.