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Jax Journey Still Hammering Out Where, How To Spend Anti-Crime Dollars

Melissa Robison

The city’s Jax Journey anti-crime initiative is getting a nearly $1 million federal grant.

Jacksonville is one of six cities awarded the grant from the Justice Department. Jax Journey Project Director Debbie Verges said the majority of the two-year grant is to be used for “planning.”

“The staff that are being hired will allow us to get out in the neighborhoods, out in the communities, in the districts, really understanding where are the gaps in juvenile justice programming,” she said at Tuesday’s Neighborhoods Committee meeting.

The grant funds the salaries of two planners and an administrative specialist.

Verges said after a six-months of hearing from the community, about $300,000 will be left for juvenile justice programming.

But at least one city councilman has reservations about the grant because of its required use.

Councilman Reggie Brown supported the grant Monday in committee, but has concerns about spending too much time — and money — on new studies.

“We need dollars where we can implement programs,” he said. “I don’t believe that we’re in a position to go back to the community and ask them, ‘What do you think is the problem?’ ”

Brown cited illiteracy as a common thread among many who commit crimes.

“If a kid can’t read by the third grade, pretty much they created a pipeline without a lot of intervention to prison,” he said.

Journey Chair W.C. Gentry said there will be a focus on literacy moving forward. Jax Journey has partnered with the Duval County School District to give additional support to the 20 elementary schools with the worst ready proficiency rates, he said.

The Jax Journey began in 2009 as an umbrella for programs meant to reduce crime. Journey funding was drastically cut almost immediately, but Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has reinvested in itsince taking office last year.

The city also has an oversight committee, which chooses grantees and monitors those programs to ensure they help reduce crime using data .

Curry’s Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart gave a Journey update at Tuesday’s meeting, specifically addressing concerns Councilman Scott Wilson has had about the 10 zip codes Journey picked using Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue violent crime data.

He’s been recommending targeting smaller areas with high crime rather than entire zip codes. He said there are pockets of high crime in his Southside district that would benefit from the programs.

Stewart said she and the oversight committee have reevaluated that data and pulled out addresses that could “skew the data.”

“A lot of arrests are tagged to buildings downtown and that may not be a real indication that violent crime is happening,” Stewart said.

She said hundreds of arrests are documented to be at the pretrial detention on East Adams Street, but it’s not where the crime occurred.

She said there’s a commitment for Journey to revisit where Journey dollars are being spent in January 2017.

“To have a year’s worth of data to take a look at ‘Are these the right zip codes?’ ‘Are zip codes even the right measurement?’ Because they may not be,” she said.

Photo: "Prison Cells" used under Creative Commons.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.