A look at school research in the Arkansas Delta amidst chaos

By Erin Johnson
May 7, 2024

Eric Walden pays numerous school visits towards the conclusion of the school year, as the temperatures rise and the allure of summer break grows stronger.

At that time, the children in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, start engaging in more altercations — or, as he describes it, when the “business is booming.” Walden holds the position of assistant chief juvenile officer in the local circuit court, tasked with supervising the probation of minor offenders across two counties. He is also deeply involved in overseeing the city’s Group Violence Intervention, a program aimed at preventing disputes in schools and neighborhoods from escalating into something fatal.

Walden and his team have a packed schedule in Pine Bluff, a community of approximately 40,000 nestled in the Arkansas Delta. A noteworthy proportion of its inhabitants are financially disadvantaged and in poor health, but crime has been the city’s primary worry in recent years. Various analyses have identified it as one of the most perilous locations in the United States, with homicide rates multiple times higher than the national average, and a tragically substantial portion of the violence being carried out by and against juveniles.

Eric Walden takes a significant role in the Group Violence Intervention, a project initiated last year to prevent youth conflicts from escalating into tragedy. (Eric Walden Jr.)

The peak of this wave appeared to be in 2021. During that year, there were a record 30 homicides, which included the killing of a 15-year-old boy by a peer inside Watson Chapel Junior High School. The structure has subsequently been torn down, with its students moved to a temporary location while awaiting the development of a new campus. Nevertheless, Walden noted that the homicide, along with many others in recent years, has had a profound impact on young individuals, a sentiment he detects while interacting with students.

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