As a member of your District Attorney’s Office for almost 30 years, and your DA for nearly 10, I’ve learned that the hours after school lets out are the prime time for juvenile crime.

It is between these hours of 2 to 6 p.m. that youth are more likely to be arrested for assault, theft and drug-related crimes. 

Quality afterschool programs have been proven to reduce these crimes in our community, keep students engaged, and improve academic performance and student behavior. 

A new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids shows that when youth have access to high-quality, affordable afterschool programming, they benefit immensely from homework help and outdoor activities, and they’re less likely to commit or become victims of crime.

Unfortunately, for every child enrolled in an afterschool program, two more sit on waitlists. An estimated 11 million school-aged children go home to unsupervised situation.

In Santa Barbara, we must ensure that all children have access to high-quality afterschool programs during these critical hours. 

We have several excellent afterschool programs in our county, but we don’t have enough, and the ones that we do have are woefully underfunded.

Therefore, they’re not as engaging as they can be for children who need it most— those whose interests are diverse and ever-changing.

Last Thursday, more than a million people across the nation and at U.S. military bases worldwide turned the lights on for afterschool. It was a massive effort that was led and organized by the Afterschool Alliance.

The 20th Annual Lights On Afterschool included some 8,000 events, including open houses, science fairs, fun runs, student showcases, academic contests, community service, sports competitions, and more at schools, 4-Hs, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, parks, museums, community centers, state capitols and other places. Lights On Afterschool is the only national rally for afterschool. 

Being the ecologically sensitive county that we are, I don’t advocate literally turn the lights on, but rather that we turn on and engage ourselves in this critical social and criminal justice issue.

Find out what afterschool programs you have in your communities, and find out what they need to be more successful. Better yet visit one, and if you are inspired to do so, find a way to support them. Possibilities include: donating your time, money or needed resources.

At the very least thank them for not just improving the lives of the children they are serving, but for making your community safer.

— Joyce Dudley is the Santa Barbara County district attorney. The opinions expressed are her own.