Gannon University’s criminal justice majors are not only learning about violence prevention, but actively trying to prevent violence.

The department’s new Books for Refugees project works to reduce the risk of violence later in life by providing access to books and early childhood education.

Chris Magno, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the criminal justice program, said he and his students learned about the correlation between early childhood education and a reduced risk of violent tendencies in his juvenile justice class.

According to some studies, Magno said, children who do not participate in a preschool program are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18 than children who have participated in early childhood education.

To combat the issue locally, Magno and his students created the Books for Refugees project.

They plan to gather books for the children of refugees and immigrants and distribute them through the International Institute, Multicultural Center, Martin Luther King Center and Catholic Charities Resettlement Program.

Baldemar Gonzalez, the president of Alpha Phi Sigma, Gannon’s criminal justice honor society, said that he and two other students ran a similar program called Books for Prisoners last year. That program collected more than 1,000 books and transported them to the Erie County Prison for use in the prison’s library.

He said they chose to donate books to the children of immigrants and refugees this time around.

“We are looking for any books that children at a grade-school reading level would be able to comprehend,” he said.

Gonzalez said that books greatly impacted his childhood, especially because his parents are immigrants and English is not his first language.

“Books were crucial and contributed greatly to my increased fluency and literacy in English,” Gonzalez said.

He said that he decided to help organize the project in an effort to aid the large immigrant and refugee populations in Erie.

“Our goal is to give these children a productive way to not only pass time,” Gonzalez said, “but also to help improve their English speaking abilities, which in the long run, will facilitate their transition into American schools.”

Book drop boxes are located on the first floors of the Palumbo Academic Center, Waldron Campus Center, Zurn Science Center and Nash Library. Donations will be accepted through May 1. You can also contact Magno ( for more information.

This article by April Shernisky was originally published in The Gannon Knight on Feb. 26, 2014.