In the United States, efforts to curb crime tend to focus on tough policing and harsh penalties. It’s rare to hear a politician speak about a sensitive approach – much more common is rhetoric about punishing offenders and being tough. And, most times, it receives the response the politicians hope for. But the results don’t always follow the actions.
The War on Drugs, for example, first initiated by Richard Nixon and expanded since, has spent billions of dollars to fight drugs entering the United States, but the end result is that there are as many drugs on the street now as there were when the program was initiated.
And some critics argue the war has done more harm than good. For example, mandatory minimum sentencing and other laws, enacted under the Ronald Reagan administration in 1984 and 1986, stipulated particularly harsh charges for specific offenses, ignoring mitigating circumstances and often not differentiating between types of drugs or the repercussions of the laws themselves – e.g., low-level non-violent offenders serving excessive sentences, overcrowding of jails and straining the resources of the entire criminal justice system. The U.S. leads the world in incarceration rates, and with the mandatory laws still in place, NPR estimates that half the inmates in U.S. prisons are in jail because of them.
However, there does appear to be an effective alternative. A story from the Marshall Project, a nonprofit organization that reports on the criminal justice system, suggests alternatives may already be in place that can do more to fight crime, especially in blighted neighborhoods, than the strict laws and tough stance that has previously guided law enforcement.They point to opportunities for fiscal and economic growth that can change attitudes and environments, thus making a reasonable investment in stopping future crime.
The story points out that most crimes take place in well-known crime hot-spots, where officers focus. As a general rule, police conduct raids, sweeps and targeted policing in order to combat potential issues, hopefully before they happen. However, while strict enforcement has an effect, the story suggests that even more than traditional police work, it is the community development efforts that can make the biggest differences.
What this essentially means is that, working in conjunction with the police around the areas where a majority of crimes occur, the community itself helps take responsibility for decreasing the opportunity for crime. For example, the authors specifically point to community investment to eradicate abandoned buildings and vacant lots, replacing them with businesses, community gardens or community centers. The theory is that if the space isn’t available for crime, the crime will stop, at least in that location.
The story shows several examples of positive results. In Philadelphia, it points to a high-crime hot-spot where residents renovated and began stewarding a park that was a central location for crimes; police increased their presence, and violent crime dropped more than 40 percent. A park in Chicago saw the same results, with crime dropping 32 percent. And it’s not just violent crime. The authors show an example in Rhode Island, where police and residents combined for the same sort of work, and quality-of-life crimes dropped by 42 percent.
These investments by communities and collaborations by residents have shown positive results around the country. And, as opposed to tougher laws, have shown all-around improvements for the communities, in both safety and overall attitudes.
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