Columbia University researchers studying New Orleans ignored where offenses happened and looked instead at the home addresses of incarcerated criminals, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. They found a few neighborhoods that serve as a home base for lawbreakers who commit crimes citywide. An area called Central City emerged as one area with a high concentration of incarcerated residents. Almost 13 percent of the New Orleans residents sentenced in 2006 to state corrections institutions hailed from Central City, an area that at the time boasted a little more than 5 percent of the city’s population.
That information could be a powerful tool, say researchers and city leaders writing a long-term strategic plan to battle crime through neighborhood revitalization. New Orleans City Councilman James Carter said neighborhoods like Central City — with failing schools, crumbling public housing, and rampant blight — are breeding grounds for criminals, a problem beyond the capability of law enforcement to solve. The solution, he said, calls for multiple government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to pour money and volunteers into rebuilding neighborhood infrastructure, including schools, parks, community centers, health clinics, and recreational facilities. It cost the state $1.3 million in 2003 to lock up convicts who lived in Central City. Columbia professor Laura Kurgan says that shows that the government already spends ample money on Central City residents — putting them in expensive prison beds — without providing benefit to the struggling neighborhood or providing lasting solution to crime. The researchers want to find ways to change this destructive pattern, said Kurgan, who led the study financed by the Open Society Institute.