Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday outlined a federal strategy aimed at reducing what he called the “vicious cycle” of poverty, crime and imprisonment that has trapped some of America's poorest communities.
In speeches at a New York City forum on partnering community groups with law enforcement, Holder and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan highlighted federal efforts to revive struggling crime-riddled urban neighborhoods.
“In far too many places, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps individuals, devastates families, and weakens communities,” Holder said at the forum, which was held at the headquarters of the Ford Foundation and organized by the non-profit Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
The forum focused on neighborhood efforts to link police departments, federal assistance and community organizers in a collaborative public safety strategy.
Several top cops were among those in attendance, including newly appointed New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton, New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman and Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn.
Editor’s Note: At the forum, Bratton asserted that issues with New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policing tactic have “more or less been solved.” Click HERE for more.
Holder said the government believes greater support for court diversion programs aimed at helping nonviolent offenders avoid a criminal record, and for re-entry programs that provide employable skills to those leaving prison “can strengthen communities, improve public safety, help to keep people on the right path, and make criminal justice expenditures smarter and more effective.”
As part of the effort, the White House last week announced the creation of five “Promise Zones,” where neighborhoods will receive tax incentives for plans to use private investment to reduce crime through improved affordable housing options and programs to increase employment.
Donovan said this approach is a break from prior federal efforts to impact individual problem areas.
“The old urban renewal approach too often meant that Washington would swoop into communities and plan for them instead of with them … clearly this was a recipe for failure,” Donovan said.
But to be more effective, the anti-crime efforts need to focus on reducing the effects of violence on children, said Howard Spivak, the director of the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control.
“Young people exposed to violence are at a disadvantage merely for their exposure,” Spivak said, adding that a “holistic” approach needed to include mental health and education initiatives that focus on the victims of abuse.
But what about the struggles of those who return to communities after prison?
Todd Clear, a leading criminologist and provost of Rutgers University-Newark, said police have long been misused in the task of helping ex-prisoners re-enter society.
“Oftentimes, what we think about with re-entry is we have officers sit on them,” Clear said. “We keep police separate from social services, but they need to be on the same side.”
He argued that police, education and housing officials should be in communication with each other to keep tabs on returning prisoners, in an effort to keep them out of trouble.
HUD Secretary Donovan said establishing those lines of communication will save taxpayers money as well as increase public safety.
“Not only is it bad for individuals being released from institutions to be put into situations where they're much more likely to end up back in prison; it's also much more expensive for society,” Donovan said.
Graham Kates is deputy managing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter @GrahamKates.