Why has crime declined in the U.S. over recent decades?
A new Urban Institute report on a Colorado program called Work and Gain Education and Employment Skills (WAGEES) program, suggests the role played by communities affected by crime in developing their own public safety strategies is consequential.
Early results of the program, created in 2014, shows that only 2.5 percent of WAGEES program beneficiaries have returned to prison for committing new crimes, according to Ryan King, a co-author of the report.
In an article for The Hill, King argued that community organizations which invest in diverse strategies such as economic development, treatment and counseling, healthy neighborhoods, and expanded green space have been a critical factor in reducing violent crime.
He adds that focusing public safety investments narrowly on policing and incarceration strategies, which may not necessarily align with community needs, can contribute to existing disadvantage and instability. States spend millions of dollars annually to arrest and incarcerate people in some neighborhoods, while ignoring many of the underlying causes of crime: the lack of health care, housing, economic development and social services.
Colorado’s WAGEES program provides an example of how to do better, King writes. The program, a strong partnership between the Colorado Department of Corrections and local faith and community-based organizations, funds organizations to facilitate successful reentry and decrease the recidivism rate of medium to high-risk people on parole. The grants fund community programs that help those on parole get high school diplomas, industry-recognized credentials, long-term vocational or postsecondary education, and employment.
King says the program can serve as a model for other states. A recent national poll by Lake Research Partners shows broad public support for a wide range of community-based reforms and services to improve public safety.