Use your widget sidebars in the admin Design tab to change this little blurb here. Add the text widget to the Blurb Sidebar!
Posts By Meagan Cahill
Meagan Cahill is a Research Associate I in The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, where she leads a number of different research studies. Her research portfolio, built over the past decade, spans a number of different justice-related topics but is centered on studies of crime and place. Dr. Cahill is skilled in spatial analytical methodologies for crime analysis using geographic information systems (GIS), quantitative and qualitative methodologies, longitudinal studies, and multi-site evaluations. Currently, she is the co-principal investigator on several projects, including a study examining the delinquency and social networks of Latino youth, one considering the reciprocal nature of the relationship between foreclosures and crime over both space and time, and one examining cross-jurisdictional crime and agency cooperation between the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, Md. She is also principal investigator for a project on youth delinquency and social networks in the District of Columbia. Previously, she was project director of an evaluation of a longitudinal, multi-site gang violence reduction and prevention program and principal investigator for a project examining the displacement of crime from public housing redevelopment sites. She holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Arizona.Links:
| Posted: September 19th, 2011
Perhaps the biggest news story about youth crime this year has been “flash mobs”-- large gatherings of teens and young adults that can turn violent the way they did this summer in Philadelphia, triggering earlier summer curfews. Then there are “flash robs” that overtake and shoplift en masse, especially from convenience stores. The massive “flash rob” at a Germantown, Md., 7-11 in August made national news, and similar eruptions this summer rocked the DC neighborhoods of Dupont Circle, Georgetown,and Minnesota Avenue in Northeast DC.
Researchers often use the psychology of groups to explain what happens during flash mobs. When hordes of people (youths or otherwise) get together, “groupthink” takes over, and people do things they wouldn’t normally do. This is not a new idea, and decades of research on youth delinquency and gang involvement show that when delinquent youths get together, positive outcomes are rare, and youths who weren’t delinquent before often join crowds who are. Flash mobbing isn’t typical youth behavior, but young people between, say, 14 and 24 are involved in a disproportionate amount of all crime.
For youths especially, the influence of groups and group behavior can be powerful. One report on youth crime in DC suggests that “gangs and crews drive most of the youth participation in violence.” But we still don’t understand exactly how these group dynamics breed delinquency. How do interpersonal relationships and belonging to a “group”—be it a sports team, club, crew, or gang—affect an individual’s behavior? What happens when youths belong to several groups? Are they more likely to commit crimes on their own, or to “co-offend” with peers?
These questions are ripe for social network analysis--examining an individual’s personal connections to tease out their influences on behavior. We’re doing that now with Temple University in two local communities. In a central DC neighborhood, known for gang and crew behavior, a local organization helped us canvass youths ages 14—21, who then took a lengthy survey on their behavior and closest contacts, be those adults or peers, family or friends.
Preliminary findings based on what these 160 or so kids told us helped us sketch a picture of group influence. Although about one third of youth said they saw a lot of gang or crew activity in their neighborhood, only 6 percent told us they were members themselves and 7 percent reported having sold drugs in the last six months. But we see much higher reports of delinquency or gang-involvement among people in the youths’ social networks. One out of five surveyed hung out with at least one gang member, and 15 percent with at least one person who sells drugs. The same percentage reported committing crimes with at least one close friend.
So, yes, criminal behavior is contagious, but it doesn’t seem to go viral either. Instead of asking why youths and young adults commit crimes as part of groups, maybe we should look harder at what keeps kids from committing crimes when they hang out with delinquent or gang-involved friends. Indeed, one flash mobber caught on tape was going back to the counter to pay for her candy, apparently guided by second thoughts.
Note: The full title of this research, funded by the District of Columbia through the District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute, is Delinquent Behavior, Gang Involvement, and Social Networks of Youths in the District of Columbia. Check back for the full final report in early 2012.
Filed under: Built Environment, Crime, Washington DC 1 Comment »
Mitch Downey Meagan Cahill
| Posted: September 1st, 2011
New Urban Institute research suggests that making extreme changes to public housing—like demolishing and rebuilding it— can benefit not only the public housing site and its residents, but the greater neighborhood as well.
In his 2003 book, When Public Housing Was Paradise, JS Fuerst depicts early public housing as a vehicle of upward mobility, moving working class and immigrant residents out of slums and tenements beginning in the late 1930’s. But, Fuerst demonstrates, by the 1980s, public housing had become synonymous with poor housing conditions, crime, and violence, stigmatizing many residents and cutting them off from the larger community.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development launched HOPE VI in 1992 to improve public housing conditions and to break up the clusters of very low income families that were the legacies of previous public housing strategies. Massive high rises with hundreds of units tucked away behind giant brick shields have been torn down and replaced with buildings that encourage safety and community through greater street access, ties to the surrounding neighborhood, and extensive social services. Initially, HOPE VI architects expected original residents to benefit, moving back in after redevelopment. That did not typically pan out. Instead, long redevelopment timelines and stricter regulations often meant a completely different set of residents moved into newly built units. So while HOPE VI emphasized the place, redevelopment also changed the face of public housing residents.
Crime reduction was part of the HOPE VI plan, and in 2010 the Urban Institute analyzed the impact of HOPE VI on crime in the immediate and surrounding areas of two sites in Southeast Washington, DC. Both Capitol Gateway (formerly East Capital Dwellings/Capital View Plaza) and Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg were built in the 1950s, and had long suffered from violence and concentrated poverty. Both were also home to redevelopment beginning in the early 2000s.
The graphs here show criminal incidents in the units before, during, and after the HOPE VI reconstruction. The blue lines are the public housing developments targeted by the program, and the red lines are comparable public housing developments that were left alone. The grey box indicates the construction period, when the development was empty of residents.
Crimes Per Month in Hope VI Sites, January 2000-September 2009
As the graphs show, crime fell during the reconstruction and stayed low afterward—not the case in comparable housing units. HOPE VI appears to have reduced crime by as much as 60%, and, as crime fell in the targeted units, it dropped in the surrounding neighborhoods too.
These results in DC were confirmed in Milwaukee, Wis., where crime in a HOPE VI site dropped about 50% after redevelopment and stayed low even when residents moved back in. Crime in a similar Milwaukee public housing development (that wasn’t redeveloped) did not drop as dramatically. The findings suggest that HOPE VI can boost safety in public housing and depressed communities and that we may be working toward a time when public housing can once again be a step up in society.
The full report detailing the analyses in both Milwaukee and Washington D.C., is available here.
Filed under: Built Environment, Washington DC 1 Comment »