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| Posted: May 24th, 2013
Yesterday afternoon, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, joined Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, Chief Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department, and The Urban Institute’s Nancy La Vigne for a panel discussion on 21st century drug policy reform. Their conversation revealed big changes in the way we address, treat, and even talk about drug issues in the United States.
Here are three ways drug policy is evolving:
The “War on Drugs” is over: One of the biggest shifts in recent years involves the way we frame organized efforts to reduce drug abuse among Americans. “War on Drugs,” a part of the American vernacular since its declaration by President Nixon more than 40 years ago, is no longer an accurate representation.
“[‘War on Drugs’] wasn’t going to define the Obama administration’s approach to the drug problem,” said Kerlikowske. “I could never really remember any of my colleagues around the country ever talking about it as a war on drugs. When you think about the oath of office that we took, to protect people, and to work with them and make sure they felt they had a law enforcement agency that could be trusted…The war analogy is not a particularly good one to use.”
We need more than “simplistic bumper sticker approaches” to fight drug abuse, Kerlikowske added, explaining that the American public is ready for a more substantial dialogue on the problem. It’s a trend that’s gaining traction globally as well—the Organization of American States just released a report that encourages more comprehensive drug policies.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” said Kerlikowske. “We have to approach drug policy from a public health standpoint, not just the criminal justice standpoint.”
In this regard, one of the administration’s priorities is equal access to drug treatment. “The Affordable Care Act is one important tool in this area,” said Kerlikowske. “It is revolutionary for drug policy. For the first time, it makes drug treatment for substance abuse disorders a required health benefit.”
Equal access to treatment also applies those in prison. Research (including our own) has shown that those who treat their addictions while incarcerated are less likely to commit additional offenses upon their release.
Drug courts, which stress treatment over punishment, are another important—and research-supported— piece of the puzzle.
There’s a new focus on “decriminalization” (but not necessarily legalization): Though no one on the panel expressed favor for blanket legalization, decriminalization received enthusiastic support, especially from Manger, the Montgomery County police chief.
Manger described the challenges faced by school resource officers, who are “taking dope out of lockers every single day.” As Manger put it, "nothing good happens when the only option we have is to charge [these kids] criminally, and see what kind of sanctions we can get from the courts. That’s not the way to go. That’s where decriminalization comes in."
“So many of the cases that we deal with are strictly possession cases,” Manger continued. “They’re cases that involve very minor, if any, other criminal activity, and those are the ones where decriminalization makes sense. Let’s get them the treatment they need.”
As the discussion came to close, all the panelists agreed that the future of drug policy reform looks promising, though not without a few challenges.
“We’ve made great strides, particularly in the last decade, in our thinking about drug policy, criminal justice policy, the reforms that have been enacted. It’s very different than it was at the height of the wars on crime and drugs in the ‘80s and early ‘90s,” said the Sentencing Project’s Mauer. “But I think we’re still at a point where changing politics, changing policy, changing culture is a very difficult thing to do, and we have a long way to go.”
Photo by Simona Combi, Urban Institute
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life |Tags: decriminalization, drug policy, drugs, Kerlikowske, ONDCP, public health, Urban Institute, war on drugs Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 23rd, 2013
Today, I spoke at the Urban Institute to call for the expansion of criminal justice reforms aimed at addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior in light of new data confirming the nexus between drug use and crime. The 2012 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II) shows that in five cities/counties, more than half of adult males arrested for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies tested positive for at least one illegal drug. According to ADAM II, positive test results among arrestees ranged from 62 percent in Atlanta to 86 percent in Chicago.
In 2004, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 53 percent each of jail and state inmates and 46 percent of Federal inmates suffered from drug use abuse or dependence – and yet only 7 percent of jail inmates, 15 percent of state inmates, and 17 percent of Federal inmates received treatment.
These data show that reform is needed. A month ago, the Obama Administration released the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy), the president’s plan for 21st century drug policy reform based on scientific research about the nature of addiction. This plan reflects our understanding of addiction as chronic brain disease—one that can be prevented, treated, and from which people can recover.
The Strategy also supports a “smart on crime” approach to drug enforcement, protecting communities from domestic and international drug-related crime while diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison. As part of this approach, our plan highlights promising criminal justice reform, like drug courts and smart probation programs that reduce incarceration rates, along with community-based policing programs that break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration while focusing limited enforcement resources on more serious offenses.
Far too often, addiction is at the root of what drives crime in our communities. To stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system in America, we must address not only serious criminal activities, but equally important, underlying substance use disorders. The ADAM II report confirms an urgent need to support policy reform outlined in the Obama Administration’s new drug policy strategy, which emphasizes prevention, treatment, and “smart on crime” policies that break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration in America.
To read the full 2012 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II) report, click here.
Photo by Simona Combi, Urban Institute
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life |Tags: crime, drug, drug policy, Kerlikowske, MetroTrends, ONDCP, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Jennifer Stoff John Roman
| Posted: March 29th, 2013
New York City Police Officer, Photo by Flickr user David Hilowitz, used under a creative commons license. (CC by 2.0)
It’s midnight. A cop stands on a street corner giving ad hoc counseling to a man in crisis. The crisis may have been brought on by drug or alcohol abuse or a mental health issue, or he may simply be despondent over his station in life.
In a scene repeated every night in cities across America, cops are providing the counseling because our social welfare infrastructure in our cities cannot handle the demand for their services. What is needed is an infusion of capital to revive our overburdened social service infrastructure.
The catch? These problems are politically intractable. Cash-strapped governments often can’t take on big, risky, expensive problems that cut across political boundaries and ideologies. Thankfully, many private citizens are eager to do so.
Social innovations that partner government, philanthropy, and the private and nonprofit sectors are proliferating across the country. Entrepreneurial philanthropists are engaged in cutting-edge thinking, leveraging their giving to solve difficult problems in sustainable ways, and sometimes even return a dividend that can become another gift. Solutions include everything from microlending to impact investing to benefit corporations to the human capital performance bonds signed into law in Minnesota.
But the star of the social innovation show, and the tool for cities to fix their human capital, digital, and social service infrastructure, is a financial instrument you’ve probably never heard of—the social impact bond. Social impact bonds infuse private capital into traditionally public-sector activities, helping build a better safety net while reducing the state’s burden to care for vulnerable citizens.
Launched last year by New York City and funded by the Bloomberg Foundation and Goldman Sachs, the first social impact bond invested almost $10 million in a program for young men being held at Rikers Island. The program helps prepare inmates with the skills they need to return to the community, succeed, and stay out of jail. MDRC, an independent research firm will manage the intervention and the Vera Institute will rigorously evaluate the program. If it works, only then will New York City have to repay the bond.
That idea—that investors, not the government—bear the risk for big, expensive, risky endeavors, is central to the success of social impact bonds. Investors are rewarded if performance targets are met; if not, the government does not have to pay for services delivered.
President Obama included $100 million in the 2012 budget for federal partnerships with states and local governments to launch social impact bonds. The Department of Justice has funded some initiatives, including a project at the Urban Institute to study the mechanics of bringing social impact bonds to cities across the country, and the Department of Labor will soon announce up to $20 million in awards for social impact bonds.
The federal government is pushing this initiative hard, not only because of its potential to infuse capital into cash-starved cities, but also because the model requires that funded programs are based on strong evidence. After decades of the federal government funding well-intentioned but often unsuccessful programs, this administration has fully committed to evidence-based governance.
And cities are hungry to implement the model. Under the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Liebman, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government has established the Social Impact Bond Lab to help cities implement SIBs. More than two dozen applied and many others are investigating the concept.
Putting Cities’ Social Innovations Under One Umbrella
What’s perhaps most exciting about this moment is that cities across the country are already exploring the social innovation concept—though without a unified strategy. Take the District of Columbia, for example. Just a few months ago, DC Mayor Vincent Gray awarded more than $4 million in grants to city agencies that were judged to have the most innovative plans for making the District more environmentally sustainable, but the city departments behind each initiative may not be aware of each other’s efforts. The District would benefit immensely from a strategy that contains such initiatives under a single social innovation umbrella, rather than uncoordinated, one-off attempts to infuse “innovation” into everyday work.
Call it the “Office of Urban Innovation.” The Office of Urban Innovation can solve problems that have stifled city innovation for years:
- promoting innovations that have positive citywide benefits but are more costly than a single agency can bear
- creating teams that span agencies—or even political boundaries—to transfer knowledge critical to program success
- creating new partnerships with philanthropies, venture capitalists, private companies, and other governments
Think it can’t work? The United Kingdom has an Office for Civil Society that does all of those things.
Social innovation may prove to be the mechanism that moves American city governments into the future. And cops can go back on the beat knowing trained counselors are there for the man in crisis.
Jennifer Stoff works in social policy and civil rights at the local level in the District of Columbia.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life |Tags: benefit corporations, Bloomberg Foundation, District of Columbia, Goldman Sachs, human capital performance bonds, impact investing, Jeffrey Liebman, Mayor Vincent Gray, microlending, police, social impact bonds, social innovation, social welfare Add a Comment »
| Posted: July 30th, 2012
About 10 years ago, I was part of a scientific team that reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of firearms legislation for reducing violence. Our team, a non-federal task force convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published findings in 2003 and 2005. We concluded—as New York Times columnist David Brooks recently mentioned—that there was no way to know whether any of those laws are effective. A panel convened by the National Research Council reached the same conclusion.
Our team examined seven types of gun laws, from bans on particular kinds of weapons to those that mandate easy access to concealed-weapons permits, sometimes called “right-to-carry” laws. Firearms restrictions are advocated to reduce the lethality of violence; right-to-carry laws are advocated as a means to deter criminals. But such laws do several things simultaneously. While intended to deter would-be offenders, right-to-carry may also spark an arms race that leads criminals to carry ever more dangerous firearms. And they also make it easier for conflicts to quickly escalate in lethality. Put such different effects together and it is hard to confidently predict the net benefit or harm.
Why can’t we tell if these laws increase or reduce violence?
There are two main reasons. First, we don’t do controlled experiments and randomly assign some people to be subject to gun laws. Instead, laws are passed in particular places at particular times. But the jurisdictions that pass such laws are different from those that don’t, so simple cross-sectional comparisons—which are very tempting—are not informative about the effects of those laws. Such laws aren’t passed at random times, either, so that simple before-and-after comparisons aren’t much better. Instead, convincing studies of the effects of such policies require hard thinking, good data, sophisticated analyses, and lots of peer review and replication. Even then, the results often prove inconclusive.
Second, U.S. crime data are terrible. Homicide data from public health systems are good, because almost all deaths in the U.S. are recorded. A few studies capitalized on them; results were mixed.
To look at violence generally, researchers rely on crime data. Our main source is the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), based on aggregate reports to the FBI from the more than 18,000 police departments in the country. Across jurisdictions, the variability in what is reported renders comparisons almost meaningless, especially at the county level. Criminologists—who agree on little else—have deemed using the UCR data to rank cities as “invalid, damaging, and irresponsible.” Reporting is also remarkably incomplete, not to mention the all-too-common claims of jurisdictions underreporting crime. (Our other primary other data source, the National Crime Victimization Survey, is nationally representative but too small to disaggregate to jurisdictions.)
Some statistically sophisticated studies have tried to estimate the effects of gun laws on violence, using UCR data. But in the end, you cannot build strong conclusions on unreliable data. The nascent National Incident-Based Report System would be much more reliable but is more expensive. The mission of the Bureau of Justice Statistics is to produce reliable criminal justice statistics, but it is underfunded. Over the past decade, the National Institute of Justice has tried to improve the UCR data, but these are baby steps. It is long past due for the United States to set up more valid and reliable crime reporting systems.
Meanwhile, in the absence of definitive evidence, what should we conclude about gun laws? Personally, I don’t see any reason not to ban assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Isn’t their only purpose to kill many people quickly? For most other weapons restrictions, the genie may be out of the bottle. So many guns are already in circulation that bans now have little chance of appreciably affecting criminal violence. Surprisingly, perhaps, the number of households with firearms may be declining.
What about right-to-carry laws and other attempts to allow more citizens to arm themselves for defensive purposes? As explained above, I don’t know whether such laws deter more everyday violence than they facilitate. I am confident that they would not deter mass shootings by assailants who expect to be caught and/or killed. Whether many armed civilian moviegoers would have been able to stop the latest shooter without harming many others in the crossfire is a more difficult question. I remain skeptical.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life 3 Comments »
| Posted: June 13th, 2012
Washington, DC, is a city where the gap between the rich and the poor is as extreme as in parts of the developing world. Just across the Anacostia River from the Capitol and the affluent communities of Capitol Hill, you find block after block of communities suffering all the ills of “concentrated disadvantage”—racial segregation, poverty, high rates of incarceration, and dismal health statistics. The city has one of the best-educated, most affluent populations anywhere—and in the neighborhoods east of the river, the highest rates of HIV infection in the nation.
To help combat these disadvantages in one DC community, we are launching a Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) site in Benning Terrace, a public housing development that is home to more than 200 extremely poor African-American households. Benning has a notorious history of gang- and drug-related violence and, although it is just a short drive from the Capitol, it feels extremely isolated. It sits next to other subsidized and public housing communities and, on one side, a neighborhood of small single-family homes. We spent two days in Benning getting to know the community and service providers and came away with new understanding of the factors that make DC such a hot spot for HIV and other STI’s. Benning is a place where it is difficult to get residents to talk about the risks that affect women, particularly sexual harassment and dating violence—not because these events are so traumatizing, but because they have become so ordinary.
I’ve written about this phenomenon before, but what we learned in Benning Terrace really highlighted what happens when concentrated disadvantage and low collective efficacy create what we’ve labeled a “coercive sexual environment.” The service providers and residents we spoke to talked readily about gang violence and the crisis that high rates of incarceration have created for the men in their community, but it was much harder to get them to talk about the sexualized violence and harassment that primarily affects girls. Once they did, they described a situation that is unimaginable in the more affluent Washington on the other side of the river—a community where it is normal to warn young girls not to ask older guys to buy them treats from the local store because the men will expect sexual favors from them when they get a little older, for girls to know no other way to get positive attention other than to flaunt their sexuality, and for kids to have no idea how to have healthy, non-sexual friendships. In Benning, domestic violence is such a pervasive problem that the group we spoke to couldn’t imagine being able to do anything about it—it was easier for them to think about reducing gang violence than to deal with the bigger, day-to-day problem.
HOST, with its intensive dual-generation service model, is seeking to interrupt this cycle of disadvantage, particularly the mechanisms that place girls at risk. But it is clear that helping Benning become a healthy community will require a partnership of its residents and dedicated service providers who can take on the big challenges that continue to undermine the life chances of every child who lives there.
Filed under: Built Environment, Crime, Quality of Life, Washington DC 4 Comments »
| Posted: May 16th, 2012
Recently the Los Angeles Times editorial board supported the Los Angeles Housing Authority’s decision to allow people leaving prison to qualify for a small pool of vouchers set aside for homeless people. Let me second that idea. I study homelessness and it’s well known in my field that prison and other correctional facilities are so-called “feeder intuitions” into shelters. Approximately 5 percent of single adults who enter shelters spent the previous night in a correctional facility, according to HUD data. Even more become homeless eventually. Spending your first night out in a homeless shelter—what kind of start is that? One that could result in recidivism and a quick return to prison. And too many do return. The evidence says as many as two-thirds of those who exit prison are rearrested within three years. That’s not good for returning prisoners, their families, the communities they leave, or, for that matter, taxpayers. Prison stays are expensive. Really expensive.
The Los Angeles Housing Authority is onto something with its housing voucher plan. Housing can be a platform for those exiting prison. That is, housing can provide more than just shelter; it can be a base from which people improve their lives. The link between recidivism and stable housing makes sense intuitively: persons with stable housing may be less likely to engage in criminal activities. They may also be more likely to find and keep jobs, reunify with their families, and become productive members of society.
As my colleagues Jocelyn Fontaine and Jennifer Biess note in a recent paper, we need more evidence to empirically document these links. That’s why we should be watching the Los Angeles experiment closely and encouraging other housing authorities to loosen “one-strike” provisions that keep people with criminal histories out of subsidized housing. Keeping people in housing could mean keeping them out of prison. Now that’s a novel idea.
Filed under: Built Environment, Crime, Quality of Life Add a Comment »
| Posted: March 31st, 2012
Last week, MetroTrends bloggers brought evidence to bear on both current controversies and future visions:
Filed under: Built Environment, Crime, Quality of Life, Urban Culture Add a Comment »
- John Roman and Mitch Downey assemble key facts on homicides to show that Stand Your Ground laws, like Florida’s, likely lead to miscarriages of justice.
- Margery Turner argues that affordable housing is a critical ingredient in DC’s efforts to ensure kids’ success in school.
- Barbara Ormond envisions a future of urban bike commuting – and the health benefits it could bring.
John Roman and Mitchell Downey
| Posted: March 29th, 2012
By any measure, the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was a tragedy. As has been widely reported, George Zimmerman was monitoring his community in an unofficial neighborhood watch role and spotted the teenaged Martin walking through the Sanford, Florida streets. Zimmerman found Martin to be suspicious and the altercation that ensued left Martin dead.
From this incident, important questions have been raised about “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws in place in Florida and 28 other states. In all states, private citizens have the right to use lethal force in their homes in self-defense. SYG laws extend that right to public places, such as the Sanford streets. And, these laws transfer the fact finding about whether the homicide was justifiable from a jury to law enforcement. That is, in most states without these laws, a jury must determine that the homicide was a justifiable use of lethal force in self-defense. In SYG states—including Florida—the shooter cannot be arrested unless law enforcement finds probable cause the shooting was unlawful.
That moves this crucial decision from the courtroom to the street and tilts the odds in favor of the shooter. Thus, the Trayvon Martin case provides ample evidence that SYG laws weaken justice.
While we cannot know for certain what happened in Sanford, we can look at years of homicide data to determine where the burden of proof should lie in these types of homicide cases. If there are types of homicide where shootings are often justified, SYG laws are reasonable. However, if there are few circumstances where shootings are justified, those laws will impede justice.
We turned to the Supplemental Homicide Report (SHR) maintained by the FBI, which includes all reported homicides in the US, including justifiable homicides, to determine what types of cases—and how often—civilian use of deadly force was justified.
First, it is important to note that justifiable homicides are exceedingly rare. Between January 2005 and December 2009 there were more than 73,000 homicides in the United States but less than 2 percent (1,148) were found to be justifiable.
We combed the data to identify homicides which resemble the known facts from the Trayvon Martin case—cases in which there was a single victim and a single shooter (both of whom were civilians and strangers) and in which the victim was killed by a handgun. We identified 4,650 of these cases in the SHR. Of these, just 10.9 percent (506) were ruled to be justifiable homicides.
However, we note that these numbers vary by whether a state is a SYG state. In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides under these circumstances are found to be justified. In non-SYG states, only 7.2 percent are justified.
We then looked for a scenario where homicides are justified more than half the time. It turns out that the scenario with the highest probability of being a justified homicide is much like the Martin case—a single, White civilian handgun shooter who is a stranger to (and older than) the Black victim. But even then, the shooting is found to be justified less than half the time.
Finally, we searched the SHR data for cases that matched all the facts of the Martin case (including ages and races). Out of 70,000 cases, we find that the homicides similar to the Martin case occurred just 23 times in five years. Of those 23 cases, only 9 (39 percent) were ruled to be justifiable homicides.
Since the overwhelming majority of shootings are not justified, it seems clear that SYG laws reduce the chance for justice by moving the burden of proof from the shooter to law enforcement.
In the Martin case, since Florida is a SYG state, the law strongly favors Zimmerman. It appears as though local law enforcement will not find probable cause that Zimmerman’s shooting was unjustified. By contrast, without the SYG law, it seems reasonable to predict that Zimmerman would not be able to demonstrate to a jury that the shooting was justified. Thus, history suggests Florida’s Stand Your Ground law will lead to a miscarriage of justice.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 60 Comments »
| Posted: February 25th, 2012
Last week’s MetroTrends bloggers addressed two very timely topics—one national and the other local (to DC):
- John Roman and Meagan Cahill offer much-needed context on fears about a crime surge in DC.
Filed under: Crime, Quality of Life Add a Comment »
- Erwin de Leon calls into question some of the worries expressed by the nonprofit sector about the President’s budget.