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Quality of Life Archive
Nancy La Vigne
| Posted: February 27th, 2014
People of color – especially young men – face many institutional hurdles to reaching their full potential. Chief among these is the expansive net of the criminal justice system— a net that is more likely to ensnare black and brown men at every step in the process. They are more likely to be stopped and frisked, to have their cars searched during traffic stops, and, when convicted of a crime, to receive longer prison sentences than whites.
This disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system compounds the many other systemic barriers young men of color often face, like living in high-poverty neighborhoods with poor schools, more crime, and fewer job opportunities.
That’s why I’m so pleased that the Obama administration’s upcoming initiative to support young men of color as they surmount these barriers includes mention of the criminal justice system. The announcement also includes two other key points: Data will drive the identification and establishment of best practices, and it will focus on “key moments in the lives of these young men where interventions have been shown to have the greatest impact.”
Some of these key moments occur early in young men’s lives, as they first encounter the criminal justice system in the form of police officers on the street, in their schools, and in their homes.
Roughly 30 percent of incarcerated parents report that their minor children were present at the time of their arrest. Boys who witness arrests that are violent, disrespectful, or involve foul language or physical violence are unlikely to view cops as the good guys. The manner in which police interact with children of the arrested – as well as with the arrested parents themselves – has particularly important implications for future community relationships. If handled inappropriately, the community could begin to view the police as an oppressive force in the neighborhood, undermining law enforcement’s legitimacy.
Yet most law enforcement agencies offer little guidance on an officer’s role in ensuring the safety of a child whose custodial parent has been arrested, and few uniform policies exist to guide law enforcement in attending to the arrestee’s children or determining where these children will be placed.
Negative perceptions of the police are further aggravated in cities that use intensive “stop and frisk” practices in high-crime areas. These tactics disproportionately target people of color, often arresting them for low-level drug possession that would otherwise go unnoticed, and further erode relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. In other words, a widespread crime-fighting tactic is teaching young men of color to distrust the criminal justice system while pulling them disproportionately into it.
This, then, is a key moment of intervention. How could we do better? Evidence points to one of the basic tenets of community policing, which is to enlist the community as equal partners in public safety. Doing so demands interacting with residents respectfully and justifiably. When citizens feel like the police are treating them with respect, they are more likely to judge their treatment as fair, whether they’re arrested or released.
Other key moments in the lives of young men of color occur within public schools, where increased use of zero tolerance policies, enhanced police presence of school resource officers post-9/11, and rising rates of suspensions can eventually channel boys into the juvenile justice system.
These three ways the criminal justice system can restrain the advancement of young men of color also also offer critical opportunities for tearing down barriers to life success. We already know so much about best practices, and encouraging rigorous evaluation and implementation will help us continue to find new solutions. Doing so can dramatically improve young men’s life chances by reducing the odds of negative encounters with the criminal justice system.
In this Wednesday, June 20, 2012 file photo, Det. Anthony Mannuzza, left, and Police Officer Robert Martin, right, simulate a street stop during a training session at the New York Police Department's training facility in Rodman's Neck, in the Queens borough of New York, as the NYPD was re-training thousands of officers on how to do street stops amid a wave of criticism about the department’s controversial stop, question and frisk policy. In the ongoing federal trial over stop and frisk, lawyers for men who have sued police are seeking to show a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic men are being wrongly stopped in part because officers are under too much pressure to keep enforcement numbers up. (AP Photo/Colleen Long, File)
Filed under: Crime |Tags: crime, criminal justice system, Obama, prison, stop and frisk, Urban Institute, young men of color Add a Comment »
| Posted: February 18th, 2014
It’s time to separate race and US firearms policy.
Racial disparities exist throughout the American judicial system. As I’ve written before, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be stopped and frisked, to have their car searched at a traffic stop, to be arrested and convicted on a drug offense (even though they are less likely to consume illegal drugs—see Figure 18), and to receive the death penalty.
But it wasn’t until the shooting of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s subsequent trial that another huge racial disparity became evident. African Americans who kill a white victim are ten times less likely to be deemed justified in killing than whites who kill a black victim. The recent trial of Michael Dunn, who was charged with the murder of Jordan Davis, pushed the issue back in the spotlight.
That disparity is not proof that there is racial animus in criminal justice system case processing. But potential sources of any disparity need to be examined empirically, and the magnitude of this disparity is so large that it warrants particular attention.
It’s pure speculation on my part, but I believe that most Americans would be appalled by this apparent injustice and seek remedies if the issue was not so clouded by disputes around the Second Amendment. Those who favor gun rights want to see gun ownership protected, which might make them more open to a narrative where the victims of these crimes deserved their fate. Those who favor gun control might be more open to a narrative where the dead are victims only.
But if we were to separate the Second Amendment issues from the racial disparity question, we would ask a different set of questions. We would ask what differentiates homicides with a black shooter and a white victim from those with a white shooter and black victim.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires local law enforcement to submit data on homicides, which are available to the public through the Supplementary Homicide Reports. These data describe each event, whether the victim and offender knew each other, what kind of weapon was used, whether either was law enforcement, and whether the homicide was ruled to be justified.
But what’s lacking in these data is the context of the killing. We know that homicides with a black perpetrator and a white victim are more likely to be robberies or burglaries that go sideways and end up in death—we just don’t know how often this happens. Are robberies gone bad 10 times more likely with a black assailant? We don’t know. But we need to find out to understand this disparity.
The flip side is that we also do not know much about white-on-black killings. We know that between 2005 and 2009, there were about 80,000 homicides in the United States. Since we don’t know who the killer was in about 40 percent of murders, we only know all the facts of the case in a little less than 50,000 homicides.
But, out of just under 50,000 homicides, an older white man killed a younger black man with a gun when they were strangers and neither was law enforcement only 23 times. Dunn and Zimmerman thus participated in extremely rare events. Neither was convicted, which was the outcome of nine of the 23 cases with that fact pattern (39 percent). By contrast, when a black American kills a white American, it is ruled to be justified about 1 percent of the time.
This issue deserves much greater examination, and it would be relatively easy to study. What’s missing from the FBI data is the context of the crime—in particular, whether it occurred on a street or in a home. If there is less than a tenfold difference in where these crimes occur, that suggests the disparity is unwarranted.
The problem is, we are having two debates simultaneously. We are debating the meaning of the Second Amendment at the same time we are grappling with racial disparities in the most serious of crimes.
If we can divorce race and firearms, we can talk about racial disparities in America and figure out if we need to create a more just system.
And then we can talk about the Second Amendment.
Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson, left, points at the defendant Michael Dunn, far right, as he speaks to his attorney, Cory Strolla, second from right, during the state's closing arguments in Dunn's trial, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla. Dunn is charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenient store in 2012. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack, Pool)
Filed under: Crime |Tags: george zimmerman, guns, homicide, Jordan Davis, Michael Dunn, race, second amendment, Trayvon Martin, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: February 18th, 2014
Critics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) want it both ways. They decry its disruption of health insurance coverage for those who have it, while asserting they too want Americans to have affordable coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions.
But we can’t have health reform without disrupting somebody. A good look at the ACA relative to alternatives demonstrates how modest – and helpful – its disruption really is.
In my latest brief, I explore how the ACA threaded the needle to minimize disruption of the already-covered, placing it in historical context and comparing it to reform alternatives.
The brief covers:
- Why disruption is inevitable and how careful ACA designers were to minimize it;
- How the ACA leaves employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) fundamentally unchanged for the 100 million people covered by large employers;
- How the ACA targets its reforms to make broken insurance markets work for small businesses and individuals.
Yet even modest disruption encourages the belief that “there’s got to be a better way” to make insurance available, adequate, and affordable. So read on to consider:
- How comprehensive alternatives to the ACA, coming from the left or right, would disrupt all or most of the 170 million people who rely on ESI and
- How even modest measures touted as alternatives to the ACA’s market regulation would disrupt existing coverage that spreads health care risks.
No one likes disruption, but, relative to alternatives, the ACA’s disruption is modest in scope, cushioned by subsidies, and will benefit all participants over time.
Doctor's office lobby image from Shutterstock
Filed under: Health Care |Tags: ACA, disruption, health, Obamacare, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Linda J. Blumberg
and John Holahan Judy Feder
| Posted: February 11th, 2014
The Obama administration yesterday announced further delays in the so-called “employer-mandate.” This provision of the Affordable Care Act would assess penalties on large employers not providing adequate, affordable insurance coverage to their workers if any of their full-time employees obtained subsidized coverage through a Marketplace. Some political controversy surrounded last summer’s first employer mandate delay, but, as we wrote then, such a move is unlikely to have much impact on the implementation of Obamacare.
In fact, the penalties are neither a driving force behind expanding coverage nor an important source of federal revenue. This excerpt is from our July post:
As we have explained elsewhere, there is very little in the ACA that changes the incentives facing employers that already offer coverage to their workers, and fully 96 percent of employers with 50 or more workers already offer coverage today. Competition for labor, the fact that most employees get greater value from the tax exclusion for employer sponsored insurance than they would from exchange-based subsidies, and the introduction of a requirement for individuals to obtain coverage or pay a penalty themselves, are the major factors that will keep the lion’s share of employers continuing to do just what they do today with no requirements in place to do so.
Lessons from the Massachusetts health reform experience are instructive here as well. The Massachusetts law has substantially lower penalties for non-offering employers than does the ACA – the Massachusetts Fair Share Requirement is a maximum of $295 per worker, compared to a potential ACA maximum of $2,000 per worker. However, nominal as those assessments are, employer-sponsored insurance actually increased post-reform, as our analyses done prior to implementation predicted. This increase in employer based coverage was the consequence of individuals facing a new requirement to obtain insurance coverage and deciding their preferred source of coverage if they had to get it was their employer.
Throughout the development and the implementation of the ACA, there has been more worry than warranted that employers will drop insurance coverage. The current furor over the delay of the employer penalties appears to be more of the same. With or without the penalties, most people will still get coverage through their employers; the fundamental structure of the law will remain intact.
Office picture from Shutterstock
Filed under: Economy, Health Care |Tags: ACA, coverage, employer mandate, Obamacare, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Nancy La Vigne
| Posted: January 23rd, 2014
As President Obama prepares his State of the Union address, he’d do well to devote attention to our highly troubled state and federal prison systems. Our incarcerated population has grown rapidly, recidivism rates are high, and the costs to taxpayers are unsustainable.
The good news is that a large and growing body of research provides clear and actionable data on both the problems and their tried-and-true solutions.
The prison system and public safety
For decades, we’ve incarcerated people at alarmingly high rates. Until just recently, the growth rate of the prison population has been equally disturbing, with the latest tally of people housed in state and federal prisons coming in at about 1.5 million*.
The exponential growth of the federal prison population poses safety risks for prisoners and staff alike. What’s more, it limits access to services like education and drug-treatment programs that are critical to preventing recidivism—making overcrowding a danger to us all.
These risks come with a great financial burden. The federal Bureau of Prisons’ budget for FY 2014 is $6.9 billion, a quarter of the DOJ’s entire budget. Without meaningful reforms, that share will grow to a third within the decade. Such massive correctional spending comes at a huge cost to other important public safety investments.
Can we reverse the tide?
Despite these obstacles, there is reason for optimism. Several states have already made meaningful reforms to their state prison systems by funding smart, research-backed public safety strategies that reduce incarceration rates and save money. Similar strategies can work throughout the prison system.
Other research has also shown us how important it is to support former prisoners with tailored supervision and services as they reenter society. This support sets them up for success by connecting them to positive social networks and employment. Without these, they are far more likely to reoffend.
So, what can we do to prevent our prisons from further overcrowding?
Research indicates that a host of reforms will be needed to reduce the growth of the federal prison system, such as:
- Reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences
- Giving judges discretion in the application of mandatory minimums
- Lowering the minimum share of a sentence an offender is required to serve
There are also key lessons to be learned from the states, as we document in our soon-to-be released report on the groundbreaking Justice Reinvestment Initiative. For example:
- How proven risk-assessment tools can help courts and judges evaluate the likelihood of recidivism.
- Why some offenders may be far better served with community- rather than prison-based treatment programs, saving taxpayers money.
- How reducing sentence lengths, streamlining parole systems, and expanding eligibility can also reduce prison times and cut spending on unnecessary incarceration.
These and other strategies benefit prisoners who fall at the mercy of harsh sentences and long prison terms. Creative solutions like these help people stay out of prison and save taxpayers money.
It’s time to invest in these reforms, for the millions of Americans in our prison system—as well as for those who aren’t.
Follow Nancy La Vigne on Twitter at @NLVigne
*This post has been corrected from a previous version to reflect that there are 1.5 million state and federal prisoners, not 7 million. Our apologies.
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: criminal justice, Obama, prison, reform, SOTU, State of the Union, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: January 14th, 2014
Later this month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will conduct its yearly Point-in-Time count to determine how many Americans are homeless on a single night. The most recent count found 610,042 people experiencing homelessness on that night in January 2013, four percent fewer than in 2012.
This decline was widespread. Overall homelessness decreased by 9 percent between 2012 and 2013, and is down among all reported subpopulations. The number of military veterans experiencing homelessness decreased by eight percent, from 62,619 to 57,849, and the number of homeless families decreased by eight percent, from 77,157 to 70,960. These figures continue a downward trend that has been apparent since 2007, the first year with reliable national data.
The decline in homelessness despite the housing crisis, the Great Recession, sequestration, and a weak recovery is regarded as a “public policy triumph,” and the fanfare is warranted. Opening Doors, the first national plan to prevent and end homelessness, has helped sharpen focus and increase accountability among federal agencies. The Housing First model, which prioritizes immediate placement into permanent housing instead of making housing contingent upon substance abuse treatment, sobriety, or other milestones, has emerged as a best practice for ending homelessness for even the hardest cases.
Supportive housing for those facing challenges like mental illness, addiction, and HIV/AIDS has become more widely available since 2007. Congress has funded more than 50,000 new HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing units for veterans since 2008 and created the Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a $300 million annual homeless prevention and rapid re-housing program.
These policies have focused primarily on veterans and the chronically homeless, people with disabilities that have been homeless a year or more or four or more times in the last three years, nearly all of whom are individuals. So it is more difficult to explain the decline in family homelessness, particularly since the affordable housing crisis has gotten worse.
Congress has not authorized significant new investment in family homelessness programs since 2011. That year, the number of families with worst-case needs— that is, paying more than half their income on rent or living in severely inadequate housing—reached 8.5 million, up 44 percent from 2007. And 21.8 million households were living “doubled up” with family and friends, an 11-percent jump from 2007. The Department of Education’s report on homeless students, which, unlike HUD’s figures, includes doubling up, reported 1.1 million homeless students using public schools in the 2011-2012 school year, a 72 percent increase from pre-recession levels.
Meanwhile, rental assistance, one of the best antidotes to homelessness, has become scarcer because of sequestration.
But a few factors may help explain the decline.
First, the stimulus-funded Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program expired in 2012. The three-year, $1.5 billion program provided assistance to more than a million people, and helped prevent homelessness from surging following the recession. But it has not been replaced by any new federal prevention or rapid re-housing program of a similar size.
Secondly, some programs that provide temporary rental assistance for homeless families have been re-classified from transitional housing programs to rapid re-housing programs. Because families receiving rapid re-housing assistance are living in their own homes and can continue living there after program assistance ends, HUD does not consider them homeless and they are not counted as such. It is unknown how many families were affected by this re-classification, but communities did report 11,860 fewer transitional housing beds in 2013 than in 2012.
Finally, the count of homeless families and, by extension, the accuracy of that count, is constrained by the availability of shelter. Families are much less likely than individuals to sleep on the streets, even under the most dire circumstances. Only a handful of areas, including the state of Massachusetts; New York City; Hennepin County, MN; Columbus, OH, Montgomery County, MD, and Washington, DC (during hypothermia season), guarantee homeless families a right to shelter. Since 2007, the number of homeless families in these right-to-shelter areas has increased 34 percent. In the rest of the country it has decreased by 24 percent.
This decline does not necessarily reflect a reduced need for shelter. The 2013 U.S. Conference of Mayors Report on Hunger and Homelessness found that in 17 of the 21 cities included in its survey, emergency shelters had to turn away families with children because there were no available beds. So, paradoxically, unless they happen to be outside during an annual Point-in-Time count, families who are turned away from a shelter are denied not only a bed but inclusion in official statistics.
There are many reasons to cheer the steady decline in chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans. However, the reported decrease in family homelessness appears to underestimate the need for shelter in many communities. The solution is not necessarily to build more shelters, but to build more affordable housing and make it more accessible for families that are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Chart by Tim Meko, Urban Institute
Filed under: Built Environment, People, Quality of Life |Tags: homelessness, housing, policy, veterans 6 Comments »
| Posted: January 14th, 2014
The idea of holding children less responsible for their crimes has been common law for centuries. But what age marks the line between childhood and adulthood?
In 1996, 13 states tried youth under 18 as adults. Today, only nine do— and many of those states are revisiting that choice.
While raising the age for adult criminal responsibility is an important step, such measures do not go far enough. As every parent knows—and every child eventually realizes—defining a bright line between childhood and adulthood has always created a false dichotomy. It is time to consider the idea that there should be a place in our legal system for those who commit crimes who are no longer children, but are not yet fully adults.
Consider this question: What is so magical about an 18th birthday?
At one time, the 16th birthday held some of 18’s clout, and its passage was commemorated with eligibility for a driver’s license. Now many states greatly limit 16- and 17-year-old drivers. Eighteen was long considered the moment when you were transformed into a sober adult who could maturely handle your liquor. Deaths and dismemberment from drunken teen drivers showed the folly of that notion. The private sector goes further, banning teens from renting cars and inflating early twenty-something’s rental and auto insurance rates. (On a more positive note, the new Affordable Care Act allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until they are 26.)
Where did the mystical adult-defining properties of 18 come from? Three places, I think. For one, 18 is generally the age when young people leave their parents’ nests and go to college. But colleges have begun to re-think their role in loco parentis, placing increased restrictions on those behaviors many young adults would happily engage in if left to their own devices, like binge drinking and hazing.
Second, while you can enlist in the military at age 17 with your parents’ permission, the decision is all yours at 18—but with an extremely important caveat: You can be a soldier at 18, but not an officer. Society is happy to have teens as grunts, but not as leaders.
Finally, the youth movement of the 1960’s and opposition to the Vietnam War led to the 1971 adoption of the 26th amendment, setting the right to vote no higher than 18.
Those last two points are inextricably tied—those who might be cannon fodder should have the right to decide in part who sends them to war. But that says next to nothing about whether they are fully formed adults.
While 18-year-olds are certainly capable of handling many adult responsibilities, the evidence that young adults are not fully emotionally mature is growing. This graphic tells the story quite clearly. While intellectual ability approaches average adult levels around age 18, psychological maturity is well below adult levels until the mid-20s.
And evidence is increasing that housing juveniles in adult facilities is detrimental not just to their futures, which are limited by restrictions on where they can live, what jobs they can do, and who they can associate with. Treating juveniles as adults increases the number of crimes they commit as adults, making all of us less safe.
As we move toward a national consensus that youth under age 18 are too young to be treated as adults, we should broaden the discussion to include whether young adults are too immature to be subject to the adult criminal justice system.
Should we embrace what every parent knows: That there is a third period in the maturation process where people are no longer children, but not yet adults? A three-tiered justice system, including a system for 18 to 25 year-olds, could improve the futures of youth who have committed crimes and enhance public safety as well.
Follow John Roman on Twitter at @JohnKRoman.
Illustration by Daniel Wolfe, Urban Institute
Filed under: Crime, People |Tags: crime, criminal justice, incarceration, jail, justice policy, prison 2 Comments »
| Posted: January 8th, 2014
Genevieve Kenney and Stephen Zuckerman also contributed to this post.
Launched early last year, the Health Reform Monitoring Survey, or HRMS, is a quarterly survey of the nonelderly designed to provide timely information on implementation issues under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and changes in health insurance coverage and related health outcomes.
The HRMS relies on GfK’s KnowledgePanel® to assess ACA implementation and identify trends in key outcomes related to the ACA. The HRMS provides quarterly data on health insurance coverage, access to and use of health care, health care affordability, and self-reported health status. Beginning in the second quarter of 2013, each round of the HRMS also contains topical questions focusing on timely ACA policy issues.
Where possible, HRMS questions are based on questions used in federal government surveys—including the American Community Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Current Population Survey, and the National Health Interview Survey—and the data collected are benchmarked against those federal data.
Today, we’re releasing two new policy briefs on the HRMS site: one on consumers’ prior experiences with the nongroup health insurance market, and another on the perceptions of health insurance costs among the currently uninsured. Earlier briefs assessed consumers’ understanding of basic health insurance terms, insurance literacy among uninsured adults eligible for Medicaid, and the factors influencing insurance plan choices among likely Marketplace shoppers.
Core funding for the HRMS is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Urban Institute. The Child Supplement is supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and an anonymous donor and is conducted in partnership with the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. Other donors provide supplemental funding to support targeted oversamples and special analyses.
Filed under: Health Care Add a Comment »
| Posted: December 30th, 2013
From crime myths to SNAP cuts, in 2013, our bloggers covered it all. You voted (inadvertently, with your pageviews), and here are your top five MetroTrends posts of the year.
5) Is American criminal justice color-blind? The statistics say no. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, John Roman of the Justice Policy Center analyzed data that show black-on-white homicides are far less likely to be ruled justified than homicides in which the races are reversed.
4) Poverty, race, and place: Map your metro. Graham MacDonald and Margery Turner of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center unveiled a new interactive tool to explore issues of poverty and race in their neighborhoods.
3) Ten myth-busting facts about welfare. In this post, the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population’s Heather Hahn debunked persistent myths about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
2) Stand Your Ground laws and miscarriages of justice. Along with his colleague, Mitchell Downey, Roman makes another appearance on the list with this 2012 post on Stand Your Ground laws and racial disparities.
1) Where do criminals get guns? Justice Policy Center Researcher Sam Bieler’s piece on the policy implications of our lack of knowledge about where criminals get guns was, by far, the most popular MetroTrends post of 2013.
Filed under: Crime |Tags: crime, poverty, race, stand your ground, SYG, tanf, Trayvon, Urban Insitute, welfare Add a Comment »