RE: Why the Disparity?
Kudos to Mr. Carter for his holistic and developmental approach to reducing violent crime in New Orleans. The past 30 years of crime control policies in cities and states across the country have emphasized a “get tough” strategy that has done little to reduce violent crime, and much to increase the number of mostly poor and black people incarcerated and drain cities and states of tax dollars. There are a number of reasons why this strategy hasn’t worked, but the most important ones are that it treats people in isolation from their environments, and it conceptualizes criminal behavior too narrowly. The criminal behavior most of us will agree needs to be address is really violent behavior. Violence is abnormal behavior; it’s the way some people adapt to particularly strenuous, isolated, and deprived environments. To better address violence we need to think of it as developing out of early childhood and the stresses, anxieties, and learning environments experienced across a number of areas of life, such as family, friends, schools, and jobs. Mr. Carter’s seems to “get” this.
In general, kids who benefit from strong supports are less likely to develop into violent teen-agers and young adults. The most promising programs are those that work to reduce the anxiety and stress new parents face, especially poor, single parents. Programs that help train expecting and new parents in child raising skills and put them in contact with important resources such as health care, transportation, and finding stable housing are likely to result in less anxiety and stressful home environments. Children and parents are able to develop stronger and more positive bonds with each other, and parents can better monitor and correct their child’s behavior. Affordable and accessible day cares and job training programs are also part of the equation, as they allow parents time to work, save money, and invest in their families. Schools are also important since they serve as the environments where kids learn how to interact with others, make friends, and find non-violent and positive sources of value in their lives. Small student to teacher ratio is key, as is mental health (school counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists) and a supportive, positive environment.
Mr. Carter’s strategy to reducing violent behavior is both ambitious and rooted in science. Further, it’s nice to see Police Superintendent Serpas supportive of these efforts. City hall and residents should be supportive as well, but also aware that things won’t change overnight. The city’s violent crime rate next year might look a little better or a little worse. In either case, it’d be too soon to note any measurable impact of any one of these programs, especially given the numerous ways social isolation and marginalization bread unwanted behavior.