Live blog: Million Dollar Blocks – Using mapping tools to create safer communities

Students for Criminal Justice Reform at NYU teamed with The Urban Planning Student Association and The Black Student Alliance to present a program that outlined an alternative approach to criminal justice.

Crime in America on the increase, the rate of recidivism is high and it is costing the government millions of dollars to convict and incarcerate people.  Wouldn’t this money be better spent on the neighborhoods where prisoners are from?  Couldn’t the cost of locking people up be reinvested in the neighborhoods where they’re from in civic programs like health and education?  This is the concept of the ‘Million Dollar Block.’

To achieve this, we must be able to identify the neighborhoods that have a high concentration of offenders so that funds can be allocated appropriately.  Eric Cadora has found a way to capture this information through a mapping process.  He explains it to the audience:

Speaker: Eric Cadora, Founder and Director of the Justice Mapping Center.

What’s all this talk about mapping?

Cadora has a history of working with criminal and justice reform, but reached a point where he felt he reached a glass ceiling.  There was a pretty steady rate of incarceration in the 1970s where it reached around 200,000 people.  After that period, it skyrocketed over 2 million today.  This drove him to look at crime mapping in terms of how many people from a certain area have been incarcerated.

Mapping is done at different levels such as community districts, school districts or state senate districts, depending on the ‘audience,’ he says.

There is a difference between crime mapping and mapping where people who have been, or are currently incarcerated live.  Where people live and have been incarcerated is much more concentrated than than the distribution of crime, is the trend they found through mapping.

A map of NYC by census tracts with CD’s layered on top is up on the screen showing number of men admitted to prison. (It examines in terms of how many per 1000).
There are three major areas: the Bronx, upper Manhattan and Brooklyn that have the highest proportion of incarceration.  Together they make up approx 17 of total male population of NYC but account for over 50% of NY males sent to prison.

Prison Expenditure:
How much is being sent to incarcerate and then return people back to a given area?  There are certain areas in Brooklyn, for e.g. where it costs $1million to do this and in some cases up to $50 million.  So, the question is, is it right to spend all this money to send these people to prison only for them to come back after 4 years?  How about we bring these dollars back and reinvest in the neighborhood to  prevent crime and recidivism?

Getting government agencies to collaborate on the neighborhood level to address this is the next goal.   Taking Houston as an example, high rates of incarceration is also reflected by low performing schools in the area.  The idea that more criminal infrastructure is better than investing civil institutions is being challenged and brought in front of government.

To recap, the notion that certain city neighborhoods have a higher rate of incarceration rates than others is a national trend.  Another example given is Detroit which by the way, is “rampant with prison admissions.”

This mapping procedure can show the many hundreds of kids who have lost a parent to prison.  he greatest indicator of future incarceration is parental incarceration.

Again, the monetary cost of incarceration is in the millions.

The number of people being sent back to prison because of revoke of parole, failed drug tests – conditional and technical issues – as opposed to actual crime. Parole and probation is a broken system.  Parole officers are not sure what their role is any more, given that this type of recidivism can reach as high as 80% – are they 2nd class cops?  A type of social worker?  Should they, in future, be put into the neighborhood to manage those released?  Why not integrate them into other community based organizations there?

So, what do the policy makers do with all this information?

Speaker: Marshall Clement, Council of State Governments’ Justice Reinvestment Project.

A national, non -profit that represents all three branches of govnt. They give advice on policy issues.  The government’s three main concerns regarding criminal justice at the moment are: increases in crime, the rising number of the prisons in the U.S. which predicted to keep increasing and the lack of money in the current economic climate.

California’s response to its high crime rate has been to push a giant building program.  Another consideration is early release which is not a popular option.

So, a third possible solution that would include: use mapping to analyze data to look at crime and court corrections, implement policy changes and establish greater accountability at government level.

Some states are interested in implementing this, for e,g Kansas, Texas and Michigan.

Kansas Case Study
In 2007, it’s prisons were reaching capacity so the state was planning to build an extra 2000 beds which would amount to 1/2 a billion dollars over a 10 year period.  By implementing the three elements outlined above, the state has significantly decreased crime and with less demand now for capacity has saved approx $80 million over a 5 year period.

Michigan and Texas were also presented as case studies.

The statistic that one out of every 3 state employees in Michigan are parole officers provoked a gasp from the audience, mostly comprised of urban planning and public policy students from NYU.  About 30 people turned out for the presentation.

A question and answer session followed:

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