FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Ashton
Phone: 202-558-7974 ext. 304
Email: [email protected]
W ashington, DC – A nearly decade-long failure of the Bowser Administration to fund and implement evidence-based strategies to prevent violence and strengthen communities has contributed to the context for increased crime and violence. A new policy brief by the Justice Policy Institute, Missed Opportunities: Why Inaction on Preventative Measures Undermines Public Safety in Washington, DC, found that a lack of leadership on proactive public safety strategies, instability in key executive agencies, and little coordination of efforts by government officials have left the District ill-prepared to respond to alarming increases in some crimes.
“It is disheartening to hear Mayor Bowser and others calling for a return to the costly and ineffective responses of the ‘tough on crime’ era. You cannot arrest and incarcerate your way to safe neighborhoods. The Council has understood this and supported reforms that were consistent with research and best practices. Unfortunately, the mayor was absent and failed to support and fund prevention efforts that could have saved more lives. And now Mayor Bowser, who has spent the past year obfuscating and passing blame, thinks we should listen to her about how to make communities safer?” questioned Justice Policy Institute Interim Executive Director Paul Ashton.
Though once considered a national leader in innovative and proactive strategies for safe communities, the District has changed course recently and years of progress are beginning to unravel. During a period of historically low crime rates, District leaders identified, legislated, and launched several smart strategies to prevent future violence, but few have been fully funded or implemented. For example:
- Progress Has Stalled on Implementation of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieve Results (NEAR) Act. In 2016, the Washington, DC Council unanimously passed the NEAR Act, which provided a comprehensive, public-health framework that centered community-based solutions to promote public safety and reduce crime in the District. However, reports by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor in 2022 and 2023 documented wide variations in the implementation of various provisions of the NEAR Act.
- Leaders Have Taken Limited Action on the Gun Violence Reduction Strategic Plan. In 2022, the Washington, DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Office of Gun Violence Prevention commissioned a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence in the District. Subsequently, Mayor Bowser launched the People of Promise initiative that focuses resources and supports on 200 people identified as being at the highest risk of violence in the city. But a year and a half in, we have no information on how many people the program has reached, how it has been implemented, or what outcomes it has produced.
- Effective Programming like the Young Men Emerging (YME) Unit in the Washington, DC Jail is Faltering. The YME unit in the Washington, DC Jail is an innovative program launched in 2018 that pairs people serving long sentences with emerging adults aged 18 to 25, in the jail. Mentors support rehabilitation, help mentees navigate the criminal legal system, and prepare them for next steps in a community setting or a federal facility. However, following a change in leadership at the Department of Corrections, several programs in the jail have been dropped.
- Washington, DC’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 Remains Unfunded. In December 2022, the Washington, DC Council unanimously passed the Act to increase accountability and improve transparency in cases of officer misconduct. It included recommendations from the Police Reform Commission report that made more than 100 specific recommendations for reducing reliance on police and improving civilian oversight, including strategies to invest in community-based violence prevention and intervention. Neither the Washington, DC Council nor the mayor has moved to appropriate funds for the Act’s implementation nor advanced additional recommendations from the Police Reform Commission report.
The mayor lacks a comprehensive public safety strategy and has presided over substantial instability within executive agencies, which undermines coordination and effectiveness. Further, recent policy proposals by both the Council and the Mayor’s Office harken back to the “tough on crime” playbook of the 1990s that fueled mass incarceration and did little to address the underlying causes of crime. District leaders are moving in the wrong direction by allowing effective programming and promising ideas to wither on the vine and leaning into surveillance and corrections strategies to address upticks in crime.
“It is long past time for District leaders to fund and implement the smart, innovative strategies proposed to prevent and address violence. This includes investing more in Credible Messengers, creating pathways for youth to thrive, and hearing directly from young people like me on what we need to succeed,” said Justice Policy Institute Emerging Adult Fellow Desmond Barr.
Immediate steps the mayor should take to improve neighborhood public safety include:
- Improve coordination between agencies working to prevent and address violent crime;
- Focus comprehensive resources on the specific people at the center of violence;
- Implement a holistic public health approach to violence prevention and intervention and invest in supports and services in communities disproportionately impacted by crime and legal system involvement;
- Fund efforts to build community trust and efficacy in policing; and
- Evaluate and sustain effective programs and initiatives.
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is a national research and policy advocacy organization that partners with communities affected by crime and the criminal legal system to build better safety solutions.