«Moving to opportunity voluMe 14, nuMber 2 • 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
I am not sure why researchers, advocates, philanthropists, and policymakers who care deeply about improving the lives of poor people do not take the crime problem more seriously. Perhaps one reason might be lingering concern that the cure might be worse than the disease. America’s imprisonment rate has increased sevenfold since the 1970s, with minorities particularly affected (Western and Pettit, 2010).
A growing body of evidence, however, has shed light on different ways to prevent criminal behavior from occurring in the first place, which can lead to less crime and less imprisonment (Cook and Ludwig, 2011). For example, several studies suggest that stepped-up policing can deter criminal behavior (Evans and Owens, 2007; Owens, 2011; Zimring, 2011) and, because deterrence is a key mechanism, perhaps even reduce overall jail and prison commitments as well as crime, although 22 Moving to Opportunity
Guest Editor’s Introductiondoing urban policing in a way that is seen as fair and legitimate remains a challenge. Efforts to address deficits among at-risk young people in academic skills and nonacademic (or “social-cognitive”) skills like self-regulation, conflict resolution, and future orientation can also prevent criminal behavior (and hence also reduce incarceration rates) and improve people’s schooling outcomes at the same time (Heller et al., 2012; Hill et al., 2011; Lochner, 2011).
HUD itself could also try to get in the game and contribute to crime control through community development efforts that try to stimulate and support local “collective efficacy” (Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls, 1997) or provide young people with supervised, productive activities during high-crime periods.17 Given that such a large share of HUD’s budget is devoted to housing rather than urban development, efforts to improve safety would require putting the “UD” back in HUD.
In sum, I think there are three important lessons that come out of the last 15 years of MTO research that were not self-evident when the program started. The first is that the William Julius Wilson hypothesis that schooling and employment outcomes are strongly affected by the geographic concentration of poverty does not seem to be borne out, at least for very disadvantaged families of the sort that signed up for MTO. Second, neighborhood environments do seem to have surprisingly large impacts on an outcome domain that was not at all the focus of MTO when the demonstration began—health. Third, neighborhood safety might be even more important for families participating in MTO than anyone might have initially expected.
Acknowledgments The author thanks the principal investigator for the National Bureau of Economic Research’s longterm study of Moving to Opportunity, Lawrence F. Katz, and the other members of the research team: Emma Adam, William Congdon, Greg J. Duncan, Lisa A. Gennetian, Ronald C. Kessler, Jeffrey R. Kling, Stacy Tessler Lindau, Thomas W. McDade, and Robert Whitaker. This introduction to the symposium is based, in large part, on a series of conversations with them over the years. The author also thanks Patrick Sharkey for helpful discussions and Mark D. Shroder for his assistance in assembling this issue of Cityscape. A visiting scholar award from the Russell Sage Foundation and an Investigator Award in Health Policy Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported the writing of this introduction.
Author Jens Ludwig is the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The term supervised activities is used because some evidence from Jacob and Lefgren (2003) suggests that bringing young people together might prevent them from engaging in property crimes but creates some risk of elevated rates of violent behavior, because young people aggregated together might get into arguments that turn into fights.
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