Buying Our Way Out of Crime Will Not Work
Religion & Liberty Online

Buying Our Way Out of Crime Will Not Work

Americans continue to be fed the false narrative that poverty causes crime rates to rise. While it is true that not having material needs met makes people vulnerable to do things like steal—even the Bible teaches that (Proverbs 30:8-9)—the ongoing reduction of morality and materiality is doing nothing but setting the stage for the failure of well-intended programs because we are missing core moral issues. One such idea is a New Haven, Connecticut plan to reduce crime rates by giving more welfare. The problems there were recently introduced in a New Haven News article:

“Economic inequality is one of the major factors driving crime trends,” said Mark Abraham ’04, executive director at Data Haven. Twelve percent of the African-American and Latino residents of New Haven could not afford to pay for housing in 2012, compared to just 4 percent of white residents, according to a March 2013 report compiled by the Greater New Haven Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The same report highlighted that 25 percent of African-Americans and 40 percent of Latinos did not have enough money to buy food at some point during 2012, compared to 15 percent of non-minority residents.

So what’s the solution, says William Ginsberg, president of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, which distributed over $21 million in grants last year to hundreds of city nonprofits? “This is my general philosophy: Whatever we can do—not only with social assistance, but also with education and professional training—it all contributes to people’s individual success in life and to a more stable and prosperous society.” More money and more programs is not a long-term, sustainable approach. In New Haven, the plan, then, is to “invest” millions of dollars in new public housing complexes for mixed income communities (although mixed income communities have miserably failed to achieve the social results desired all over America in cities like Chicago) and redistribute residents to other parts of the city. There are also plans to rehabilitate prisoners to re-enter society.

Here’s the problem: throwing money at social problems has never made any neighborhood better anywhere in America. In fact, in many cities around America these programs have done nothing but lower the crime rate by redistributing criminals to the suburbs. This is exactly what happened when, what is being proposed in New Haven, was done in Atlanta–the crime rate in one Atlanta suburb rose by 21 percent just a few years after a simple plan was implemented.

If we want to help people we must look at the whole person. Crime rates are high because people commit crimes. The question is, why do people commit crimes? The answer to that question may have an economic correlation but the primary disposition leading to crime is moral. Poverty does not cause crime but criminal behavior does. Blacks, for example, have always been poor throughout American history but the radical rates of crime in inner-city neighborhoods did not rise until charity and government programs started to compete with the holistic moral formation found only in the church.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.