Washington, D.C. has become one of several cities around the country to consider implementing an experimental new strategy to reduce violent crime: paying individuals with a high risk of offending not to commit crime.
It’s a controversial strategy, but one that has already been deployed in Richmond, California, where results have been interesting enough to attract national attention. The Richmond program recruits ex-convicts to mentor violent offenders and gang members, and offers incentives like counseling, community, and yes: even cash. The approach attempts to productively channel the power of peer-influence that often drives gang recruitment, while the money offers a temporary release-valve for those who might be tempted to turn to crime for a quick buck. While in the program, the at-risk individuals receive support services that address psychological issues and provide job training resources as rehabilitation.
Since success largely rests on the trust built between mentors and mentees, the program allows the mentors to refrain from informing police on past crimes or small infractions they may learn about through contact with their mentees—though monetary support and membership in the program can be revoked if a mentee is caught returning to crime. Though the mentors are paid by the city, the program’s recruitment depends on demonstrating that they are not simply acting as police informants, but are instead advocates fighting for the members’ best interests and the overall good of stopping violence.
Though the strategy is still being debated in the D.C. Council, no funding has been allocated for implementing it in D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s 2017 budget. The Mayor has been skeptical of adopting Richmond’s exact program, citing the lack of hard data proving its effect on Richmond’s homicide rate. Regardless, the City Council’s willingness to consider incentives and community-based solutions over purely punitive measures signals an openness to new alternatives to fight D.C.’s crime surge.