Jurisdictions that make extensive use of parole tend to have higher recidivism rates because more of their returning citizens are under the surveillance of parole officers and subject to onerous parole conditions that, if violated, could send them back to prison. “Comparing virtually any group of states or cities with simple, aggregate recidivism figures is inherently misleading and should constitute statistical malpractice,” according to criminologists Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported last fall that neighborhoods with Cure Violence sites had significant crime reductions compared with similar areas without them. In the East New York site run by Man Up, gun injury rates fell by 50 percent over four years; the control site in East Flastbush fell by only 5 percent. Similarly, shootings were down by 63 percent in the Save Our Streets South Bronx area, but only 17 percent in the East Harlem control neighborhood.
Rather than asking “what’s the recidivism rate?” we should ask an entirely different set of questions about justice interventions. Are we really helping people convicted of crimes to form better relationships with their families and their law-abiding friends? Are we helping them to advance their educational goals? Are they more likely to develop the skills and abilities required for stable employment? Are we helping them to respect others and to participate positively in the civic and cultural life of their communities?
"Nothing in the governor's plan ensures that Wisconsin will have an effective approach to youth justice," cautioned Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. "Poor implementation and ineffective management can ruin the best of plans."
Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said the Wisconsin prisons’ problems come from poor management. Staff who argue they need things like pepper spray, solitary confinement and shackles are saying “our culture within the facility has become so corrupted by violence we have no other options,” he said. The methods “are not necessary, they don’t work and they just lead to more violence,” said Butts, who has researched youth justice for nearly three decades.
They have prior criminal records but now aim to resolve neighborhood conflicts before they turn violent. They walk neighborhood streets on a daily basis and use their connections to resolve disputes before they escalate, requiring the police. These “violence interrupters” and their tactics helped to drive down crime in East New York and the South Bronx, two neighborhoods analyzed in a John Jay College of Criminal Justice report.
Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is studying the effectiveness of Cure Violence, said it is unfair to argue that the arrest of an outreach worker means that the entire program should be disbanded. Everyone loves to jump on this story every time,” Butts said. “We never do that when a police officer shoots an innocent person. We may say, ‘We should be more careful who we hire,’ or ‘We need to train people better,’ but we never say ‘We should stop having police officers patrol our streets.’”
Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is currently researching Cure Violence, said a different relationship develops in each city between police, outreach workers, and the community. He said that, in New York, a culture of respect has developed slowly, and now works well. “Everyone’s ideal is mutual trust and respect,” he said.
There is a constant struggle between street-work models that favor some cooperation with police, and those that favor total detachment, said Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is studying the effectiveness of Cure Violence. Butts said it’s not necessary to choose one or the other. “Obviously, if you’re associated with law enforcement, it’s easier to attract funding than if you’re employing a lot of ex-gang members,” he said. “But you have to recognize that there is a place for both.”
That’s not to say the 2015 murder increase isn’t alarming. Criminologists say it’s worth paying attention to, although we don’t really know why the rate increased in 2015 just yet. As John Jay College criminologist Jeffrey Butts put it to the Guardian, “You lost 50 pounds. You gained back a couple. You’re not fat. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at your behavior, because the trend is not good.”