Many criminologists blame the pandemic and its societal and economic disruptions for the spike in homicides over the past couple of years. “It’s not that the whole society fell apart,” says Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s just that there are enough people who were already living on the edge, and this pushed them off of it.”
Jeffrey Butts, a researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, likens it to the decades-long — and eventually successful — campaign to end smoking. “So can that strategy be used to reduce the incidence of gun violence? And that’s the big question,” Butts said.
“The things that cause crime to go up and down are largely societal, structural,” said Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s about employment, poverty rates, drug abuse, types of drug being abused, neighborhood conditions.”
If done properly, restorative justice can foster “the most natural human response to crime — to try to talk things through and resolve the conflict,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Prevention is different than deterrence, and it uses other tools and resources. It lowers risks and builds assets. Risks are obstacles to safety that often metastasize across individuals and increase harm to entire communities, including substance abuse, antisocial peers, unemployment, and family violence.v
For professor Jeffrey Butts of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has spent years studying juvenile justice, the video is clear evidence of the disparate treatment accorded young Black people by police, long a concern of activists and policymakers across New Jersey.
New York City officials responded to adverse conditions in NYCHA developments by launching the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety in 2014. The initiative was designed to enhance the social and physical environment of housing developments in ways that improve public safety.
"If it's just supposed to send a message to that kid and all other people that we take this seriously and we're not going to stand for this behavior, therefore we're punishing you, then it accomplishes that purpose." But Butts says if the idea is to improve public safety or prevent future crime, decades of research show that is rarely the result.
In 2021, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) engaged the assistance of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JohnJayREC) to support several research and data analytic projects associated with a City effort to improve public safety and the effectiveness of the justice system.
There appears to be little, if any, organized opposition to raising the age of delinquency. But those who resist say doing so would hamstring the legal system, according to Jeffrey A. Butts, the director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center. In rare cases involving a particularly dangerous child, he said, incarceration may prevent them from being a risk to others.
Even during periods of relatively low violence, the incidence of violent behavior by and among young people is a prominent issue. Policymakers and communities always need effective methods of addressing violent acts by youth.
“In general, courts and legislatures do tend to leave a little wiggle room for judicial interpretation, and of course prosecutors always hate that,” said Jeffrey Butts, head of the Research Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Participated in a discussion as part of the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.
When someone tells you "what the research says" about how to reduce crime and violence, try to remember they're describing the research base as it was created by people and organizations with opinions, values, and self-interest.
But while the numbers show New York City is shifting gears on criminal justice reform, much harder is to establish, the experts said, is whether new policies are causing the drop in crime or whether they are a consequence of it.... Crime numbers have been decreasing for a long time nationwide, and even worldwide, said Jeffrey Butts, a professor who leads the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He has researched the juvenile justice system since the late 1980s.
We actually need young people who are bold, willing to challenge conventional thinking, and to break rules, but we also need them to respect others, to rely on logic rather than force, and to appreciate the corrosive effects of violence and exploitation. In short, our communities need powerful and creative young people who want to improve us and not simply to fight us. These should seem like obvious concepts to anyone working around the youth justice system, but it is often surprisingly difficult to implement them in practice.
Recidivism is not a comprehensive measure of success for criminal justice in general or for community corrections specifically. When used to judge the effects of justice interventions on behavior, the concept of recidivism may even be harmful, as it often reinforces the racial and class biases underlying much of the justice system. We encourage justice systems to rely on more flexible and more responsive outcome measures. Community corrections agencies should encourage policymakers to rely on outcomes related to criminal desistance and the social integration of people on probation or parole. Measures focused on social development and community wellbeing are more useful for evaluating the effects of justice interventions, and they are less likely to distort policy discussions.
That longstanding approach was problematic at best, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College. “We’re setting ourselves up for failure when we take a young person who is 14- or 15-years-old, send them hours away from their family, and break all their ties to their communities,” he says.
Nonetheless, outside experts say the program has started to show results. Residents “stay connected with their families and they are more likely to remain in local schools,” wrote Prof. Jeffrey Butts, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center, in a 44-page report on Close to Home in 2015.
"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."
“It’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ culture with some of the people they have managing these facilities,” added Butts, who has worked with policymakers in 28 states, largely on youth justice. “With strong kids controlling the weak kids — and the staff controlling the strong kids. “You are using violence to try to teach kids not to use violence.”
The Evidence Generation initiative focuses on improving the operations and effectiveness of justice agencies in New York City and New York State by generating and analyzing data about the effects of interventions and crime reduction strategies. The program was launched in 2010 with funding from the Pinkerton and Rudin Foundations.
With funding provided by the City of New York through its Administration for Children's Services (ACS), the Research and Evaluation Center reviewed and compiled recent research and practice innovations focused on adolescent development and the youth justice system.
Stargate Theatre Company began in 2013 as a theatre-making, workforce readiness, and literacy project for justice-involved youth. For seven weeks each summer, a small group of young men meets at least four days per week to write, rehearse and perform a collaboratively crafted play in an Off-Broadway venue in New York City.
The main challenge is that juvenile justice policies are not based on a simple, rational assessment of costs and effectiveness, or even on the basic concept of justice. Policy choices are affected by fear and emotion, as well as political/electoral competition, economic self-interest of governments and service providers, and the enduring battle between social classes as to who defines the origins and solutions to social problems.