"Gang violence is connected to bullying is connected to school violence is connected to intimate partner violence is connected to child abuse is connected to elder abuse. It's all connected. We operate in these silos that we've got to break down." —Deborah Prothrow-Stith, M.D., Dean, Drew College of Medicine
Among all industrialized nations, the United States ranks at the top in violent crime. We have the highest homicide rates, seven times higher than the average for others. For much of the neighborhoods and communities throughout the country, our local governments have failed to supply effective crime prevention solutions.
The biggest group of victims experiencing violence in America is children. We have some of the highest levels of youth violence and crime in the developed world. Youth violence is a leading cause of injury and death for young Americans aged 15 to 24 years. At some point in their lifetime, 54.5 percent of children and adolescents (age 0 to 17) experience some form of physical assault. Moreover, nearly a third of women in the United States have reported domestic violence.
In addition to the horrible price of violence for the people who experience it, crime and violence cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars each year. According to a study by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the annual cost of police, justice systems, corrections facilities, and lost productivity from violent crime, homicide, and robbery, is over $3,000 for each U.S. taxpayer, or $460 billion for the United States economy.
Yet, violence and crime don’t happen in a vacuum, and a holistic response to this issue requires a deeper focus on its causes, as well as crime prevention solutions. Many of the underlying causes have been left unattended for far too long, and merely addressing symptoms is unlikely to fundamentally reverse the tragic trajectory of violence in America.
Research has shown that many of our citizens who live in the most violent, crime-ridden parts of our nation suffer the same kind of emotionally and physically debilitating PTSD as do veterans coming home from war. Yet for these people, the war is never over and the trauma is unending as these communities have become a breeding ground for continuing violence. Ultimately, it produces a crippling effect on their lives.
In America, our approach to managing violence and crime has typically trended towards largely ineffective punitive approaches, ignoring the underlying causes of our problems. In addition, the punitive -- rather than rehabilitative -- approach to holding violent criminals accountable only increases the statistical probability that, once released, such criminals will again perpetrate acts of violence.
What we know from ample research about violence and crime prevention in our communities is that crime can be drastically reduced. We have the wisdom and expertise to make positive shifts in the circumstances, both internal and external, that are likely to erupt in violent behavior.
What we are lacking is the willpower to invest in serious violence-prevention programs.
The federal government can support violence prevention through funding of course, but also through coordination, research, and sharing of best practices. We need to address whole systems and foster collaboration among federal, state and local agencies. Cities need strategic plans to prevent violence and coordinated efforts across multiple sectors to communicate with each other and community members. A Marianne Williamson presidency would initiate a far more serious, strategized focus on violence prevention as a response to violence and crime in America.
The following are highlights from some of the most effective types of programs and services that can help transform our communities.
Community outreach workers – from rehabilitated gang members to community elders -- help prevent crime in their communities by monitoring, detecting and interrupting violence. These practices have shown to reduce violence (including shootings and homicides) by up to 70 percent in neighborhoods hardest hit by violence. Another human being to help you change your life while there is still time is a far more humane and effective approach to transformation than an entire system that exists to punish you if you don’t.
This is an approach in which all parties involved in a child’s life recognize and respond to the impact of the child’s traumatic stress. Integrated and systemic “wrap-around services” (multi-systemic and functional family therapy) provide a whole-systems approach through intensive family and community-based treatment programs focused on addressing all environmental systems that impact chronic and violent juvenile offenders — from their homes and families, to schools and teachers, to neighborhoods and friends.
Through workshops and intensive retreats, some communities are using these programs to reduce disproportionate contact with law enforcement, deal with mistrust of the legal system, and bring young people together with law enforcement officers in a more positive environment.
The services and programs offer support for families, including emergency housing, emotional support and tools to move forward personally and professionally.
Social and Emotional learning modalities teach self-awareness, empathy, impulse control, motivation and nonviolent communication & social skills — all designed to give people tools to better deal with conflict in their lives. These can happen in schools and/or at the community level.
Peer-to-peer or adult to youth mentoring can be exceptionally effective at empowering students to succeed, providing youth with guidance and support from caring and committed adults.
Community policing is, in essence, a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems. All members of the community become active allies in the effort to enhance the safety and quality of neighborhoods through communication.
Providing resources for youth to engage in positive activities in communities has an incredible impact on those individuals and their communities.
A network of support services pertaining to crime and violence prevention are vital for the empowerment of millions of American families, youth, women, and our communities.
As president, I would support the establishment of a US Department of Domestic Peace-Building in order to coordinate domestic violence prevention efforts in conjunction with the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies. Throughout America there are extraordinary and extraordinarily successful peace-building efforts, whose efficacy would be exponentially increased through a higher level of coordination and government support. Aligning federal initiatives, establishing joint funding streams, coordinating data systems, and sharing evaluation strategies with our states, cities and communities would give sophisticated techniques of violence prevention the primacy they deserve.
While some would argue that such programs would “cost too much,” the reality is that they decrease the losses caused by violence in the US economy. A study by the non-partisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that diversion and mentoring programs produced $3.36 of benefits for every dollar spent, aggression replacement training produced $10 of benefits for every dollar spent, and multi-systemic therapy produced $13 of benefits for every dollar spent - in terms of reduced violence, crime and the cost to taxpayers.
However, no matter how much we do to prevent violence in the aforementioned ways, what matters as well is the realization that economic injustice, of itself, is a form of violence. Large groups of desperate people are a national security risk, whether in a corner of an American city or anywhere else in the world. For desperate people do desperate things. Ameliorating human despair is not just a sacred obligation of right living; it is the most powerful technique as well for the healing of our societies.