Federally Subsidized Programs for Fighting Crime in Minority Communities
Review of Black Political Economy, p. 133, 1980
17 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2014
Date Written: 1980
In 1972, nearly $1.9 billion was spent by the federal government on the criminal justice system. This included amounts spent for police protection, courts, corrections, and law enforcement assistance. By 1977, this amount had risen to $3.6 billion. Indeed, in the United States a national war on crime had been declared. And consistently one-half of these billions of dollars of federal expenditures were in defense of the streets. Police protection allocations from the federal criminal justice budget remained between 47% and 51% during the period 1972-77, though the total federal criminal justice budget jumped by 90%, almost doubling what was being spent on the federal level to combat crime. These figures understate the extent to which the federal government sent armies of warriors on to the domestic battlefields in the ghettos, inner-city housing projects, and declining residential and commercial neighborhoods across the country. Likewise, the figures do not account for the expenses of all of the lieutenants of morals and generals of peace in the wealthy suburbs, rolling farmlands, and urban oases which were financed through state or local funds, and supplemented by federal grants made to states under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. But the startling size of the allocation of federal money for crime control is indicative of a national commitment to reduce visible street criminal offenses. There is no doubt that the U.S. government financed an all-out war in the 1970s, even though escalation slowed toward the end of the decade. If there is now in the 1980s a lull on the battlefield -- some contend that though the war is not won, one major victory has been scored by a perceptible decline in crime rates for some offenses -- then it is appropriate to pause and reflect. Is the emphasis on crime control through increased police manpower or new prison construction disproportionate to more recent emphasis on crime prevention? Is the war best fought on an institutionalized level (i.e., in the courts, the prisons and jail houses, and with the weaponry of duly appointed law enforcement officials) or perhaps on a grass-roots community level? In reviewing a number of innovative strategies for reducing crime that make creative use of community resources, that actively involve citizen participation, and that do or can be expected to impact upon the lives of low-income and minority people, one arrives at the following thesis: The share of federal support for criminal justice going to minority people and their communities, and to the programs that they can believe in and relate to, is not proportionate to the originality and promise of the nontraditional programs funded. Admittedly, there have been vast sums of money entering minority and other low-income communities by way of federal anticrime spending. But the dollar amounts for these often ingenious and novel approaches to crime prevention are a trickle compared to the outlays made for the traditional catch-them/lock-them-up methods of crime control. The thesis is not based on a cynical preconception that the law enforcement establishment never allowed or would have allowed substantial infringement upon its traditional domain by increased community involvement in anticrime activities. It is based in part on some incomplete data on expenditures by activity in the criminal justice program. But it is also based in part on the evidence the the alternative strategies have been viewed as experiments, new ideas requiring time for refinement and development, and therefore as being inadequate as wholesale replacements for the old-time religion. It is useful to examine the evidence closely.
Keywords: federally subsidized programs, criminal justice system, government funds
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