To address an increase in violent crime within the District, the D.C. Council recently unanimously approved a bill that includes a proposal to pay residents and some youth a stipend to not to commit crimes.
The bill is now headed to the mayor’s office for consideration. Sponsored by Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 (or NEAR Act), hopes to discourage recidivism, while providing behavioral therapy.
While many residents agree that something innovative must be instituted to curb violent crimes, offering stipends remains a sticking point for many. “I want to prevent violent crime – particularly gun violence – by addressing the root causes and creating opportunities for people, particularly those individuals who are at the highest risks of offending,” McDuffie, a former prosecutor, said in a statement following the vote. “Implementing the NEAR Act means effective and sustainable crime prevention for District residents, as one homicide in the District is one too many. We know that we cannot simply arrest our way out of crime; prevention is key. This comprehensive bill is a step in the right direction.”
McDuffie’s program, modeled after a Richmond, California Program where participants receive up to $9,000 per year, would cost $4.9 million over four years, including $460,000 a year in stipend payments, according to the District’s independent chief financial officer. While Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has yet to allocate funding for the program, some citizens believe it would be worth every cent.
Marco Artis, a Ward 7 resident who has spent nearly half of his adult life in the penal system, said he applauds McDuffie’s vision of incorporating mental health and behavioral modification courses into a program to keep violence at bay. However, the stipends, according to Artis, could become problematic.
“McDuffie advocates hard for young people and I like that he wants to really treat the person as a victim of the society around them, rather than just a violent person. I didn’t want to fight and commit crimes, but I had to defend myself and I had to feed myself,”Artis told the AFRO. “It’s one thing to fix the person, but if you don’t address the neighborhood, the environment, you are setting someone up to have what money they earn being good citizens, taken from them.”
“There is so much random, violent crime in my neighborhood, that I would support any program that ends the crime, and offers an alternative to prison,” Ward 8 resident Chanel Brewer told the AFRO. “We have some young people shooting up bus stops and robbing everyone they see, and a whole lot of others who are the victims of those committing the crimes. We have to address this without packing everyone off to prison.”
Under the bill, city officials would identify up to 200 people each year who are considered at risk of either committing or becoming victims of violent crime. Those people would be directed to participate in behavioral therapy and other programs. If they fulfill those obligations and stay out of trouble, they would be paid.
The District saw a 54 percent increase in homicides last year. Additionally, in recent months social media and news footage have documented scores of unprovoked attacks on unsuspecting citizens by young people. McDuffie’s efforts would adopt a public health approach to crime prevention and intervention by addressing the root causes of crime in what he believes are long-term, sustainable ways that include law enforcement, workforce development, and social services agencies.
As of March 30, there have been 26 homicides in D.C. and violent crime has risen by 15 percent from the same period a year ago.