In Washington, D.C., if you’re indigent and Black you are more likely to end up in the judicial system, according to a report released July 27 by the Justice Policy Institute.

“Capital Concern: The disproportionate impact of the justice system on low-income communities in D.C.,” is a fraction of a nationally-focused report on the intersection of race, poverty and criminal justice to be released later this fall. The District report also showed what seemed to be a mismatched allocation of funds relative to the areas of need.

Of all the surprising findings in the document, said Sarah Lyons, the author responsible for most of the report, that’s the one that stood out.

“Seeing a graph showing that funding for social programs and services has been cut, while it has risen for law enforcement was shocking,” Lyons told the AFRO.

The findings show that change in funding even as the city’s crime rate declined. From 2001 to 2009, the crime rate in the district dropped 22 percent, yet funding for the Office of the Attorney General and the Metropolitan Police Department rose between 2008-2010 by 11 and 2 percent, respectively. Conversely, funding for the departments of Mental Health, Housing and Community Development, Parks and Recreation, as well as D.C. Public Schools dropped by 17, 19, 30, and 17 percent, respectively.

“In an economic downturn like we are currently experiencing, social institutions and supports that improve life outcomes and community health are often the first to get cut, despite what we know about their ability to both improve public safety and help the most vulnerable among us,” said Tracy Velázquez, JPI’s executive director in a statement. “Inasmuch as government priorities are reflected in fiscal decisions, residents of the District should be concerned that officials are increasing spending on law enforcement at a time when crime is down, instead of sustaining people and communities.”

That’s especially important in the District since, according to the report, the city has the highest income inequality of any major city in the country. The average income inequality of the top fifth of the District’s households is 31 times higher than the average income of the bottom fifth of households.

When broken down by neighborhoods, Wards 3 and 4, located in Northwest Washington, have the highest median household income and the lowest percentage of people of color in the District. Wards 7 and 7, located in Southwest, are home, primarily, to people of color – particularly African Americans. These areas have the lowest median income and the highest unemployment rates.

JPI officials said these statistics can be changed for the better, however, and provided recommendations for increasing public safety and community well-being. Among them, JPI recommends ensuring that all children have access to quality public education in their neighborhood as an ideal preemptive step.

The full report—including a full list of recommendations—can be found on JPI’s Web site, Justicepolicy.org.

 

DavidRushing

SpecialtotheAFRO