11 August 2011

Why didn't the predicted surge in teen crime happen?

Conservative criminologist John DiIulio called the fearsome horde "super-predators." He estimated that they'd number nearly 200,000 by now. Even unflappable Attorney General Janet Reno foresaw violent crime doubling among kids. . . . William Bennett, the former drug czar . . . wrote a 1996 book with DiIulio on the topic, titled "Body Count," which attributed the problem to moral decay. . . . It never happened. . . . Instead, Americans are experiencing the sharpest decline in teen crime in modern history. . . .


Probably more important than tighter school security . . . were these factors:

In the decade of economic expansion that ended in 2000, the number of older teens who were neither in school nor at full-time jobs dropped by nearly a third. . . . Prosperity . . . gave teens more and better options to crime. . . .

The Latino population in central cities swelled as teen crime declined. . . . Their influx . . . brought more intact families, stronger values, higher religious participation - and lower crime rates. At the same time, many of the black families they replaced moved to suburbs where poverty was less concentrated. "Kids once confined to the inner city started seeing lifestyles other than the street." . . .

Criminologists decided in the `90s to track what worked and what didn't in dealing with teen crime. Boot camps didn't work. . . . Nor did trying juveniles in adult courts. Big Brother and Big Sister mentoring worked. Foster care for delinquents worked better than lock-ups if foster parents were well trained and the goal was to return the delinquents to well-coached biological parents. Suspending delinquent kids from school or leaving them back didn't work. . . . They found that if one parent is strong and consistent, the second isn't missed when it comes to preventing delinquency.

The incarceration rate rose from 1 per 1,000 adults to 4 from the `80s to today, and it has many foes. But . . . jailing more adults sharply reduced the number of teens who commit crimes with adult accomplices.

Economist Levitt attributes teen crime's sharp drop to a reduction in unwanted children, which began with the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Criminologist Zimring, among others, thinks it contributed but isn't as big a factor
as Levitt argues.

From here.

These gems come from a blog associated with The Atlantic magazine, linked to at Enik Rising.

It ties into a Denver Post rehash of a local think tank report on population growth in Denver neighborhoods that I saw today. Three of the top five: Green Valley Ranch, Stapleton, and Lowry, are unsurprising. They are neighborhoods that were previously uninhabited that have seen major residential development in recent years.

The other two, Five Points and Montbello, are cases that fit the dynamic described above in which neighborhoods that used to be predominantly black ghettos with dire poverty that have seen major influxes of Hispanics, as well as others, in a combination of ethnic shifts and gentrification as many black residents of these neighborhoods have moved to suburbs or to central city suburban style neighborhoods like multi-ethnic Green Valley Ranch.

Another place in the metro area that has seen a similar and rapid demographic shift is Old Town Aurora, once a center of blacks and lower income Korean immigrants, that is now increasingly Hispanic.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Denver Post also announced the inauguration of a major overhaul of eleven Northeast Denver schools, a move that has been heralded as positive by some, while arousing extreme controversy, skepticism and complaints about insufficient community consultation from others. FWIW, I haven't followed the overhaul efforts closely and don't have a strong opinion on their merits as a result.

Aurora, also perhaps not coincidentally, has also recently announced a major urban effort directed at the area between Stapleton and Old Town Aurora, although it has been overshadowed by a bid by Aurora to develop a complex that would compete heavily with the convention center complex in downtown Denver.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but, in each case, major governmental initiatives to improve city services in metro Denver neighborhoods have coincided with declining African American populations in those neighborhoods.

Certainly, nothing as crude as Jim Crow racism as it work in Denver, that just elected a second African-American mayor despite having a fairly modest African-American population percentage for a major American central city (Hancock this time around, Webb the last time around), or in Colorado, which recently had an African-American state house speaker (Terrance Carroll). Nor does metro Denver as a whole want for predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods that have been sorely neglected in the government services department. The cause and effect relationships here are more subtle and are not simple examples of racial or ethnic favoritism.

Northeast Denver, for example, has changed due to efforts like the Ballpark Neighborhood gentrification, the transformation of "North Capital Hill" into "Uptown" and the impact of the Stapleton and Lowry developments which sent middle class traffic through these formerly low income predominantly black neighborhoods and called attention to their potential to provide short commutes to downtown.

The housing bubble opened up a lot of affordable, quality suburban homes to people from Denver including families in Northeast Denver that have not been tainted by generations of covert and overt racial discrimination in the housing market that reached a critical mass that became self-sustaining where it has established itself.

Rising real estate values in Denver from a bubble collapsed low point in 1983 until an earlier than the rest of the nation slump, particularly in central Denver, transferred considerable wealth to inner city home owners.

As post from The Atlantic article that led me to the teen crime story that I quoted observed, underclass predominantly black dysfunctional ghettos are nothing to be nostalgic for, even if one is firmly committed to improving the well being of the people who lived in those communities a few decades ago and their children. The transformation of these dysfunctional neighborhoods wasn't a punishment inflicted on its residents; it was a reflection of the fact that the people who lived there have mostly found better alternatives and moved on when barriers to their exit from those neighborhoods became less steep. The neighborhoods weren't bad because they were non-white, they were bad because they had high crime, high truancy, governmental underinvestment, high teen pregnancy, few viable businesses, and high unemployment that had deep and obvious causes in American history.

Improving neighborhood well being makes neighborhoods tolerable to people who have any choice at all about where they live and has led to rapid population growth in these neighborhoods. Creating demand for housing in these neighborhoods boosts property values and makes life more tolerable for those who continue to live there. Even renters who are forced to leave due to rising rents in these neighborhoods spur the construction of newer and better rental housing in the metro area that if often better than what they left behind. The line between someone who is a slum lord who has received a windfall from the changes in these neighborhoods and someone who is a civic minded booster of a neighborhood is often a thin one.

Capitalism may not always seek out hard case situations to invest in for the long run, but it doesn't follow that it profits from large scale systemic socio-economic misery either. It encourages profitable mutual growth, it just sometimes has a hard time getting the ball rolling because not enough people have enough vision to bring the needed investment and suspicion abounds because it is hard to tell who gains and loses from the changes in advance. But, when your current neighborhood is one of the least desirable in the metro area, as was the case for a significant share of Northeast Denver in the 1980s and into the 1990s, it is hard for change, either to the neighborhood or for those who end up leaving the neighborhood as a result, to be a terrible thing or a case of downward mobility.

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