There have been many debates on the effect of poverty has on high crime areas and communities. Studies show that there are more Americans in poverty in 2012 than there was in 1965. Westchester County, a county considered one of the wealthiest counties in America has no immunity to poverty and crime. Crime rates have a capacity to take a city’s economy into a vicious cycle that causes unemployment and low community growth. In many of Westchester cities that are affected by crime and poverty you have a high population of minorities or poor whites.
Society on a whole has a general misconception of the link between poverty and crime. Although crime is often committed by those who are impoverished, all those who are poor do not commit crimes. Other misconceptions include the assumption that people of color are automatically more likely to commit crime because of the color of their skin rather than their surroundings and upbringing. Many of these misconceptions may lead to adverse effects of racism and bigotry in real-life meetings between those with and those without. Understanding and solving the root of the link between poverty and crime will inevitably cause citizens to take pride in their neighborhoods and become productive participants in the labor force.
If we look at crime in the U.S. more broadly, patterns emerge that make it difficult to look at crimes as simply the personal faults of individual crooks and villains. Starting from the 70s, studies in the US pointed more and more at the link between unemployment, poverty and crime. Other connections like low-income level, schooling, neighborhood quality, education, etc, were revealed as well. Dierdre Golash in her report The Case Against Punishment: Retribution, Crime Prevention, and the Law says that there is a “wide, (though not universal) agreement t among criminologists that social factors such as income inequality, poverty, unemployment, and local social disorganization contribute to crime.One thread that all these potential causes listed by Golash have in common is the economic factor.
Is there dis-proportionality in wealth and economic development here in Westchester? Profoundly Yes! Cities like Mt. Vernon, whose median family income is $50,555 compared to its neighbor Scarsdale whose median income is $208,750. Rye City’s median income is $207,773 and neighboring Portchester is $51,652. Scarsdale minority population is 5.3% minority compared to Mt. Vernon’s 75.6% minority population and Rye city 7.8 % minority compared to Portchester’s 64.7%. The income inequality can be applied with other cities in Westchester.
There has even been discussion among Mt. Vernon home owners to file a joint lawsuit against the Westchester County government for Reparations. It is well-known throughout political circles that in the 80’ and 90’s, Westchester County purposely move people living on Welfare, Receiving Section 8 Vouchers, and homeless shelters to cities like Mt. Vernon, Yonkers, Peekskill and other high minority populated areas and did not give financial assistance to fund support programs for the large migration of needy families that were purposely sent to these cities by the Westchester County government.
At the beginning of this process, it was reported that former Mt. Vernon Mayor Blackwood was quoted saying “Mt. Vernon will not be a dumping ground for the poor”. Ironically, Mayor Blackwood was attacked by his own Democratic Party for standing up for the economic stability of Mt. Vernon. Now many years later, what you see in Mt. Vernon is the effect like many other cities in Westchester; high crime, high unemployment, low economic development and high taxes for homeowners.
It’s reported that Westchester County Executive Rob Astrorino and his Administration terminated contracts that has threaten summer initiative for youth and moved $5.8 million from the 2011 budget for the Department of Social Services to pay correction officers at the same time he wants to raise the parent share of subsidized child care under Department of Social Services.
“Since the termination of contract and the programs, there are five youth participants currently housed at the Westchester County Department of Corrections. It cost tax payers thousands to house one youthful offender per year. I don’t understand the logic of the Astorino’s Administration” says Sonja Brown, Director of the Westchester RISE Program.
Crime is clearly an important problem that must be confronted. However, it cost about $40,000 to detain a person in a correctional facility in New York each year. Westchester County Jail moves over 10 thousand detainees through its doors per year. We see from an economic standpoint, detaining every prisoner is actually a greater burden to the tax payer than creating policies that truly address the needs of youth and families here in Westchester.
“From a Law Enforcement perspective, in hard economic times, police management and government has fallen away from community policing or thinking outside the box in addressing and solving the problems in our community before they become serious police problems. That’s how you being proactive in policing and in government”, says Ron Hampton, Executive Director of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, Washington D.C.
Simply put, poverty and crime is created and sustained by putting Politics before its People. First, the budgets for anti-poverty programs have never been substantial. Aid to Families with Dependent Children has declined since 1973. Second, Anti-poverty programs often discourage desirable behavior like working, saving, and taking initiative, all of which contribute to income growth and an expansion of opportunity. At the same time, past experience tells us that the magnitude of the poverty and crime problem will not be reduced significantly in Westchester unless budgetary resources are increased to match the rhetoric of our elected officials.
I would say that in this county it would be hard to argue that there is not a relationship between crime and poverty. Poor people make up the overwhelming majority of those behind bars as 53% of those in prison earned less than $10,000 per year before incarceration. Given the outright correlation between poverty and crime, any policy serious about reducing crime has to take poverty reduction policies into account We must focus on improved economic policies and a county-wide commitment to solving the problem, eradicating poverty–and therefore eradicating the crime that goes with it. Fighting crime goes far beyond policing and detaining, it is a true social justice plan on all levels of government.