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ictage “Foundation, ‘The Heritage Foundation was established in 1973 as anon partisan, tax-exempt policy research institute dedicated to the principles of free competitive enterprise, limited government, individual liberty, and strong national defense. ‘The Foundation’s research and study programs are designed to make the voices of responsible conservatism heard in Washington, D.C.,throughout the United States, and in the capitals of the world, Heritage publishes its research in a variety of formats for the benefit of policy makers; the communications media; the academic, business, and financial communities; and the public at large. Over the past five years alone The Heritage Foundation has published some 1,500books, monographs, and studies, ranging in size from the 927-page government blueprint, Mandate for Leadership III: Policy Strategiesfor the 1990's, to the more frequent "Critical Issues" monographs and the topical "Backgrounders," “Issue Bulletins," and "Talking Points” papers. 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Note: Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress. ‘The Heritage Foundation 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002-4999 U.S.A. 202/546-4400 Crime, Poverty, and the Family By The Honorable William P. Barr T don’t have to tell you that things are at a critical juncture in our country when it comes to vio- lent crime. We find violence now running at intolerably high levels. The heyday of violent crime was actually in the 1960s and 1970s, and I will describe it in more detail later. It peaked in 1980. It started going downward for a few years and now it is picking back up again, It has since 1986 drifted back up again, although the victimization rates today are still significantly lower than they were at its peak in 1980 and 1981. I think the trend we are seeing in violent crime is driven basically by three factors. First, the crack epidemic that started in about 1986 has led to a high degree of violence. Second, we are seeing the results of some of the family policies of the 1960s and 1970s—the breakdown of the family—and we are starting to pay the price for that with a surge in juvenile crime and the emergence of gangs. ‘And third, we are seeing the saturation of the criminal justice systems in the states and the states re- lapsing to revolving door justice as prisoners are serving less and less of their sentences and are being prematurely released. I think those are the main factors in this upward trend of violence. Now, in public discourse about how to deal with this violence, we generally see two competing views. One is the traditional law enforcement approach, which says crime is caused by criminals and the way we deal with crime is to use aggressive enforcement policies and to deter or incapaci- tate criminals through incarceration. On the other hand, I think we see a lot said about what I call the social rehabilitation response to violent crime. That approach tends to see crime as caused by so- cietal ills and seeks to deal with crime by remedying these ills through social programs. Proponents, of this approach say that you can’t really deal with violent crime by suppression, you have to attack it atits root causes. Combined Approach. I think we need both approaches, properly understood, acting together, We do have to take aggressive steps today to deal with the criminals of today. But, we also have to take steps and we do need programs to prevent, as best we can, the youth of today from becoming the chronic offenders of tomorrow. I think too many advocates of the root causes approach, however, give short shrift to the need for tough law enforcement. They just can’t bring themselves to deal with criminals decisively and they tend to dismiss reliance on police and prosecutors and prisons as unenlightened. Many times I hear it said that we should be spending money on schools and housing and so forth rather than on police and prosecutors and prisons. Well, today I want to make three points. First, I want to explain why I think a strong law enforce- ment approach has to be paramount. Second, I want to discuss what I think we in law enforcement can do to have an impact. And third, I want to spend a little time talking about social programs and the root causes approach to dealing with violent crime and what I think we have to do there. ‘The Honorable William P. Barris Attomey General of the United States. He spoke at the Heritage Foundation on July 29, 1992. ISSN 0272-1155. © 1992 by The Heritage Foundation, Basic Reality. So, let us tum first to the issue of why law enforcement must be paramount today. T think those that would give short shrift to suppression of crime through strong law enforcement ‘measures, but would instead rely upon dealing with root causes, are missing a basic point—the basic reality that we see today—and that is that in this pervasive atmosphere of fear and violence that we see in the inner cities particularly, even the best designed social programs cannot take root. ‘The problem is that our efforts to deal with underlying social maladies are being strangled by crime itself. And I think it is increasingly clear that suppression of crime is a prerequisite for any of our so- cial programs to be successful. ‘What good is it to build a housing project to see it taken over by drug traffickers and used as a stash house? Or what good is it to invest as much as we do in education and build model schools, only to see those schools become battlegrounds for gangs? The Green Housing Project in Chicago is a project where the federal government has spent a lot of money and has many innovative pro- ‘grams underway. But the principal concern of the mothers in that housing project is the safety of their children, They put their children to sleep in the bathtubs because of the bullets flying around, starting Thursday night and running through the weekend. So we have gotten to the age of armored cribs in the inner city. I was down at the Prince Garden Apartments Project in Fort Worth. It had just been swept by the police, and the tenants of those apartments came out applauding the police. They held a barbecue for the police, pleading with them not to leave their housing project. One old lady came out and told ‘me that she had been sleeping on the floor under her bed for months because of the bullets flying around the courtyard in the housing project. Crime Causing Poverty. It was once a shibboleth that poverty causes crime, but today I think it is clear that crime is causing poverty. Businesses are driven from crime-ridden neighborhoods, tak- ing jobs and opportunities with them. Potential investors and would-be employers are scared away. Existing owners are deterred from making improvements on their property, and as property values go down, owners disinvest in their property. I know a small contractor who tried to rehabilitate inner-city housing for low-income tenants. He had to give up because drug addicts would break in, rip out his improvements, and sell them for drug money. They would even come in regularly and take out all of the piping in the building and sell it for scrap. This contractor obviously couldn’t con- tinue like that, and like many others has just stopped his efforts to rehabilitate housing. T think that what we saw in Los Angeles shows the difficulty we are going to have in rebuilding those communities, It shows the impact of crime on a community in fast motion, fast forward. But that same process is occurring around the country at a more deliberate speed. So in short, I don’t think you can have progress amid chaos, And the fact is that no urban pro- gram can arrest the decline in our inner cities, and no anti-poverty programs are going to take hold unless they are combined with and founded upon strong law enforcement measures that suppress vi- lent crime. ‘That brings me to my second point, which I am going to dwell on at length: What do we do on the law enforcement side to suppress violent crime? How do we actually make reductions in violent crime? In my view, the evidence is absolutely clear that the vast bulk of violent crime is committed by a very small group of chronic offenders. Study after study shows that this tiny fraction of incorri- gible, habitual offenders is responsible for hundreds and hundreds of crimes each while they are out on the street. A well known study in 1980, which followed 240 criminals, found that in an eleven- year period they committed over 500,000 crimes—an average of 190 crimes a year. And that corresponds to numerous other studies that show that kind of criminality. Another study of various state prisoners found that 25 percent of them committed 135 crimes a year; 10 percent of them com- mitted 600 crimes a year. Every study shows a tiny cohort is responsible disproportionately for the vast amount of predatory violence.