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It was a night like any other: A victim-oriented approach to crime in Minneapolis

Crime prevention efforts that seek to improve community conditions or boost individual resources, thereby preventing crime and re-offending, need improved implementation in Minneapolis.

It was a night like any other. I was snoozing away at seven months pregnant as my spouse sat on the couch. Suddenly I was awoken as he raced through the house. “My car was just stolen” he shouted in a panic. It was a night like any other. I was awake feeding my one-month-old son, as my spouse delivered pizza to help us make ends meet. I get a call – he had just been robbed and threatened with a gun. It was a night like any other. Or maybe, it wasn’t. Perhaps the chorus of frustration over increasing crime in Minneapolis that I had been hearing since we relocated here had merit. Either way, my husband and I continue to experience mental health impacts from those nights.

Crime is expensive and harms health

In urban areas like Minneapolis, rates of witnessing crime or being victimized are high. The consequences of this exposure are clear – there is mounting evidence that exposure to crime is linked to poor mental and physical health. If the health burden placed on individuals is not enough to inspire a call to action, the societal cost of crime should be. In the United States, millions of people use mental health services due to crime, the cost of which is estimated to be over $21 billion per year in 2022 dollars. This does not account for the cost of policing or incarceration. More than $400 million dollars are spent each year on prison expenditures in Minnesota, reaching approximately $41,000 per inmate. These health and economic impacts may become even more burdensome if crime is increasing in Minneapolis like suggested. As a PhD student, I often intuitively look at the data. Crime rates in roughly 84% of neighborhoods decreased, with an average decrease of 15% across all neighborhoods (see Figure 1). That means crime actually fell in Minneapolis. This is not to suggest that concerns about crime are unjustifiable, in fact it is an important public health problem, but this calls into question the dominant narrative of increasing crime. Such a narrative fuels punishment-oriented models of criminal justice.

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Incarceration-models of crime are minimally effective in preventing crime

In Minnesota, 342 people for every 100,000 are incarcerated, below the national average. Surely, then, the solution must be to increase punishment for perpetrators of crime, using a tough-on-crime approach? Yet, the five states with the highest incarceration rates in the nation all have higher violent crime rates than Minnesota. If incarceration is the answer, the states with the highest incarceration rates should at least be below average on crime. Additionally, a system that emphasizes punishment rather than prevention does nothing to alleviate the mental health burden placed on those exposed to crime.

Let’s consider a victim-oriented alternative. One that seeks to not only mitigate the poor health outcomes linked to crime exposure but prevent them in the first place. Imagine strolling along the Mississippi river when you notice many people drowning. A crowd is urgently pulling people out of the water. This valiant effort is crippled by a continuous rush of people in the river. As one gets saved, more take their place. Finally, someone runs upstream and notices that the pedestrian bridge is in disrepair, making people vulnerable to falling in. Efforts shift to fixing the bridge and subsequently hundreds never fall into the river. The helpers downstream are also finally able to remove everyone that fell in. Now imagine a similar approach to crime – what if we shift efforts toward preventing crime in the first place?

Actionable recommendations and a call to action

Bria Gresham
Bria Gresham
Crime prevention efforts that seek to improve community conditions or boost individual resources, thereby preventing crime and re-offending, need improved implementation in Minneapolis. Evidence from Chicago’s Safe Passage Program suggests that placement of community members along school routes, reduces crime by nearly 30%, a cost-effective crime-prevention program that could be implemented in Minneapolis. Drug courts reduce the risk of re-offending by 8% on average and result in a savings of $4,288 per drug court participant in Minnesota. However, the funding of these courts in Minnesota is unstable. In a state with a repeated budget surplus, this is reprehensible. Lastly, in line with robust evidence that education is one of the most effective ways to reduce re-offending, a new program in Minnesota creates grants for career pathways training and skill development. However, these grants are only available in Duluth, Sandstone, Rochester, and Waseca at present, noticeably leaving out Minneapolis. While there are plans to expand this program over time, this needs to be remedied.

The public outcry over crime, the harmful health effects of crime exposure, and the ineffectiveness of Minnesota’s incarceration-oriented approach to crime sends a clear message. It is time to repair the bridge and prevent more nights like any other.

Bria Gresham, is a Ph.D. student with the Institute of Child Development and Minnesota Population Center Population Studies predoctoral trainee at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

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