Recently, The Washington Post’s Wonkblog published a list of research-backed strategies to combat crime. We at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center propose five additional evidence-based strategies based on our own research:
- Use and expand drug courts. Drug courts, which combine judicial supervision with substance abuse treatment, are rapidly gaining popularity as a tool to combat crime and drug use. Based on a five-year study, we found that people who took part in drug courts had lower relapse rates and committed fewer additional crimes, such as selling drugs and driving while intoxicated. Forty-nine percent of drug court participants reported committing new crimes, compared with 64 percent of non-participants.
- Make use of DNA evidence. By vastly improving our ability to identify and arrest suspects, DNA evidence has the potential to be a powerful crime-fighting resource. Our research shows that the use of DNA evidence in burglary cases leads to the identification and arrest of twice as many suspects as traditional investigation tactics. DNA also helps serve justice: we found that DNA testing can provide evidence to support the exoneration of as many as 15 percent of convicted sex offenders.
- Help ex-offenders find secure living-wage employment. Securing a well-paying job can help returning prisoners remain crime-free once they go back to their communities. Our studies found that the more they earned during the first two months following their release, the lower their chances of returning to prison. Those who earned over $10 an hour, for example, were half as likely to return to prison as those whose hourly wages were less than $7.
- Monitor public surveillance cameras. The recent events in Boston have demonstrated the crucial role public cameras can play in investigations of high-profile criminal acts. Our research found that cameras can also be a cost-effective means of preventing crime. In Chicago, every dollar spent on cameras yielded over $4 in savings in court costs, incarceration, and pain and suffering associated with prevented crimes. Cameras are most effective when there are a sufficient number of them and they are monitored by trained staff.
- Connect returning prisoners to stable housing. Access to stable housing can dramatically reduce crime committed by former prisoners. Our evaluation of the Returning Home-Ohio (RHO) program found that released prisoners who were connected to housing services were 60 percent less likely to return to prison. These individuals also spent more time in the community before being re-arrested.
Some of these strategies, like drug courts and public surveillance cameras, are in widespread usage and have already helped reduce crime. Others have not yet been widely implemented. However, empirical evidence shows that they all effectively lower crime and reduce the costs associated with it.