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D.C. Council Wants to Pay Criminals to Keep the Peace

The D.C. Council has preliminarily approved a bill that will essentially pay criminals not to commit crimes. Sounds crazy, right? Not the first of its kind, the plan is modeled after one that’s been successful in Richmond, California, which had a 76% drop in gun-related homicides since the program began in 2008.

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 (NEAR) proposes a number of new laws, but of particular interest is the section that would create the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE). Council member Kenyan McDuffle, the creator of the bill, believes the act will combat crime (albeit in an unconventional way) by addressing crime before it occurs, rather than after.

Each of the 50 yearly recruits will participate in mental and/or behavioral health counseling designed to discourage violent criminal activity. If successfully followed, the participants of the ONSE program will be awarded a stipend for good behavior or, in other words, not committing crime. Paying Criminals

Most of the program specifics are left out of the bill and will be up to the head of the department to create. If the program director wants to imitate the Richmond model, NEAR participants will be required to create and execute a “life-plan.” The plan mimics a mentorship designed to move them away from a life of violent crime, where, in addition to receiving a stipend of up to $9,000 per year, the participants can travel outside of the state on “horizon-building educational excursions.”

Why Can’t We All Get a Piece of the Pie?

Although being a criminal offender is not a specific distinction within the bill, that’s the general intended direction of recruits. In 2015, the homicide rate in Washington D.C. rose 54% compared to the previous year. McDuffle believes the bill “will address the root cause of violent crime in an effective and sustainable way.”

The ONSE will be in charge of identifying, recruiting, and engaging high-risk individuals that may participate or be a victim of violent criminal activity—targeting heavily gun-related teenage and young adult offenders. The ONSE will rely on data obtained from the local police department to decide who qualifies.

Taxpayers Will Bear the Cost

The NEAR plan will cost an estimated $4.9 million over the 4-year plan; $1.6 million of that total will go towards participant stipends. The rest is designated to program salaries, supplies, materials, and program travel.

The key difference between the Richmond model and the NEAR plan is where the stipend funds come from. Although the director may fundraise money for the program, the current plan is to set aside public money. You read that right—public money means taxpayer money. The Richmond program is city-funded, but relies entirely on donors for the stipends and not taxpayers.

Taxpayers pay an estimated $400,000 for the average homicide in the U.S. compared to a mere $70,000 it would cost to pay the stipends. This seems minimal in comparison, but even so, D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer has stated funds are not sufficient within their budget to implement the bill.

Legal Implications Are Not Likely an Issue

Some may want to argue against using tax money to fund the program. That argument isn’t anything new, as many have tried it before in different arenas. Ultimately, the tax arguments fail because Congress has the power to tax and spend for the general welfare.  The purpose of the bill is to stop crime before it happens, ultimately benefitting the general welfare and safety of the citizens–meaning it would survive any tax-based challenges because it serves a legitimate purpose.

The Richmond plan appears to be successful, but many argue the 76% drop in gun-related crime could be to other contributing factors. Those skeptical of the plan’s success say no real data has been provided that proves the drop in crime is owed to the pay-for-peace plan.  Others argue the program served its purpose and gave the participants something to focus their attention on and keep them out of trouble.  Although it’s highly unfair that us every day law-abiding citizens don’t get a chance to make a few extra bucks and go on life-changing trips, when you only consider the latter argument in favor of the bill, it seems like a decent idea.

Even considering the social benefits that may arise out of the bill, the idea of paying criminals to keep the peace doesn’t sit well with most. The bill will face a final vote on March 1 and, if passed, will head to the mayor and Congress.

Ashley Roncevic

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