Another city is jumping on the cash incentives bandwagon. Washington, D.C. is considering a program that would pay people not to commit crimes. We’ve written about a very similar program in Richmond, CA. Richmond saw a 77% percent drop in homicides over a 7-year period, although critics say the decrease can at least be partially attributed to a nationwide decrease in crime rates.
In Washington D.C., crime rates have also decreased, however it still experienced a 54% increase in the murder rate between 2014 and 2015. The city’s assistant police chief attributed the recent increase to gun violence, in addition to other challenges. Although the increase is alarming, rates are still lower than prior decades when the city was considered the nation’s murder capital.
If the cash incentive bill is approved, D.C. city officials would identify up to 200 people a year who are considered at risk of either committing or becoming victims of violent crime, specifically people who are at risk of committing violence, but do not have criminal cases pending. This is an interesting caveat because the increase in homicides in D.C. can be partially attributed to an increase in the number of repeat offenders involved in shootings or homicides. A 2014 report released by D.C. police noted that 22 of those arrested on homicide charges were under supervision pending trial or on probation or parole at the time of their crime – a “substantial increase” from the previous year.
Participants would have to participate in behavioral therapy and not commit any crimes to receive the cash incentive. The program would cost $4.9 million over four years, including $460,000 a year in stipend payments. The bill doesn’t propose a specific cash stipend amount, but the California program offers participants up to $9,000 year to not commit crimes. The bill was proposed with the purpose of “addressing the root causes and creating opportunities for people, particularly those individuals who are at the highest risk of offending,” said a letter from the councilmember who wrote the legislation.
Cash incentives are not new to public health interventions, despite the controversy over their use. Programs that pay patients to adhere to treatments for infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, have been used globally. Incentives have also been used to motivate people to obtain recommended vaccinations, which the Community Guide deems effective based on combined evidence.
The Washington D.C. bill will face a final council vote on March 1st, and if passed, it will go before the Mayor. If implemented, the effect on crime rates, as well as graduation and employment, will be eagerly tracked.