A new paradigm for evaluating community safety
Community safety is many things. It’s freedom from violence, whether perpetrated by strangers, family members or the state. It’s access to affordable housing and green spaces. It’s also well-paying work and strong community connections. Yet when government leaders and policymakers make investments in community safety, they too often rely only on data from the criminal legal system.
Our new report, “They Can’t Quit Recidivism,” makes an urgent case for a new paradigm.
Community-based programs offer a wide variety of services to meet residents’ needs. In 2012, the recently-created Brownsville Community Justice Center began several initiatives with the goal of strengthening community safety. Yet when it came time to determine the effectiveness of this work, most research focused almost exclusively on criminal justice data—measuring crime deterrence, one individual at a time—missing what would become the Justice Center’s signature community-level impacts.
Among its many avenues of work, the Justice Center:
- Helps launch new businesses and invests in existing Black-owned ones
- Provides free civil legal services
- Improves and creates new community spaces
- Offers training and opportunities to hundreds of justice-involved young people
Criminal justice data by itself is a poor measuring stick for evaluating community-based programs’ impacts on safety. That’s because safety is more than the absence of crime.
Research that fails to capture the full range of efforts to build safety makes it harder for that work to thrive. In “They Can’t Quit Recidivism,” we urge funders to support longer, more open-ended evaluations, and stakeholders—from the public to policymakers—to embrace new research approaches that give communities a voice in evaluation design and measuring programs’ impacts on community empowerment and transformation.
Building safer communities requires a holistic approach. Community-based programs grapple with questions of how to define and achieve safety and center people’s needs. Now is the time for researchers to do the same, rethinking how to define and measure program success and including communities in the process.
SAVE THE DATE:
November 29 | 12PM ET
Join us for a conversation on how we're using research to redefine safety. Details to come!