The Impacts of Housing Policy on Socioeconomic Residential Segregation and Violence

We are increasingly being made aware of how important our environment is to all aspects of life (health, emotional well-being, access to education, opportunity, etc.) however, many don’t realize how housing policies in our country have had such a large impact on poverty, education, health and violence. Urban planning and housing policy is intimately tied to all aspects of violence prevalent in our communities. In turn, the physical environments that people live in define not only their educational and employment opportunities, but also their health outcomes. I was specifically interested in finding out how housing policies and programs that were implemented right after World War II shaped the characteristics of neighborhoods and the geographical divisions within cities that exist today.

In 1934 following the Great Depression, the federal banking system was restructured and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created as part of a new deal program in order to help citizens purchase homes by privately lending money to home buyers. The FHA also allowed the government to control who could or could not purchase homes based on a variety of factors that more often than not included race as a criteria used to deny loans1. Redlining was one such practice induced by the FHA in order to prevent African Americans and other minorities from obtaining housing loans. In 1935, the FHA and the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) assessed 239 cities and created residential security maps, which were meant to outline economic and social stability, but in reality outlined neighborhoods on the basis of ethnic make-up. Based on these maps, many minority communities were ineligible for housing financing and were denied housing loans. Politically motivated practices such as redlining in predominantly Black and minority occupied neighborhoods created a “lack of equal access to credit, [which] had profound ramifications including fabulous enrichment for speculative contract sellers and their investors, debt peonage or impoverishment from many black contract buyers and an almost guaranteed decay of the communities in which such sales were concentrated2.”

Up until the 1960s, “federal housing agencies engaged in racial redlining, refusing to guarantee mortgages in inner city neighborhoods3.” The long-term effect of practices such as redlining included the separation of populations along ethnic lines, creating a sort of ‘urban apartheid,’ that can be directly traced back to the above government policies. Housing policy must be designed to address this history of spatial and racial socioeconomic segregation. One avenue through which this can be addressed is through mixed income housing that encourages socioeconomic integration of neighborhoods. An interesting example that we recently discussed in our class on violence was the preservation of socioeconomic integration of neighborhoods in Paris. A lack of elevators in many buildings in Paris led naturally to a social order where wealthy people lived on the ground floor (because they could afford a more expensive apartment where they didn’t need to climb the stairs), and poorer families lived on the higher floors (because they could not afford the more expensive apartments on the ground floors). As a result of this natural preservation of socioeconomic integration (simply due to lack of elevators), school systems in Parisian neighborhoods remain socioeconomically integrated, presenting equal opportunities for wealthy as well as poorer families.

An understanding of the historical forces that have instilled a legacy of racism and spatial segregation is key to moving forward with the structural changes that must be implemented to improve living conditions in zones of concentrated violence and inequality. Acknowledging the cumulative impact of years of politically motivated spatial segregation and installation of inequality is essential both at the level of public knowledge and governmental policy decision making. While much of the impacts of historical housing policy seem lacking in hope for change and progress, an important aspect to note is that the pride and sense of connection to a community can be extremely impactful on health including on levels of violence. Studies demonstrate that the health of new immigrant populations is often on equal levels as those of wealth Americans based on the fact that recent immigrants maintain strong connections and ties to their community. These positive health effects rapidly drop off in second and third generation immigrants. These studies offer promising avenues of hope, suggesting that strong family and community networks can counter many of the most difficult situations that people face and greatly affect an individuals’ resiliency to future insults. Thus, important interventions should not only include changes in housing policy that would promote socioeconomic integration of neighborhoods, and programs that would allow individuals to own their own homes, but should also include programs that foster a greater sense of community and increase ties and connections individuals feel towards their community.


1Ploys in the Hood, Raymond Arsenault

2Why the Poor Stay Poor, Richard Thompson Ford

3 In Chicago, Real Estate and Race as a Volatile Mix, Dwight Garner


The Last Laugh

The entire room of lobbyists laughed as we heard the update: a new bill introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives to allow school administrators to carry firearms[1]? There was no way this would gather enough support to pass. Plenty of new bills were introduced across the nation in response to recent incidents of gun violence; this could not be anything more than one Georgia legislator’s attempt to show his voters that he is tough on crime. My colleagues dismissed the bill, convinced it was proposed simply to provide that legislator with a campaign piece during the next election season, and not a serious attempt at preventing gun violence.

We dismissed the bill…until the next week, when a new update stunned us: the bill had been amended by the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security to allow any school personnel, not just administrators, to carry firearms on campus. The committee had actually expanded the proposal. Specifically, the bill authorizes local school boards of education to approve people to carry firearms on school property, including on school buses and at school functions. The only training the person must complete is “judgment pistol shooting, marksmanship, and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self and others.” The bill does not require any minimum hours of training, nor mention any other requirement for training, though it does exempt from training (at the school board’s discretion) people with prior military or law enforcement training. School boards must keep a list of the types and number of firearms the person is allowed to carry, and the firearm must be carried on the person’s body, not in a purse or briefcase. The only people the bill explicitly excludes from approval are those with a history of mental or emotional instability; the bill does not explicitly exclude those with criminal histories. The person must possess a valid weapons carry license, and school boards must conduct annual background checks on the person to determine whether the person remains qualified to possess a weapons carry license. No school board can force any person to carry, and no school board is obligated to approve people to carry. That’s it. That’s every provision of the bill, paraphrased.

In traditional Georgian fashion, a lot of discretion is left up to the county or city’s school board. Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, believes the responsibility and liabilities of arming school personnel are “beyond the expertise, knowledge-base, experience, and professional capabilities” of school boards[2]. He cautions against tasking teachers with the responsibilities of police officers, who receive months of training and develop a life-safety mindset that is different from that of civilians. According to Trump, education professionals and public safety professionals across the nation do not believe that educators should be armed. He emphasizes the enormous liability on the local school board should something go wrong.

The only personnel allowed to carry firearms on campus should be trained school resource officers and police forces. Instead of arming school personnel, legislatures should focus on fundraising to employ trained professionals at every school. This protective measure should be part of a greater measure to eliminate gun violence by enacting stricter gun laws, such as background checks for purchase and prohibition of assault rifles.

While efforts to prevent gun violence should be promoted, only sensible measures should succeed. The Georgia House of Representatives’ bill to allow any school personnel to carry firearms is not a sensible measure, thus should not succeed. Currently, the bill has been tabled until the next General Assembly Session in January 2014. While this means the bill will not be enacted into law this year, it also means the House leadership considers it a viable bill. To voice your opinion, contact your representative[3].

Punishing Prisoners: Corporal Style?

Whipping, Strapping, Spanking, Lashing, are all better known to the political world as corporal punishment.  While the proponents of corporal punishment in schools have died down, the use of physical punishments in jail has always been a hot debate.

The debate has been sparked again following a brutal beating of a homeless man in jail in South Carolina and the proposed legislature in Montana to use corporal punishment instead of jail time. In this case, he argues the beatings would be more humane. And for beatings in jail, some argue that beating prisoners shapes them up and builds an environment of control. However, I cannot forget what we are thinking about doing –beating a human being.

If we beat them, what message are we sending? Are they not human beings? Are they exclusions to the rule?

Looking at corporal punishment systems used in the past, there were many problems. First off, the system was inconsistent because of the amount of subjectivity involved. The force used to beat somebody is not an exact science, and there are always guards who put the matters into their own hands. When physically punished I postulate that the prisoners will either fall apart or not care. Some people may be affected, but most likely in a negative way. Then there are the tough guys who are used to physical violence and couldn’t care less. If anything, we are just sending them the message that violence is an okay answer.

To examine the influence of corporal punishment on a prisoner, I looked at the study of prisoners in Canada in the 1950’s, when strapping was employed as a method of punishment. The prisoners were later interviewed and the majority of their sentiments are similar to the stories below:

“He felt humiliated because he considered it was a child’s punishment. He did not think the strapping had done him any particular harm. It had no real effect in influencing his subsequent conduct … He had not cried out when strapped although he knew others who had. The other inmates had kidded him somewhat after his strapping but had shown no particular sympathy towards him. His skin was not broken but he remained bruised for about two weeks.”

“During the interview, the hatred he felt for those who had subjected him to corporal punishment was very obvious and his testimony was given in an electrified atmosphere. He stressed that he had had nine strokes and did not utter a groan. He felt that he had been unjustly punished.”

“The witness said that the strapping had not influenced his conduct for good. It was a degrading punishment worthy of ‘Julius Caesar’. It was outmoded. It was torture. The pain from the strapping was much less important than the loss of pride and the humiliation. The principal feeling is that of humiliation and embarrassment resulting from being tied down and subjected to a childish punishment in the presence of prison staff. The witness had not cried out when strapped but he had exhibited his hostility to the guards by talking back to them afterwards. He had to do this to relieve the tension after being strapped. The strapping had made him a little more cocky, a little more belligerent with the guards.”

The last man chose to be strapped and stay out of jail, and it was all part of his plan to get out. He did get out, and he did at this time commit two murders.

The study’s research confirmed that adrenalin output increases sharply during fear, anger and physical punishment. “When this is prolonged or often repeated, the endocrine balance fails to return to baseline. The victim becomes easily angered and prone to poor impulse control and spontaneous violent outbursts.” The study then considered whether delinquents grew from lack of discipline, or from too much discipline.

Dr. Alan Button reports, “This, it now appears is the wrong question. We should be asking about sequence. Parents of delinquents, all of them, report physical beating in the first ten to twelve years of the child’s life, but rarely thereafter. They ‘wash their hands’ of the kid because ‘nothing works.’ Then the judge, finding that the boy has no supervision, denounces permissiveness.”

If it didn’t work then, why would it work now?



Sunil Tripathi and the Need for Media Accountability

A recent discussion in our Violence seminar centered on the idea of media accountability in news reporting. The lecturer, Rebecca Palpant, directed particular attention to the relationship between media coverage/bias and societal views on mental health issues. According to Dr. Palpant, the media’s portrayal of people with mental health problems and the issues themselves holds significant power in defining and maintaining societal norms. This directly affects the way that patients with mental health disorders are treated, both in a private and public sphere. Personally, the patient’s social interactions, treatment options, and education and job opportunities will be affected by his or hers diagnosis; in the public sphere, media coverage influences hospitals, insurance companies, public policy experts, and government leaders as they are faced with decisions regarding mental health. Dr. Palpant emphasized the media’s large role in both of these arenas and discussed the importance of both publicity and media accountability with regards to these sorts of complex, sensitive issues.


I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Palpant’s words as I followed coverage of the Boston bombings over these past two weeks. As the initial events of the MIT shooting and Watertown chase were occurring, the Twitter hashtag “#SunilTripathi” went viral. Tripathi, a student of Indian-American heritage, had gone missing from Brown University approximately one month prior. The online community mis-identified Tripathi as one of the bombers, and Twitter, Reddit, blogs, and even certain news organizations began naming him as a suspect. Hours later, when the FBI finally released the names of the bombers, Tamerlane and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the focus quickly shifted to their backgrounds and beliefs instead.


Tripathi’s body was found in a Providence, R.I., river approximately a week after the Watertown incident. Although many news sources retracted their inaccurate reports and individuals and the Reddit community offered their apologies, Sunil Tripathi’s story quickly fell to the back of the news pages, a sad saga of an apparently depressed college student who committed suicide.


I found multiple aspects of this chain of events troublesome. The mis-identification of Tripathi and the premature rush to publicize and condemn him without official confirmation was highly disturbing. Not only did it show an alarming lack of concern for this man’s family and reputation, but it also had hallmarks of xenophobia and discrimination. As an Indian-American myself, I am particularly sensitive to this issue; it did not escape my attention that quite a few of the sources naming him as a suspect commented on his skin tone and suggested a possible link to Islam. Another complicated facet was Tripathi’s apparent depression, which had compelled his family to make a Facebook group begging for Tripathi’s safe return.


This detail correlated directly with Dr. Palpant’s discussion on the media bias linking mental illness with aggression and criminal behavior. Already a suspect based on his missing status and ethnicity, Tripathi’s mental health problems secured his involvement with the bombings.  Writers and commentators alike made comments, since removed, which illustrated Tripathi as a disturbed individual who was probably influenced by Islamic radicals. The rush of the 24/7 news cycle and the need to be first caused many websites to name him without confirmation, and this is where the issue of media accountability becomes not only relevant, but essential.


Had Sunil Tripathi still been alive, he would have awoken in the morning to find his reputation in tatters due to this overzealous and irresponsible reporting. As it stands, this experience must have been unimaginably traumatizing for the Tripathi family, which has been largely ignored since the initial rush to gain information regarding Sunil. This story is a clear example of the sheer importance of media accountability, particularly for sensitive news issues. Until then, we are left with a sober warning about mass media on the Internet and the Tripathi family’s final public statement to everyone who is struggling: “Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”

The Cost of Violence

Pheadra’s lecture on the costs of the maltreatment of children provided a uniquely holistic representation of how violence affects society from an economic perspective. The WHO conducted a study in 2004 that takes a more expansive look at violence through the lens of interpersonal violence including child abuse, partner violence, elder abuse, sexual abuse, workplace violence, youth violence, and other violent crime.

Like Phaedra’s cost analysis, the WHO divides costs into direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include those such as cost of legal services and foster care, while the indirect costs include a person’s lost earnings and investment in human capital.  The total cost for estimated loss from violence is $329.8 billion dollars, equal to 3.3% of the U.S. GDP. From Phaedra’s lecture we can add an additional $33 billion dollars for self-inflicted violence. Outside of the United States, the costs are much higher. It is estimated that in 1997 Colombia lost 24.7% of its GDP due to violence. Seems like a lot, right?

The real cost question still remains: what would it cost to intervene?

The WHO estimates that prevention of violence-related problems is much less costly than programs to solve the problems once they arise. For child abuse, they estimate that the prevention costs are a tiny 1/19 of the eventual child abuse costs incurred. The net savings per sexual offender are around $26,000. A study in Arizona cited in the WHO’s report notes a net social gain of $3.4 million dollars, saving about 3-15 million.

What more do we need to do to show that violence has immeasurable costs to our society? And how many times can we talk do we need to talk about it before we take more action? The Wall Street Journal’s article, “On India’s Streets, Women Run a Gantlet of Harassment”, by Amol Sharma, Biman Mukherji and Rupa Subramanaya reminds us of a recent violent episode in mid-December from the New Delhi bus gang-rape. The article describes the environment in Kolkata -the police do little to prevent violence, while women travel in groups and carry sharp objects to deter attacks. These incidences should help us make faster “moves” so to speak, in the policy arena.

How severe does violence need to be for our policy makers to finally make necessary budgeting decisions?

P1-BK484_BARASA_D_20130227184109A Train Station in India where Violence is Common 

CIRV: New Ways to Combat Crime

In class we discussed the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), a program to decrease crime in the Cincinnati area. Crime in Cincinnati fits a One-to-Many model: 3% of the Cincinnati population commits 73.5% of homicides. This poses a vexing question: how might law enforcement break what appears to be a tightly knit network of criminals that has highly magnified, disruptive effects on the community? To address this challenge, CIRV approaches crime by coordinating the efforts of multiple law enforcement, social service, and community service agencies in a community outreach-oriented program.

CIRV’s most distinctive characteristic is the call-in program. Call-in meetings provide an opportunity for criminals and state officials to create a dialogue and discuss available resources, such as potential employment opportunities. In addition, call-in meetings also allow law enforcement officials to consistently reinforce the consequences of criminal recidivism. The city of Stockton, California, recently reinstated call-in meetings for the first time since the 1990s. The variety of leaders they have brought together is inspiring.  Stockton has employed church leaders, gang outreach workers, and on the prosecution side, the District Attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office, Probation and Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones.  A community effort, such as Stockton’s, acknowledges crime is a much more complex than moving prisoners in small cells with Draconian conditions. Instead, the CIRV-like approach illuminates the notion that progressive rehabilitation is a strong possibility for those that commit crimes.

While the program’s success in Stockton has yet to be determined, there is significant evidence that CIRV achieved noteworthy gains in Cincinnati. In 2007, homicides declined 68%, the largest single-year drop since 1991. As discussed in class, Braga and Weisburd suggest that CIRV’s success is due in part to its adherence to the principal that “targeted offenders should be treated with respect and dignity… reflecting procedural justice principals” (Kennedy 2008, 2009: 351). As additional cities mimic CIRV across the United States, a decrease in crime becomes increasingly possible.  I can only imagine how different outcomes would have been had convicted criminals been treated with respect and dignity before they felt the need to commit their crimes in the first place.

New_call_to_restore_fubb3dd4ba-4f9b-4b84-a402-17d68b497ae20000_20110520181851_320_240A Typical Call In 

Watch Your Mouth: The Use of Language in Gun Control Debates

Just a few days after the addition of the Boston Marathon bombing as another wound in an ongoing tale of public violence in the United States, and following the recent defeat in Congress of a proposed expansion of background checks for gun transactions, President Obama is now focusing his efforts on enforcing executive actions requiring state agencies to release mental health records to the FBI. Federal law currently prevents individuals diagnosed with certain mental health issues to purchase firearms; the FBI uses information provided by states in order to enforce this legislation.  Prior to the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, states voluntarily provided these records.  However, following the incident, new legislation was passed requiring states to provide the information or face significant cuts to criminal justice funding. Recently, the Obama administration, under executive order, began working to remove other barriers that might prevent states from releasing mental health records to the FBI.


Interestingly enough, this tune is quite different than that of only a couple of weeks ago, when, it was reported that Senate lawmakers were working quietly to develop legislation that would bring about comprehensive mental healthcare reform.  The legislation would provide more funding and development in the mental health care sector across the country, increasing the number of health care facilities, providing early intervention training, and increase Medicaid allotments for mental health care.  While lawmakers and mental health care lobbyists initially attempted to quietly distance the mental health legislation from discussions about gun control, recent events have made the connection inevitable.


Such a scenario begs larger questions about the language used in media reporting about mental health and violence, especially in the current popular dialogue over gun control reform in the wake of increasingly frequent mass shootings.  If one were to read through the headlines published about the spree killers involved in the shootings in Aurora, Tucson, or Newtown, one would read scores of connections between the acts of violence and allegations of mental illness or instability.  In fact, according to Ronald Honberg, the director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, none of these individuals have ever been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue, at least not to our knowledge.  Yet, in the wake of these shootings, the discussion about gun control centered directly on issues of mental health, reflecting subconscious societal connections between violence and mental health.


However, the truth is that, although many people assume that mental illness commonly precipitates violence, the annual incidence of violent crimes against people with serious mental illnesses is more than four times higher than in the general population (Teplin, et al. 2005).  If we are going to have a national conversation about mental health, then this aspect has to be included in it.  However, the current stigmas present in the media, political discourse, and social conversation short circuit the potential productivity of a mental health conversation by reducing the impact of mental health to acts of violence, a connection that is not backed up by the facts themselves.


A public conversation about increasing resources for addressing mental health is essential in our national health climate, especially when approximately 47% of Americans will have a diagnosable disorder within their lifetime (according to the DSM-5).  However, as we pursue this conversation, we must be extremely careful about the ways in which we conflate mental health and violence.  The language we use and the connections we draw matter immensely for our abilities to care for such a significant and valuable population in our society.