The Jefferson County Commission recently discussed a crime prevention plan that has already been implemented in major metropolitan areas like Compton, California, and Brooklyn, New York. The proposal, which would cost about $3.2 million over a period of four to five years, was presented by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting social programs.                                   

Douglas Wood, the director of the Aspen Institute's Criminal Reform Initiative, detailed how law enforcement could take a more proactive approach by investing in neighborhoods with known crime problems.

"How do you mitigate against violence in neighborhoods with overlapping poverty and high incarceration rates?" Wood asked the commission. "We have seen a lot of the great things that Birmingham has been doing to try to address issues of public safety and wanted to come to Birmingham to have a conversation starting with the mayor's office and city council."

Representatives from Birmingham and Jefferson County attended a program put on by the company earlier this year explaining the "Justice and Governance" partnership proposal. Commissioner Sheila Tyson was one of those delegates.

"In other states, this has worked," Tyson said. "You can see the number of crimes go down. In NY and Compton … I would like to see us take a real look at this and try to partner with the city in this."

Wood said the Justice Mapping Center would put a number on the cost of criminal activity, a program he calls "Million Dollar Blocks" that started in Brooklyn. There, experts analyzed how much the state was spending on people in prison per block.

"The state was paying $1 million to send people to prison, per block, in Brooklyn," Wood explained.

Mapping techniques were then used to examine each neighborhood and re-invest those funds into those communities.

An annual justice audit would be conducted for city and county leaders to determine where funds could be allocated. The Aspen Institute would help get the program started and assist the county and city in applying for grants from national justice organizations such as The Ford Foundation and Arnold Foundation. Initial program costs would start at $650,000 per year. Jefferson County, the city of Birmingham, and others who signed on would split the costs.

A commission would be formed with people from each entity paying for the initiative, and that commission would decide where to allocate funds based on an audit.

"The annual justice audit is not just a criminal justice system," said Wood. "It looks at health, housing, education, employment, and all of those issues that really are very much associated with issues of violence and public safety."

Each local jurisdiction would be reviewed as part of the audit, Wood explained.

"Our expected impact and outcomes with regard to this data: an increased network of community-based public safety activities, reduction in the punitive justice footprint, reduction in the critical health care footprint, reduction in the residential and family crisis footprint," he said. "Because we will be using the data to be able to think about, 'How do we re-invest back in those particular places where there are challenges in those neighborhoods?'"

The initiative would mean the city and county would work with police, the sheriff's office, attorneys, courts, jail staff and probation offices to come up with a specific violence prevention and crisis management plan.

"Every time there is a shooting, and somebody goes to the emergency room, there is a cost to that," Wood added. "It's not about more money. It's about using your money much more smartly."

Wood said the program has been successful in Compton, although Compton continues to see a rise in crime rates, according to FBI statistics, and is still one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. This year, Compton had the highest rate of incarceration among California cities with at least 200,000 people, with 979 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents.

The Jefferson County Commission did not vote on the issue, but Commissioner Joe Knight said he expects more discussion on the matter in the future.

The Aspen Institute was the center of controversy in 2021 after it started the Commission on Information Disorder. Critics said the organization used its power to censor news that was critical of left-wing interests. In fact, it was later revealed that Yoel Roth, who served on the commission and worked for Twitter, censored a New York Times article on Hunter Biden's laptop just before the 2020 election.

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