WASHINGTON, D.C.—What happens to a community when you combine crime, mass incarceration and poverty? While you’re scratching your head searching for the answer, add to that equation measly amounts of development dollars. The answer is more crime, mass incarceration, and poverty.
This is the finding of a new report by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). The study found that Baltimore neighborhoods, most impacted by the criminal legal system, are also among the city’s most disadvantaged across a broad range of indicators. The disparities fall along racial lines, JPI researchers found and can be traced to policy decisions that have led to chronic disinvestment in the city’s Black communities.
The title of the report, “The Right Investment 2.0: How Maryland Can Create Safe and Healthy Communities” includes data revealing how neighborhoods with the highest number of residents in state prisons experience the lowest levels of community well-being as measured by an array of more than 60 indicators covering employment, education, health, housing and more, noted justicepolicy.org.
“At a time when people are increasingly concerned about crime, this research suggests officials have been making the wrong kinds of public safety investments and, as a result, missing a key opportunity to help communities realize meaningful levels of safety and well-being,” explained Paul Ashton, interim executive director at JPI.
Andrew Muhammad is the executive director and founder of “We Our Us” as well as the founder of “Baltimore Brothers”. His work involves going to the worst parts of the city to revive the lives of both men and boys. His focus is on helping people obtain resources that lead to productive pathways and move their goals forward. For years, he witnessed the decay of neighborhoods.
He told The Final Call, “Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration is addressing these poverty areas with new housing, recreation centers, and employment. I am seeing a change in terms of more opportunities. He’s only been in office a little over three years. For at least two decades I’ve watched the lack of investment in Baltimore’s Black communities. For two decades they haven’t invested in Baltimore’s inner cities. They invested in downtown, and uptown, nothing in the cities.”
“But we’re starting to see a little change. To be honest with you, I hope that continues, but it’s a little change right now. We’re starting to see a little change.”
The Right Investment Report combined data from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance, a research organization affiliated with the University of Baltimore, to reveal how neighborhoods with the highest number of residents in state prisons experience the lowest levels of community wellbeing as measured by an array of more than 60 indicators covering employment, education, health, housing and more.
Tracking the disparities
The study found that the state of Maryland annually spends nearly $288 million to incarcerate people from Baltimore—as much as $17 million each year in the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park community alone—yet those millions fail to reach the communities in need.
Nearly 32 percent of people in Maryland prisons come from the city of Baltimore, which comprises only 10 percent of the state’s population, The Right Investment reported in 2015. Nearly one in four of these incarcerated people come from only five neighborhoods.
In Southwest Baltimore, which has 300 former residents in state prison, 29 percent of the population has less than a GED education and nearly one in five residents (18.5 percent) are without health insurance. Conversely, in Greater Roland Park / Poplar Hill, which has just one former resident in state prison, 1.2 percent of residents have less than a GED and only 3.2 percent are uninsured. Similarly, in another high-impact community, Greater Rosemont, which has 325 former residents living in state prisons, the unemployment rate is five times the city’s unemployment rate overall.
The end of 2023 saw a major announcement from Mayor Scott about community investment. With Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the mayor announced a landmark agreement to aggressively combat Baltimore City’s vacant and abandoned properties over the next 15 years. The agreement calls for strategic public investment to redevelop a minimum of 37,500 properties, with a clear plan to address as many as 45,000 properties.
This is a critical component of community development. Research indicates that vacant homes are associated with numerous negative consequences for communities. Several studies have explored the impact of abandoned properties, unoccupied residences, on higher crime rates.
The Scott administration pledged city investment of $300 million over 15 years to spark the project. That money will be used to generate as much as $3 billion to finance the redevelopment work over the course of the effort.
“This historic partnership and the plan we’re putting forward is designed to fully address Baltimore’s vacant housing crisis for the first time in our city’s history,” said Mayor Scott to a crowd of over 550 community leaders at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church. “The era of piecemeal work and backwards-looking strategies is over. With this partnership and the plan we’ve designed together, Baltimore City finally has a roadmap for solving this crisis once and for all, utilizing both innovative funding streams and tried-and-true development strategies.”
“For me, this work is personal. Vacant properties and the challenges they pose to neighborhoods have been a constant backdrop for my entire life. We now know the path forward, and with the City’s partnership with BUILD and GBC, we will use every tool at our disposal to get it done.”
The agreement commits to meeting key community development standards and values, including a commitment to leverage at least $2 in direct private investment for every $1 of public money spent.
“This is a landmark day for the city of Baltimore and its residents. For far too long, vacant and abandoned properties have plagued our neighborhoods, leading to increased violence and stripping wealth from residents,” said BUILD clergy co-Chair Rev. George Hopkins.
“BUILD, GBC, and Mayor Scott are proud to have a firm, working agreement that—when fully implemented—will end this crisis once and for all. It will take all of us, as well as many other partners, to do this, but BUILD is committed to seeing this work through.” To read, “The Right Investment 2.0: How Maryland Can Create Safe and Healthy Communities,” in its entirety, visit justicepolicy.org.