Washington DC Council Passes Bill to Give Residents $9,000 Cash Not to Commit Crime

February 3, 2016 Updated: February 3, 2016

A new plan to deter crime has gained preliminary approval from the Washington, D.C. Council.

The plan, part of an anti-crime bill, would pay as many as 200 residents identified as being at risk for committing or being a victim of violent crimes if they participate in behavioral therapy and remain crime-free.

The residents would receive up to $9,000 a year, according to the Washington Times.

Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, a Democrat who wrote the legislation, said it was part of a comprehensive approach to reducing violent crime in the city, which experienced a 54 percent increase in homicides last year. Homicides and violent crime are still down significantly since the 2000s, and even more so since the early 1990s when the District was dubbed the nation’s “murder capital.”

The proposed program is based on a similar one running in Richmond, California.

If you want behavior to persist over time, rewards are the way to do it.

“Punishment might get you to stop a practice, but that doesn’t persist,” said Barry Krisberg, the University of California-Berkeley criminologist who helped devise the Richmond program. “If you want behavior to persist over time, rewards are the way to do it.”

In Richmond, 79 percent of “fellows” participating in the program have not been suspected of involvement in any gun crimes since joining the program, and 84 percent have not been injured by gunfire, the program’s executive director, DeVone Boggan, said in a report to the Council.

Richmond experienced a 77 percent drop in homicides between 2007, when the program was launched, and 2014, although how much can be specifically attributed to the stipends is unclear.

The program would be run independently of the police department, and participants would remain anonymous. Its goal would be to recruit people who are at risk of violence but don’t have criminal cases pending.

But financing the bill remains a key issue, because it would cost $3.9 million in fiscal year 2016, and $25.6 million across four years. 

The specific payment program would cost $4.9 million over four years, including $460,000 a year in stipend payments.

But McDuffie argued that spending $9,000 a year in stipends “pales in comparison” to the cost of someone being victimized, along with the costs of incarcerating the offender.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.