Poverty, punishment, and place : place-based policy in the era of mass incarceration
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It has long been the case that social problems—poverty, crime, poor health, and others—concentrate in particular places. That fact is the basis for, among other efforts, federal place-based poverty policy, which directs support to those places in an attempt to alleviate the burdens of poverty. These poverty-reduction efforts have taken various forms over the years. Some are based on grants, others on tax incentives. Some prioritize education, housing, and health, others job creation. Some, though not all, manifest a concern for the civic incorporation of poor communities. This report considers the most recent iteration, the Obama Administration’s Promise Zones, and identifies a key gap in its conceptual logic. The program did not account directly for the problem of mass incarceration. American criminal justice is vastly more punitive and socially harmful now than in the past when earlier place-based policies were developed. Mass incarceration has profound consequences for the economic condition, health, and general well-being of the individuals under its control, as well as their families and communities. Mass incarceration also has the effect of excluding those people and places civically and politically. Consequently, future place-based policy should account for mass incarceration’s harms. If it does not, the harmful byproducts of policing and punishment threaten to undermine any gains that the policy might achieve. This report concludes with proposed alterations to place-based policy like the Promise Zones to guard against that risk.