Lynn Curtis was a graduate
student, working on his Ph.D. in criminal justice at the University of
Pennsylvania, when he was chosen to work on the bipartisan President's
National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1969, just
months after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther
King, Jr. The report, the product of tens of thousands of hours of
work by an esteemed panel of experts from a broad range of philosophical
and professional disciplines, concluded that "The greatness and durability
of most civilizations has been finally determined by how they have responded
to challenges from within. Ours will be no exception."
Thirty years after that historic
effort, Mr. Curtis is President of the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation,
the private sector offspring of that original commission. Last week,
the foundation released "A Thirty Year Update of the National Commission
on the Causes and Prevention of Violence." The report, entitled,
"To Establish Justice, To Insure Domestic Tranquility," reaches back three
decades to the findings of the original report, especially to the warnings
contained therein, and finds that in 1999, our public policies have, to
a large degree, ignored the wisdom of the original findings.
Read about the report's findings
in last week's issue at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/117.html#eisenhowerfoundation.
The report can be obtained by calling (202) 429-0440, or writing to The
Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, 1660 L St., NW, Suite 200, Washington,
This week, The Week Online
spoke with Dr. Curtis:
|WOL: What does the Eisenhower
-- END --
LC: In the early 1980's,
we were able to reconvene a good number of the commissioners and staff
of the original Kerner Commission and the original Violence commission
and we reconvened them in the private sector. The mission is to focus
on the agenda of those commissions, to make grants to inner-city, non-profit
organizations that do everything from crime and drug prevention to youth
development to educational reform to economic development and jobs.
We demonstrate new programs, we replicate success, we evaluate that.
We also give technical assistance to enhance the capacity of inner-city
groups, we do a lot of reports to communicate what works and to criticize
policies that don't.
WOL: The Office of
National Drug Control Policy keeps saying that we can't arrest our way
out of the drug problem, and yet they oversee a budget that is heavily
weighted toward law enforcement and a policy that is the primary engine
in the growth of the prison-industrial complex.
LC: Our report quotes
the drug czar saying that the drug war has failed. We don't try to
take on the mission of ONDCP, or to engage any agency directly. We
do address drugs by talking about the racial bias in drug sentencing and
we talk about the fact that 70% of the drug war budget being enforcement
and 30% being treatment and prevention. We point out that in many
European countries those numbers are basically reversed, and that we might
well benefit from a realignment of that balance.
WOL: The report talks
about states spending more on prisons than on higher education. Can
you tell us what has brought that on, is there political consensus behind
that trend, and what will need to happen to turn that around?
LC: Well, it is a fact
that the states collectively spend more on prisons than on higher education,
and we relate that fact to a 25% child poverty rate and that we're the
only superpower in the world and the fact that one in every three young
African American men are under criminal justice supervision. This
is the litany of inequality, and we are saying that these are not wise
investments based on what we know to work, and that these need to be turned
around. We give a number of examples in the report of prevention
programs up-front that are simultaneously crime and drug prevention programs
and also develop youth, keep them in school and better employ them.
At the back end, there are
some models like the one in Arizona, where the citizens of that state voted
twice for a diversion. We think that that represents good progress
and illustrates the type of policy that can be beneficial in terms of reduced
recidivism and also in terms of reduced costs to the taxpayer. The
report also points to after school programs, Head Start, the Ford Foundation's
Quantum Opportunity Program, YouthBuild USA, the San Francisco Delancey
Street model for the reintegration of ex-offenders and others. These
are successful programs that need to be replicated to the scale of the
problems they address at a national level.
Is it political? Sure.
Politicians are emphasizing prison building and "zero tolerance," which
the report states are clearly oversold as successful, at the expense of
the consideration of other factors [for recently reduced violent crime
rates] such as the booming economy. In the long run, though, we are
still way, way out of line with the rest of the developed world in terms
of violence, crime and imprisonment.
WOL: The report talks
a lot about the fact that we know what works. How will it convince
the public that we know what works and that the investment that the report
advocates will be worthwhile?
LC: I look back to
the 1992 riot in South Central Los Angeles after the first Rodney King
verdict. There was a New York Times/CBS poll taken and they asked
a national sample, "are you prepared to do more about the problems in the
inner-city, especially when it comes to education and employment?"
The majority said yes. The next question asked what the major obstacle
to doing more, and the majority responded "lack of knowledge." So
there's a real sense out there that we don't know what works.
Part of that has to do with
the success of the constituency that believes in tax breaks for the rich
and prison building for the poor in getting their message out. There
is a level of sophistication there in terms of their financing and the
elaborateness of their communications structure. Part of it has to
do with the media, which, as you know, is controlled by eight large corporations,
and they have their interests. But most people today get their information
from the half-hour local newscasts, and there, there is a propensity to
cover crime and violence, which is inexpensive and gets ratings.
This tends to lead to a mindset among the public that nothing works.
WOL: So, having said
that, is there hope?
LC: Again, I go back
to what we found in the report, and that is, we do in fact know what works.
And I think that there has been a realization, very recently, by progressive
foundations, that the non-profit sector, which had lost a lot of its momentum
during the eighties, is beginning to be rejuvenated. There does seem
to be a stirring of people and institutions toward more organizing and
advocacy on some of these issues. We are still, to a large degree,
rolling the boulder up the hill. But yes, I am hopeful.
Issue #118, 12/10/99
INTERVIEW: Lynn Curtis, President, Eisenhower Foundation | Republican Congressman, Senate Candidate Calls for Drug Maintenance Programs | Protesters Take Over Office of NYC Secretary of Human Resources | FDA-Approved Medical Marijuana Research Blocked Under New Federal Guidelines | Study Finds Poverty More Harmful to Children than Pre-Natal Exposure to Cocaine | Newsbriefs | Rebroadcast of Snitch Next Week | New Issue of Harm Reduction Communication Available Online | Deadline Extended for Year 2000 Drug Policy Foundation Achievement Awards | Editorial: A Typical Week in the Drug War
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