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pittsburgh weed and seed

Western and Beckett (1999) identify a key paradox in the short and long-term labor market effects of theUSprison system. Prisoners are excluded from unemployment figures in theUnited States, deflating the unemployment rate and creating the illusion of a stronger economy in the short-run. But because incarceration reduces job prospects for ex-offenders, they argue that consequences of a rapidly expanding penal system are sustained long-term unemployment and deepening social inequality: “Incarceration . . . deepens inequality because its effects are increasingly detrimental for young black and unskilled men, whose incarceration rates are highest and whose market power is weak” (1031). This unemployment contradiction marks the potential long-term negative impact on recidivism in targeted neighborhoods.


Bynum, Timothy, Gregory Mills and Kristen Jacoby. 1999. National evaluation of weed and seed: Pittsburgh case study. Washington,D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice, National InstituteofJustice.

Certainly, improving the conditions of poor urban neighborhoods and increasing community involvement through crime reduction and social programming are practical goals at the state and local level. In some cases, crime reduction, improvements in the way that residents felt about their neighborhood, and institutional collaboration are positive outcomes of the Weed and Seed strategy. What remains is a question of whether these positive outcomes create substantive gains for the communities in which the strategy is implemented. While further research is needed to answer this question, the studies included in this paper suggest that prisoner re-entry presents significant challenges for ex-offenders, their families, and the communities. These findings stimulate further questions about the net social value of a policy that seeks to improve poor neighborhoods by removing residents without providing any support for their inevitable return. In looking forward, it’s important to understand Weed and Seed as a product, not an artifact, of social policy-making in a neo-liberal environment, one that continues to be reproduced in urban communities throughout theUnited States. For this reason, it is imperative that the socio-economic impact on targeted neighborhoods is carefully studied moving forward so that the design of the Weed and Seed strategy can be enhanced to ensure maximum benefit for urban communities.

While many of the Weed and Seed sites are selected on the basis of high crime rates and high density of indicators of poverty (unemployment and income status) (Miller 2001), outcomes measuring the latter are not widely publicized in available program materials. The evaluation of the Crawford-Roberts reports little to no improvement in unemployment (Bynum et. al. 1999), and the cross-site analysis (Dunworth et. al1999) omits these outcomes all together. In sum, while reduced crime rates and improved community perception indicate some success, the absence of data regarding the economic wellbeing of communities suggest that such success is perhaps too narrowly defined.

The origins of Operation Weed and Seed suggest that it emerged as a solution to the problems of developing surplus urban space. Target neighborhoods for Weed and Seed implementation were selected based on indicators of underdevelopment and economic promise (Miller 2001). For example, the Crawford-Roberts neighborhood occupied a central location in the Hill District in Pittsburghthat had once been a populous African American urban center for commerce and cultural activity. As a result of fleeting industrial production from the city, the Hill District had seen a 70% drop in population by the 1990s and was home to neighborhoods with the highest violent and drug crime-rates in the city (Bynum et al.1999). The combination of tax incentives, aggressive law enforcement, and growing community involvement through small-scale neighborhood investments were to stimulate economic development and improve conditions in neighborhoods like Crawford-Roberts.

Each Weed and Seed site has a designated a Grantee Organization, which is responsible for program coordination and implementation. Steering committees are charged with designing the program and, often chaired by officials such as an attorney general or mayor, consist of a mix of public sector representatives and community members (Dunworth et. al. 1999). For example, the Crawford-Roberts Weed and Seed site inPittsburghhad a task force that consisted of members from the local police department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) (Bynum et. al. 1999).

The city disputed some of those findings last week and pointed to huge reductions in crime as proof the program worked during the time in question, between 2007 and 2010. But now, the city admits its statistics weren’t as good as initially thought, blaming the fact that the initial report had not been vetted by the Police Department.

For instance, where city officials claimed between 2007 and 2010, crime in the Pittsburgh neighborhood had dropped 42 percent, it was actually down 37-percent. In English Avenue, Weed & Seed was credited with a 51-percent reduction in crime. It was actually 45-percent. In Vine City, the program was credited with helping police reduce crime 50-percent when the real number was 44-percent. And in Mechanicsville, where the program was credited for a 35-percent drop in lawlessness, crime was actually up 35-percent.

Atlanta’s administration of the federal program aimed at weeding out the bad and seeding neighborhood redevelopment was criticized in a federal audit uncovered last week by WSB Washington Correspondent Jamie Dupree. From 2007 until 2010, the federal government sent Atlanta $1.1 million in grants targeted in four neighborhoods: Pittsburgh, Mechanicsville, English Avenue and Vine City.
The Justice Department audit found hundreds of thousands of dollars had been misspent. Questionable items included an intercom system for the mayor’s office, a late payment on a credit card bill and payment to a caterer.

Atlanta’s controversial use of a federal crime reduction program isn’t paying off as well as first thought. That could put more pressure on the people who run the city’s version of the federal “Weed & Seed” grant.

Still, a statement by the mayor’s office noted that together, crime in the neighborhoods served by Weed & Seed was down 21-percent in 2011 compared to five years earlier.