Abstract: Linking Root Causes of Community Violence to Effective Programs in Two Rural Counties in the Mississippi Delta (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Linking Root Causes of Community Violence to Effective Programs in Two Rural Counties in the Mississippi Delta

Friday, January 18, 2019: 11:15 AM
Union Square 14 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Dionne Barnes-Proby, DPA, Senior Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Background: Generations of researchers have built a strong knowledge base about the epidemiology of crime, its causes and correlates, and what government and nongovernment actors can do to impact it. However, most of that knowledge, particularly about how various government institutions respond to and prevent crime, is based on research and data conducted in large urban centers. There is a limited body of research on the differences in crime patterns in rural areas. In order to make recommendations to reduce crime in rural localities, an in-depth understanding of the local crime problem is paramount – including patterns, sociodemographic correlates, and causes. Using the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) evidence based framework for identifying and selecting interventions to improve community health, this project sought to understand and reduce crime and violence in two rural counties in the Mississippi Delta (Phillips County, AR and Coahoma County, MS). CDC’s strategy includes seven steps: (1) Assessing the Community, (2) Setting Goals and Objectives, (3) Finding Evidence, (4) Selecting Interventions, (5) Adapting, (6) Implementing, and (7) Evaluating. This project generally completed the first three steps which included, assessing community needs through collection and analysis of crime data and community stakeholders’ perceptions of crime and its causes and correlates. The research team also matched the needs identified by the community to research-based crime prevention strategies.

Methods: This project used a mixed-method design, which included holding multiple stakeholder meetings; community focus groups; interviews with community stakeholders; and obtaining official police data. While the statistics reported by the police department provide a basic understanding of the crime problem, the primary data collection activities grounded in qualitative methods have the unique strength of giving the community a mechanism to voice their thoughts and opinions in a systematic but unstructured format, providing the opportunity for a richer, more nuanced understanding of community dynamics.

Results: The crime and violence rates in the two most populous cities in Phillips and Coahoma Counties are significantly higher than their surrounding areas. Homicide rates in both counties were very high, and community stakeholders indicate that they experience a great deal of violent and property crimes. When asked what was causing the crime, residents, community stakeholders, and government officials cited a variety of problems that were clustered into five themes: inadequate family and community support, lack of economic opportunities, government system failure, limited social programs and services, and failing schools. Using best practices clearinghouses and the academic literature, the research team identified a range of evidence-based programs that have successfully reduced the causes and contributors of crime and violence raised by the stakeholders in these communities.

Implications: Impacting crime and violence is very complex and challenging because it is so interrelated with other social and economic problems, and local efforts may not show tangible results for many years. Findings from this project, grounding in the CDC framework, provide the foundation for a community coalition to develop a comprehensive approach to crime and violence prevention and reduction in Phillips and Coahoma Counties, and other similar communities.