OP-ED: Pushing Back Against NIMBY – Replacing Fear with Facts

NIMBY is a characterization of opposition to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous in one's neighborhood.

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An empty prison cell should actually mean good news.(Submitted photo)
An empty prison cell should actually mean good news.(Submitted photo)

By Barrington M. Salmon

The fear and concern the prospect of a reentry facility coming into one’s neighborhood elicits is understandable and normal. Safety is a primary consideration. The idea that someone who was recently behind bars may be living next door can be jarring and unnerving. Our minds often go to the worst-case scenario whether what we’re stewing on is real or imagined.

Another key factor to consider is economic. For example, there is an abiding belief that placing a reentry center in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7 will have an adverse economic impact on property values and the ward’s economic well-being.

Actually, there are several studies which show just the opposite of this line of thinking. The facts are clear, as demonstrated by decades of research: facilities like reentry centers that provide support to underserved populations do not decrease property values.

In one study, researchers reviewed the impact of a leading recovery home provider that offers drug and alcohol support services at 154 locations throughout the U.S. The study found that “no evidence of property devaluation was found” and that “community members … actually saw an increase in property value over an average of 3 years.”

The study, titled, “Counteracting ‘Not in My Backyard,’ is found in the Journal of Community Psychology.

Resistance to housing for ex-offenders, recovering addicts and others is a pervasive problem despite research documenting favorable outcomes for individuals living in recovery residences. A key to breaking down that resistance is to replace fear with facts, invite neighbors to see the reentry space, familiarize them with the facility’s operations and develop open communications and transparency.

Another way to engender community confidence is to partner with trusted stakeholders, advocacy groups and individuals who can vouch for the operators of the home and calm residents’ fears about safety and other issues.

Researchers in the Journal article argue convincingly, too, that disseminating research findings in forums outside of professional and academic spheres to a broad array of stakeholders is critical. Including policymakers, service providers, professionals, researchers, consumers, and the general public is a critical tool to influence policy, they say.

Circulating studies that illustrate the measurable improvements recovery home residents make – such as reducing substance use; finding and staying employed; not getting rearrested; and restoring and improving relationships with family members – will go a long way towards eroding resistance to the presence of these homes in different communities and neighborhoods.

In 2016, there were about 2.3 million people incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons and jails across the US. ‘Tough on Crime’ policies and laws in the 1970’s led to an explosion of prison populations by 500 percent over 40 years. And changes in sentencing laws played a major role in these increases, particularly drug-related offenses.

According to a 2015 report produced by The Sentencing Project, between 1980 and 2014, the number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in federal, state, and local penal institutions increased from 40,900 to 488,400.

Such draconian policies have given the U.S. the unenviable reputation as the country with less than five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the global prison population.

There is a growing realization that these unbending laws, the War on Drugs and maximum-minimum sentences hasn’t worked. In recent years, politicians, lawmakers, policymakers and others have realized the folly of such policies.

There is an ever-evolving reevaluation of the methods and approaches used to fight crime, which in turn, is making residents in communities more amenable to welcoming reentry homes into their neighborhoods.

The goal and focus of corrections officials and lawmakers is moving towards implementing more humane, sensible approaches to help returning citizens and reintegrating them as seamlessly as possible into society and their respective communities. An equally important consideration is the human toll of lives, families and communities destroyed, overpopulation in penal institutions, an underfunded system and the crippling financial burden on American taxpayers.

Forward-thinking advocates are finding ways to lift the barriers barring returning citizens, who on release from prisons and jails, face obstacles barring them from housing, employment, social and other services and education. They understand that to do otherwise would be to invite greater crime and increased recidivism.

On a broader front, for the past five months, the country has been roiled by protests and demonstrations of citizens seeking racial justice and redress for African American communities that have suffered police brutality, excessive force and other heavy-handed tactics by law enforcement across the country.

The social and racial unrest has opened up a new space for dialogue, pushed attempts to find consensus and deep consideration of what is commonly referred to as “a reimagining of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”

Reentry facilities have gotten a bad rap. Residents of these spaces can be good neighbors. All they need is a chance, a second chance.

There needs to be greater cooperation between residents and operators of reentry facilities. We are committed to that reality.

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