Meghan Ballard

Great Streets Small Business Grant Program: Criminological Effects in Washington, D.C.’s Emerging Corridors

The Great Streets program in Washington, D.C. was initially designed in the mid-2000s to assist small business owners experiencing financial stress resulting from the city’s transportation-related construction projects. The program has since evolved to support hundreds of small businesses in the city’s emerging neighborhood corridors. While a causal connection between socioeconomic deprivation and criminal behavior has long been theorized, there are few studies analyzing the relationship between commercial revitalization and crime rates at the business level. Our research attempts to address the question: How does giving a small business a public retail revitalization grant affect crime rates in the immediate proximity of the storefront? Using grantee and crime data from Open Data DC and demographic data from the United States Census Bureau, this study employs an innovative donut geospatial modeling technique to set treatment and control areas in concentric circles with equal square footage around each grantee. Because the two areas are equal, crime counts occurring in each could be directly compared. A difference-in-differences approach was used to analyze the impact of small business grants on crime in the immediate vicinity of grantees. Crime outcomes were evaluated for the District as a whole, then separated by corridor. Our results suggest that the effectiveness of the Great Streets program to reduce property crime is dependent on the demographic makeup and socioeconomic shifts of a neighborhood. This is consistent with contemporary criminological research which shows that as communities absorb higher-income residents, these residents are often more likely to report property crime. These results indicate promise for business development grants to curb certain types of crime in particular neighborhoods.

Cracking Down on Sentencing Disparities: The Federal Sentencing Act of 2010’s Impact on Cocaine Offenders

Crack cocaine’s growth in the United States during the mid-1980s was accompanied by a suite of deterrence-driven criminal justice policies. One such policy was the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (ADAA), The ADAA was the first federal criminal law to differentiate crack from other forms of cocaine and imposed a 100:1 sentencing ratio (Palamar, Davies, Ompad, Cleland & Weitzman, 2015). The ADAA’s general imposition of longer prison sentences for all cocaine offenders had a disparate and devastating impact on communities of color. By the 2000s, African Americans had served almost as much time in prison for non-violent drug offenses as Whites had for violent offenses (Vagins & McCurdy, 2006). The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) attempted to remedy such disparities by, among other things, lowering the sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. Using secondary data from the United States Sentencing Commission, this study examines the FSA’s impact on sentencing disparities of African American and White cocaine offenders. Results from difference-in-difference regression analyses indicate that the FSA not only lowered the average prison sentence length for all cocaine offenders but also report an average of a 7 to 11 months reduction in prison sentences for crack cocaine offenders. Additionally, results indicate that the reduced effect on sentence lengths was stronger for African American than White cocaine offenders. This study aims to supply policymakers with research about unjust disparities in sentencing.