More rob­beries, mug­gings and mur­ders take place in low-​​income neigh­bor­hoods where res­i­dents lack faith in police, courts and cor­rec­tional facil­i­ties, says crim­inal jus­tice assis­tant pro­fessor Kevin Drakulich.

He based his con­clu­sions on a National Sci­ence Foundation-​​funded project that included a survey of 6,000 Seattle res­i­dents. Drakulich helped com­plete the study as a PhD can­di­date at the Uni­ver­sity of Washington.

According to the study, mem­bers of low-​​income African-​​American com­mu­ni­ties in Seattle, dis­trusting of the crim­inal jus­tice system, take pro­tec­tion into their own hands and live by a code of street jus­tice based on tough­ness, respect and pride.

There is more emphasis on pro­tecting your­self if you don’t have faith in the formal system,” explains Drakulich, whose schol­ar­ship focuses on crime and race, including racial profiling.

The unprece­dented surge in incar­cer­a­tion across the United States in the last 40 years has been dis­pro­por­tion­ately con­cen­trated in a rel­a­tively small number of already dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, he says. And hyper-​​aggressive styles of policing don’t help to con­trol crime, and in fact may be doing more harm than good when it comes to safe­guarding indi­vid­uals, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, says Drakulich.

When par­ents go to jail, they can’t take care of their kids, and so the chil­dren go unsu­per­vised. They can’t bring rev­enue to their com­mu­ni­ties,” he says. “When they get released, their human cap­ital is severely reduced, their chances of mar­rying are severely reduced.”

Rebuilding those com­mu­ni­ties that have been hit hardest by crime begins with increasing access to jobs and social ser­vice pro­grams, Drakulich says.

But it may also require changing the minds of people whose skewed views on crime have per­pet­u­ated racial seg­re­ga­tion. According to the NSF-​​funded study, Seattle res­i­dents over­es­ti­mate crime in African-​​American communities.

People are relying on stereo­types to believe there is more crime than there actu­ally is,” he says. “And they’re avoiding the source of their fears by not having any con­tact with res­i­dents of other races.”

Drakulich became inter­ested in crim­i­no­log­ical research on race and class as an under­grad­uate at Skid­more Col­lege, where he helped a pro­fessor eval­uate the effec­tive­ness of the Ver­mont Restora­tive Jus­tice Pro­gram. The community-​​based ini­tia­tive aims, in part, to help chil­dren address prob­lems of underage drinking and petty theft.

Years later, he’s shed­ding light on the racial and class dis­par­i­ties among pris­oners in the country’s cor­rec­tional facil­i­ties, as well as the impact of policing styles on crime levels.

If we can better under­stand exactly how com­mu­nity social processes either facil­i­tate or deter crime, we can design more effec­tive poli­cies to help the most trou­bled com­mu­ni­ties,” Drakulich says.