Addressing the Root Causes of Crime and Violence
You may have heard people talk about “going upstream” to address problems like gun violence and the overuse of incarceration. Among the supporters of this approach is New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “I am talking about upstream methods so we don't wait downstream and pull people out of despair,” he said in a recent interview.
What does upstream mean and what does it look like in practice? It means building safe communities while, whenever possible, looking beyond practices like arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. At the Center for Court Innovation, it means addressing the underlying causes of crime and violence, recognizing the systems that disproportionately harm Black and Brown people, and nurturing safe and vital communities.
An upstream approach to safety begins with a focus on the neighborhoods that have suffered from systemic neglect and the people who have been most negatively impacted by the legal system. We support community-led, culturally-appropriate approaches that center community residents as the experts.
This work can take many forms. In East Harlem, it means bringing residents together to transform underutilized and unsafe spaces into vibrant centers of community life. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it means providing grief counseling, support circles in response to violence, and ongoing circles for survivors of gun violence. In Syracuse, N.Y., it means training neighborhood teenagers to serve as co-researchers with adult mentors to investigate issues affecting young people and develop pathways for positive growth.
Our approach to upstream justice focuses on keeping people out of the justice system while using strategies designed to strengthen the social and economic fabric of under-resourced and over-policed communities.
If you want to see safe, equitable communities thrive, read and share our work with friends, colleagues, and elected officials.