Harcourt Discusses Gang Violence Prevention at White House Conference

Crime and punishment expert joins White House conversation
Sarah Galer
University of Chicago News Office
September 4, 2009

In late August, the White House convened the Conference on Gang Violence Prevention and Crime Control to discuss community-driven crime prevention programs from around the nation and to explore the role of the federal government in community anti-crime efforts.

Given his expertise in the sociology of punishment and criminal law and procedure, Bernard Harcourt, the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, was invited to participate in a panel discussion evaluating the effectiveness of anti-gang and crime prevention programs.

Harcourt was among a select group of invitees that included Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia, and Michele Leonhart, director of the Drug Enforcement Agency. The conference also included police chiefs and political heads from across the country, federal and state prosecutors, community groups, foundations and scholars.

“It was exhilarating to finally have the ear of the White House on these matters of vital national importance,” Harcourt said. “One of the recurring themes from all the mayors and police chiefs was that there had been a breakdown of communication with Washington during the past eight years and now a real sense of relief that the federal participants were back at the table listening to the innovative programs, experiences and the needs at the local and community level.” 

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the conference, urging the participants to work together. “Let us learn from each other and then put what we learn to good use. I have no doubt that together, in partnership, we will develop law enforcement programs that are sophisticated, contemporary, effective and, simply, smart. And, together, we can have a positive impact on the lives of the American people.”

The event was part of the Obama administration’s ongoing conversation with local, state and federal officials around the nation.

Holder said that although there is no “one-size-fits-all answer to the problem of crime,” communities can learn valuable lessons from each other’s innovation, strategies and results by collaborating with peer communities.

Holder highlighted several local crime prevention successes from cities like Chicago; High Point, N.C.; Los Angeles; and New York City, including CeaseFire-Chicago, which works with community-based organizations on street-level outreach, education and mediation.