Washington, DC, beset by violent crime, turns to prison inmates for help: ‘Subject matter experts’

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Washington, D.C., leaders and academics turned to prisoners this week to help find answers on how to address the rampant crime in the city. 

“There are a lot of subject-matter experts in here,” a correctional officer told D.C. Director of Gun Violence Prevention Linda K. Harllee Harper at the Correctional Treatment Facility on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. 

“That is where the answers will come from,” Harllee Harper responded. 

Prisoners with the LeadUp! program at the jail in Southeast had been working on ideas over the last 10 weeks to help address the violent crimes in the city, the Washington Post reported. On Wednesday, they presented their proposals at a school science fair-styled event where visitors stretching from social workers to academics to D.C. officials gathered to hear their proposals at the jail gymnasium. 

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: Linda K. Harllee Harper, Director, Gun Violence Prevention listens to a team present their ideas. Students in the LEAD Up! Program at the DC DOC have been challenged to come up with solutions to reduce gun violence in the District. A "think science fair" was held on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 for the teams to present their ideas to an audience. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 3: Linda K. Harllee Harper, Director, Gun Violence Prevention listens to a team present their ideas. Students in the LEAD Up! Program at the DC DOC have been challenged to come up with solutions to reduce gun violence in the District. A “think science fair” was held on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 for the teams to present their ideas to an audience. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images) ( Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The men pitched some ideas the city has already implemented, such as mentorship programs and recreational programs for youths. Harllee Harper told the outlet that the pitches showed “there is a communication breakdown” between what the city is already doing and how it’s helping the community, which she said “we need to work on.”

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Washington, D.C.'s Correctional Treatment Facility in the city's Southeast area. (Google Maps)

Washington, D.C.’s Correctional Treatment Facility in the city’s Southeast area. (Google Maps) (GOOGLE MAPS)

Other proposals surprised D.C. officials, the Washington Post reported. One of the groups of men proposed a new government agency called the Department of Violence Prevention and Firearm Education, which would focus on gun safety lessons. The group of men pitched that the city speak with the NRA and build a shooting range in the city to teach underserved residents how to legally obtain guns and how to responsibly use them.

Violent crimes have been on the rise in Washington, D.C., since 2020, with that year notching a nearly 20% increase in murders compared to 2019. Violent crimes have continued since, with 2021 recording a 15% increase in murders compared to 2020’s already bloody year. Seven months into 2022, murders are up 11% compared to the same time frame in 2021. 

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: Charles Jenkins, 42, center, and his teammate, DeMarco Harris, 19, right, present their plan to a group of listeners. Students in the LEAD Up! Program at the DC DOC have been challenged to come up with solutions to reduce gun violence in the District. A "think science fair" was held on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 for the teams to present their ideas to an audience.(Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 3: Charles Jenkins, 42, center, and his teammate, DeMarco Harris, 19, right, present their plan to a group of listeners. Students in the LEAD Up! Program at the DC DOC have been challenged to come up with solutions to reduce gun violence in the District. A “think science fair” was held on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 for the teams to present their ideas to an audience.(Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Other prisoners, such as 22-year-old Isaiah Murchison, proposed that the way to combat crime is building more community resource centers where religious and community leaders and counselors can gather to assist youths in the city. 

“I feel like if I was brought up in a different environment, I wouldn’t be here,” Murchison told the Washington Post. He is accused of murdering 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson in 2018 and is currently awaiting his trial. 

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldart, and Harllee Harper were among the D.C. officials who listened to the proposals, as well as Brian Schwalb, who is running for attorney general of the city.

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