California mayor paying residents not to commit violent crimes

Back in May, we looked at a story out of Stockton, California, where their new, young mayor, Michael Tubbs had some unusual plans in mind. Stockton is frequently plagued with violent crime and deals with endemic poverty issues. Tubbs wanted to find a unique way to help some people out. A few of his ideas were clearly well intended and forward thinking. For example, he was partnering with private sector benefactors to try to offer college scholarships for qualifying students without further burdening the municipal budget.

Some of his other ideas were a bit more, um… out there. And he’s got a couple of them up and ready to begin soon. He’s providing a guaranteed basic income to some of the poorer residents, no strings attached. Another project focuses on those “most likely to commit a violent crime.” By paying them a stipend of up to $1,000 per month, the theory is that they’ll be less likely to get into trouble. (Associated Press)

A $500 monthly check for low-income residents, cash stipends for men most likely to commit violent crimes and $1,000 college scholarships for public high school graduates.

These are the bold initiatives 27-year-old Mayor Michael Tubbs is launching in Stockton, California, one of the state’s most financially strapped and crime-ridden cities. The Stanford-educated son of a mother who relied in part on public food assistance programs and an incarcerated father, Tubbs thinks that giving people even a small leg up can make a radical change.

“The majority of people are actually smart and rational,” Tubbs said Tuesday in an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club. “You trust folks; you give folks money, nine times out of 10 they’re not going to do any harm.”

I’ll confess that I was pretty skeptical about this concept when I first heard of it. And I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly had a complete reversal of position on this. But even I have to concede that this young man is at least trying to think outside the box. First of all, these are pilot programs which will only have a limited run and don’t use up any tax dollars. (Which Stockton is very short of.) If they work out well and he can convince the voters to accept a tax increase to pay for them they might continue. Or perhaps he’ll just attract other donors who want to see the experiment tried out.

The scholarships are the easiest to get behind. The $500 payments to the poor for whatever needs they have seemed a bit more dubious, but perhaps the residents there will surprise us all. The tough one was the payments to proven criminals with a history of committing gun crimes. The details of the program make it sound a bit less crazy, however. These are felons who have completed their time, entered a rehabilitation program with daily check-ins, obtained a job and gotten a driver’s license. Perhaps those are the sort of folks who might stay on the straight and narrow path with a leg up.

Sure, it’s easy to make fun of some of Tubbs’ ideas when viewed in traditional terms. But he’s not spending the public’s tax money and he’s trying something new. I think we should give him a chance and see how it goes.