And while our children may not be the most at risk of dying from coronavirus, they have made up an oversize portion of gun violence victims in recent days. In grim news out of Chicago, nine children under the age of 18 have been shot to death since June 20. “Chicago is not alone. Before the coronavirus hit, homicides were escalating nationwide in early 2020, and although the lockdown brought a pause, they began rising again as the stay-at-home measures were lifted.” Arnold Ventures commissioned the study cited in the article showing that homicide rates fell in 39 of 64 major cities during April, a trend that began to reverse in May. As the country opens back up, the study authors predict homicide rates will rise, leading to a higher overall rate for 2020. Read an interview with study authors Thomas Abt and Richard Rosenfeld about how the pandemic has affected homicide rates.
Evidence and Expectations
A significant reform followed the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.: widespread adoption of body-worn cameras by law enforcement agencies. But have they been the fix so hoped for? Here’s what we know:
The general consensus from a conference hosted by the National Police Foundation and Arnold Ventures was that there is no consensus. Research hasn't shown cameras to have a consistent impact on officers’ use of force, arrests, and citations, and outcomes and experiences for police departments have been divergent or conflicting.
The cameras have, however, been found to reduce frivolous complaints against officers. A study supported by Arnold Ventures found that officers in Arlington, Texas wearing body cameras had 38 percent fewer citizen complaints. Similarly, a Milwaukee study found that officers who wore cameras were less likely to receive complaints.
Cameras are expensive. Data storage, evidence-handling and administration make up the many hidden costs for police departments and communities. At least one small law enforcement agency said it has a box of cameras that officers cannot use because the local government refuses to pay for data storage costs.
Bottom line: More research is needed. Arnold Ventures has supported a new review of existing body-worn camera research to be published later this summer. “After 10 years of using body-worn cameras, we’re starting to realize that it’s not just about looking for the right answers — but also asking the right questions,” says Asheley Van Ness, AV Director of Criminal Justice. “Hopefully, as we build the evidence base, we’ll start to have the practical information that police agencies, municipalities, governments, and citizens need to understand how we can best use this technology.”
Related:Vox goes inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing — and how it justifies racist violence.
Gilded by Gilead
Gilead’s pricing structure for its COVID-19 drug remdesivir is raising questions about how drugs are priced in the U.S. and in comparison to the rest of the world. Here’s the price breakdown of who will pay what for a five-day course of remdesivir:
$3,120: This is the cost for most U.S. patients — those who are covered by commercial insurance and those who are uninsured (at a time when many are losing their jobs and health insurance). It’s 33 percent higher than what Gilead is charging other developed countries.
$2,340: Government payers such as the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs (which are empowered to negotiate drug prices) — as well as other developed nations that have the power to negogiate.
$3,120: Hospital Medicare and Medicaid patients (That’s right — the two largest government payers failed to access the discounted government price.)
How much will Gilead profit? There are still unknowns here, but analysts estimate $525 million in sales this year and $2.1 billion next year. Gilead is developing an inhalable version, which will boost that margin. Some independent researchers have estimated Gilead’s production costs at less than $10 for a course of treatment.
Does it work? It’s been shown in clinical trials to reduce hospital stays but not save lives. Early data seems to suggest remdesivir will have narrow clinical applications, with benefits shown in a small population of patients.
Georgia just became the latest state to pass a law protecting its citizens from the predatory practice of surprise billing, at a time when federal efforts to do so have stagnated, thanks in part to an all-out assault by private equity-backed firms seeking to protect their lucrative business model.
How did they do it? We sat down with professors Kevin Lucia and Jack Hoadley of Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms to learn about the state’s hybrid approach to resolving payment disputes, how a committed group of state leaders worked together in a bipartisan fashion — and what Congress can learn from Georgia’s experience.
California's Proposition 47 has been shown to narrow racial disparities within the criminal justice system and reduce pretrial detention, a new study by Public Policy Institute of California shows. (It was supported by Arnold Ventures.)
What researchers found: The 2014 reform reclassified some California drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and succeeded at its primary goal of reducing the prison population. A beneficial side effect was a reduction in arrests and bookings across the board — as well as a significant decline in African-American bookings for drug and property felonies.
The report also looked at impacts of reforms dating to 2009 and found that the overall reduction in the incarceration rate narrowed racial disparities: The gap between African-American and white incarceration rates dropped from about 4.5 percentage points to 2.8 percentage points.
What’s next: There is still much work to be done, notes Magnus Lofstrom, Policy Director and Senior Fellow at PPIC. “The effects of Prop 47 on racial disparities represent a notable but modest step toward addressing inequities in criminal justice outcomes. Still, there remain sizable and troubling disparities, especially between African-Americans and whites.” And as criminal justice reform dominates the national conversation, other states could dig into their own data to understand how reforms are — or aren’t — helping to create a more just and fair system.
With disappointment, the VA’s decision to abandon plans to prevent five schools from enrolling new students using GI Bill benefits, a blow to veterans groups seeking a crackdown on deceptive recruiting and advertising practices. For some background, read the stories of two veterans scammed out of their GI Bill money.
With more disappointment, the Supreme Court ruling that gives employers broad discretion to opt out of covering birth control for their employees, putting up more roadblocks for those who already face barriers to health care. (Read Arnold Ventures’ statement.)
A visual look at how the opioid epidemic wrought devastation and despair in Native American communities, via The Washington Post.
This Q&A with Kim Rueben of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center on making sense of the trillion-dollar problem facing states during the New Recession.
The New York Times reporting on newsrooms and police departments abandoning mug shot galleries — a movement led by the Houston Chronicle. (Bravo: This was always the worst kind of click bait that branded the unconvicted — and sometimes victims — with a scarlet letter and disproportionately shamed people of color.)
This data-driven op-ed calling for police to stop unnecessary arrests to slow the spread of COVID-19. “It seems clear that standard policing and incarceration policies are driving preventable spread of the virus.”
For my summer reading list, I've downloaded “Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City,” by Dr. Tyina L. Steptoe of the University of Arizona in Tucson. While the book was published in 2015, I was inspired by a presentation Steptoe recently gave to our AV team tracing the strategies for Black Freedom, using my hometown’s Third Ward as a case study.
Former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous writing in Roll Call about the needless deaths of so many Americans — particularly those of color — while waiting for an organ transplant. "Congress and federal regulators cannot let up on reforms that are so close to helping patients, especially with so many dialysis patients living in mortal fear of COVID-19 transmission."
What We're Listening To
Our Co-Founder Laura Arnold talking to Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken about Arnold Ventures’ history and mission in the “Conversations With Mike Milken” podcast. While initial philanthropic efforts were pointed at education, Laura says, it quickly became clear that the problems reached far outside the classroom: “It’s about poverty, it’s about homelessness, it’s about health. It’s about all of these components that are failing our at-risk communities and our most needy children.” She discusses the impact of COVID-19 and AV’s work to reform a dysfunctional criminal justice system in a way that promotes fairness, equity, and racial justice. “Racial justice is integral to every single thing that we do, because each of the problems that we seek to address is a problem because of racial inequality, because of racist policies that have been endemic in this country.”
Kevin Madden, AV’s Executive Vice President of Advocacy, talking with CR Wooters and Adam Weiss of the Strategy Lab podcast about how Arnold Ventures uses advocacy and communications to pursue lasting policy change. He also weighs in on the racial justice movement, the current state of politics, and how COVID-19 has changed the landscape. “Data has always been a great friend in times of tumult.”
(My favorite quote: "We have one of the most professional communications teams that I've ever encountered inside of an organization." Thanks, Kevin!)
What We're Watching
In 2019, a group of correctional officers from SCI Chester in Pennsylvania were sent to work in Scandinavian prisons for three weeks to understand what practices could be implemented back home. Unlike in the U.S., prisons there focus on rehabilitation and positive and gentle interactions between staff and those incarcerated — such as sharing meals, playing video games, and even waking people up in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the day. Learn how the new values learned, as well as cosmetic changes to the physical prison environment, were transferred to SCI Chester in this extended trailer of an upcoming three-part documentary series, to be published in 2021.
This spare and quietly moving op-doc, “Huntsville Station,” that trains its lens on a group of men who are freed from prison and make their way to a nearby Greyhound bus station to start the next chapter of their lives.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
By Stuart Buck, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Research
On July 7, 2020, the American Journal of Gastroenterology published a seemingly groundbreaking article claiming that in a study involving over 53,000 people, the ones who take so-called proton pump inhibitors — i.e., drugs like Nexium that treat heartburn and stomach pain — are at a much higher risk of getting COVID-19. This study was reported in the New York Times, Time, MSN, and others.
Oddly enough, all of the data came from a survey firm, not from hospital or medical records. That is, people were given a survey about themselves and their medical conditions, with no independent verification or administrative records involved.
As has been pointed out by a number of Twitter commentators, the initial results should have made the researchers question their data, if not their entire ability to conceive of a research project in the first place. Table 1 of the study claims that while the overall survey respondents were a nationally representative sample — fairly balanced across age, gender, income, race/ethnicity, etc. — there were some surprising imbalances among the survey respondents who got COVID-19:
74.5% were between 30 and 39 years old;
64.7% were female;
69.7% were Latina;
69.6% had only a high school education;
63.5% had an income over $200,000 a year;
73% were daily smokers; and
68.5% lived in the South.
Does anyone believe that in a nationally representative sample of Americans, a huge majority of the COVID-19 cases would be 30-something Latinas who live in the South, smoke every day, have a high school education, but nonetheless make over $200,000 a year? This study shows why the number one rule for researchers should be to take stock of whether the underlying data are believable.
Fans of Gary Larson’s legendary The Far Side cartoon can enjoy the illustrator’s first new content in 25 years.
The author of the NextDraft newsletter has launched an effort to raise awareness about the delayed release of the $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman. It also benefits K-12 programs focused on Black history, literature, equality, and racial justice.
The Clean Slate Initiative is seeking proposals to understand the reach, design, and effects of record clearance and clearance automation. The deadline for Letters of Interest (LOIs) is Sunday, July 12. Learn more.
Have an evidence-based week,
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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Arnold Ventures funds projects to understand problems and identify policy solutions.