An accountant’s view of the contribution of faith-based groups to Flushing’s social welfare is hardly the whole story. Congregations in the city provide a whole host of informal person-to-person social services that are not easy to formally count. In other words, the statistics don’t tell the whole story.
The most common informal social service that congregations provide is personal and marital counseling. Another area that doesn’t show up on the books is how often religious groups support local social actions with announcements, volunteers, and the like. Many times a pastor, congregant, or small group will also help someone out with a monetary grant or loan that never shows up in any formal announcements. We are also not including the budgets of religious schools, hospitals and the like.
One of the most important social welfare service of faith-based groups is changed hearts. One local pastor, a former drug dealer, recalls many stories of personal turnaround at “our little crazy church.” What started with one changed life turned into five, and then into dozens of changed lives among drug addicts.
The stay-out-of-jail card
At the very least churches which bring addicts out of dependency and crime save taxpayers millions of dollars in crime prevention and prison costs. Let’s run a thought experiment to imagine the impact.
Last week, I overheard one Flushing resident reassure an out-of-town guest that the Flushing area was “very safe.” That’s certainly true in comparison to the rest of the city: Community District 7, which encompasses Flushing, Whitestone, and other neighborhoods, is one of the safest in the city. It is a long way from 2000 when John Taylor walked into the Wendy's restaurant on Main Street and tried to kill all of the workers inside. One person survived by playing dead, and another’s head shot miraculously left him alive.
Flushing is not like that anymore, but there is still crime, particularly thefts and robberies.
Each year, about 400-500 Flushing residents end up in city jails (2012 = 455). In 2015 the inmates each spent an average of 176 days in one of the city jails.
The recidivism rate (how often ex-offenders are re-arrested or returned to jail) is quite high. Between 2010-2013 In New York State, about 75% of ex-offenders are rearrested, and 40% return to prison within three years of release.
So, how much did Flushing crime cost the city?
The city paid $167,731 to feed, house and guard each inmate in 2012, according to a study the Independent Budget Office released last month. So, a rough calculation indicates that the city spent $75,317,605 to house prisoners from the Flushing area. And prices haven’t gone down since 2012!
Faith-based efforts to reduce the re-incarceration of ex-offenders often have pretty good results, maybe dropping the likelihood re-incarceration by over half. The reasons seem to be a life-changing spiritual experience, a welcoming social community, and an in-built network to use to find jobs and help. For every Flushing ex-offender who doesn’t end back up in jail, the savings to the city is at least $167,000 jail costs.
Multiply this by the dozens or hundreds of ex-offenders in Flushing that religious faith has turned around over the years, and the dollar figure adds up pretty quickly, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. At this point, we don’t really know the stats.
This accounting doesn’t include the losses to society and the costs of police enforcement.
The processing and victim costs for each crime are significant. One report on processing and incarceration of criminals in Washington, DC in 1998 found that the local government spent on the average $1,100 for misdemeanors and $109,585 for felonies. Also, estimates of direct losses incurred by each crime victim range from $500 to $34,000.
The faith-based factor in building social trust
Everyday life in Flushing also becomes easier and cheaper with life turnarounds through religious faith. As people’s lives become more orderly and their word more reliable, there is a large impact on social trust which means that we can more easily rely on social and economic transactions without all sorts of costly safeguards. Economists call these safeguards “transaction costs.” With life turnarounds, broken contracts, management malfeasance and employee pilfering go down (but they certainly don’t entirely disappear).
What would the city be without such life turnarounds and social investments?
In the past critics like Friedrich Nietzsche dismissed religion as degenerate. He said that "the Christian movement" was dangerous to a society, "a degeneracy movement composed of reject and refuse elements of every kind...it appeals to the disinherited everywhere...it takes the side of idiots..."
Well yes, the religious congregations and ministries of Flushing indeed do pick up and value the disinherited and rejected. Their success in incorporating the former so-called "refuse elements" into wholesome faith-based communities challenges secularists to a more complex understanding of the sources of our Flushing's prosperity.
We have a suggestion for some faith-based group in Flushing. The federal government announced last year that they would let Roger Kwok, the former head of the Green Dragons gang, out of jail early. He has been in prison for over twenty-five years because of his brutal execution of two Flushing residents, Tina Sham and Tommy Mach in 1990. The police, legal, and prison costs for Kwok amount to almost two million dollars. His declaration last May before the judge that he would take the straight and narrow path sounded a little shaky to our reporter who reviewed the video recording. Kwok will be out of prison in 2023. Maybe, a local faith-based group can commit to pray for Kwok and his family.