Crime Prevention And The Individual

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An early attempt to prevent delinquency was the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study of the 1940s. Boys aged 5 to 13, who were 'difficult' or 'average' in their social behaviour, received personal and social counselling for an average of five years. However, at follow-up after 30 years there were no differences between this group and those who had not received the intervention in terms of adult criminal history, with many of the experimental group having committed two or more crimes (McCord, 1978). Where this particular venture failed, perhaps, was in not being clear about the specific focus of the intervention. It seems that subsequently more successful programmes have had more targeted goals, for example, in relation to improving academic performance (Bry, 1982; Schweinhart and Weikart, 1980) or cognitive skills (Ross, Fabiano and Ewles, 1988).

The importance of effecting positive change has also been highlighted by the failure of punitive interventions such as corporal punishment, suspension from school, and fear arousal (Gottfredson, 1986). Such approaches seek to prohibit the unwanted behaviour but leave the individual without the skills to achieve viable alternative solutions.

Crime prevention initiatives at the individual level have been classified as family-based, school-based and peer group-based (Graham, 1998). Successful interventions from the former category include the famous Perry pre-school programme (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1980) which targeted both children and their parents from low socio-economic families. Providing training in parenting skills is another form of family intervention, with successful examples including Patterson (1982) in the USA, and Utting (1996; unpublished study cited in Graham, 1998) in the UK. Both have achieved improvements in children's behaviour by showing the parents how to enforce discipline without physical punishments or threats.

School-based interventions include the 'Effective Schools Project' (Gottfredson, 1987) which was aimed at changing the organisation and ethos of the schools, including improving the clarity of rules and the consistency with which they were enforced. This parallels the implication of harsh and inconsistent parenting in the development of delinquency (Farrington, 1996) and highlights the importance of providing safe and predictable boundaries for children. Anti-bullying initiatives are based on the premise that school bullies often become serious violent offenders, and also often raise children who subsequently become bullies themselves (Farrington, 1993). In the UK a number of initiatives have decreased the incidence of bullying in schools (e.g. Pitts and Smith, 1995) and in Norway reductions in anti-social behaviour outside of school have also been achieved (Olweus, 1990).

The difficulty of influencing the association with criminal peer groups is highlighted by the lack of successful initiatives that have attempted this (Graham, 1998). However, one example is the South Baltimore Youth Centre project where young people at risk form an extended family with youth workers. The success of this scheme was evaluated by Baker and colleagues (1995) who found that serious delinquent behaviour among those on the programme decreased by a third, over a period of 19 months, compared to the control group.

Proponents of the dispositional approach to crime prevention have argued for its cost-effectiveness, not only in terms of reducing offending, but also in relation to other social problems linked with criminality, such as substance abuse, family violence, school failure and unemployment (Farrington, 1994). However, because the long-term effects of such interventions are not always known, coupled with the recognition that crime, like any behaviour, is a product of the interaction between a person and a situation, it is also inevitably important to also consider crime prevention initiatives targeted at the reduction of the opportunities to commit crime.

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