Theoretical Conclusions and Recommended Policies for Strengthening Violence Prevention
Crime accompanies social disadvantage, both among perpetrators and victims. In addition, since most crime . . . does not actually pay, crime is more likely to be committed by people with defective decision-making styles or inadequate self-command. That suggests that reducing disadvantage and improving the capacity of individuals to make and carry out sensible decisions in their own interest ought to reduce crime. Since social disadvantage and bad decision-making are also correlated, to the extent that anything helps with one of those problems it is likely to help with the other. Thus if we can make some people less poor, less discriminated against, better educated, and less prone to self-defeating behavior, we should expect to reduce crime in the process.
—Mark Kleiman (2009), When Brute Force Fails
We began this book with a strong critique about the state of criminological research on violence. In Chapter 1, we raised two major concerns: that the emphasis on general theories has hampered our understanding of violent behavior by lumping it together with other forms of criminality and that research undertaken to understand violence has not adequately accounted for its common association with nonviolent crime. The research that we have summarized in this book supports both views. On one hand, we have advanced the understanding of violence by pinpointing certain risk factors that are among the best prospects for evidence-based intervention, and on the other, we have provided extensive evidence that general theories of criminality are not adequate for understanding violence. The null hypotheses, that we would find no differences between violent and nonviolent offenders, no risk factors that are consistently significantly associated with violent offending but not property offending, and no risk factors that would be associated with violent offending once frequent nonviolent offending, has been rejected on many occasions in this book, providing incontrovertible evidence that violent offenders are not merely nonviolent offenders who happen to commit a violent offense. The extent of support for a differential etiology of violence is surprisingly large, considering that we had to rely on an asystematic assortment of studies that just happened to provide informative analyses for our research question. As outlined in the previous chapter, we believe the findings should provide renewed vigor and purpose in violence studies, with a road map for filling in those areas where the body of findings remains inconclusive.
Before turning to our policy recommendations, we think it worth repeating an observation made by Thomas Bernard, among others: “today’s kids” are no worse than those of any other era. Bernard (1992) almost joked that one of the aspects of juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice that had stayed the same for at least two hundred years was that “many people believe that the current group of juveniles commit more frequent and serious crime than juveniles in the past,” (p. 21) regardless of actual juvenile crime patterns. In the most recent instance, this belief culminated in what could be seen as near mass- hysteria over juvenile “superpredators” in the 1990s, when almost every state amended its juvenile code to be more harsh (Feld, 1998) and the practice of waiving juveniles to adult court “increased drastically” (Reppucci, Michel, & Kostelnik, 2009, p. 295). This occurred in face of repeated reminders by devel- opmentalists that maturity, judgment and competence in juvenile offenders are not “adult” (Reppucci, 1999). The number of cases where children (ages 7 to 12) were formally processed increased by 73% between 1980 and 1997 and placements of child delinquents in residential facilities increased by 49% (Loeber & Farrington, 2000). A thirty-year trend of an increasingly conservative approach to criminal behavior also brought us increased severity of punishments, massive growth in the incarcerated population, racial and ethnic disparities in prison populations, and expansion of powers of prosecutors and police (Garland, 2001; Ruth & Reitz, 2003).
This unfortunate detour drew us away from the basic fact that juveniles do commit more crime than other age groups, but juvenile offenders account for a comparatively small proportion of serious violent crime across time (Howell, Feld, & Mears, 2012). Ignoring this basic truism, coupled with a narrow emphasis on punishment in our criminal justice system, has caused a perpetuation of cycles in juvenile justice policy swinging back and forth from harsh to lenient like a pendulum (see also Losel, 2007). The cycle of juvenile justice lamented by Bernard (1992) and Lewis et al. (Lewis, Yeager, Lovely, Stein, & Cobham-Portorreal,
1994) over 20 years ago, is largely the same as the one cycling children in and out of the system today.