DEVELOPMENT AND CRIME PREVENTION REVISITED

Although we earlier criticized the punitive approach to juvenile justice, it is the case that offenders almost uniformly begin their criminal careers as juveniles, so policies for children and juveniles and their families are essential for the prevention of serious violence. In Chapter 2, we discussed a series of important facts about child development that we deemed to be relevant in the etiology of violent behavior. We wish to revisit some of these now to preface our policy implications.

First, offending (and non-offending, really) tends to be stable to some extent over time. One of the best predictors of this year’s aggression is last year’s aggression. There are likely to be “trait” explanations for this, but also situational factors that carry behavior forward. Even brain damage can be overcome in many cases due to neuronal plasticity. In the end, though, aggression in children is a risk factor for future problems that can be used to identify children and families for intervention. The parallel fact that there is also substantial discontinuity in aggression and violence provides hope for the promise of interventions.

Second, there is wide agreement on the point that humans are innately sociable. Chronic violence and aggression against fellow villagers is likely to have been very uncommon in the ancestral environment, and selection pressures would have diminished any genes associated with such behavior, even though selection pressures would not have eliminated the occasional capacity for violence. Thus we have to take the fact that some individuals are chronically violent, and some places are overly hospitable to violence, as a sign of pathology. This makes violence prevention amenable to intervention, and it suggests that even the most recalcitrant offender may be changed due to the pressures of his humanity.

Another important point to remember is that most children are resilient to most risk factors. Individuals who become violent are likely to have endured an accumulation of risks. This means that addressing risks on a piecemeal basis is less likely to be effective than applying a more holistic approach. In addition, the path to serious, persistent violent behavior is likely to be complex, and addressing links in the chain is likely to be easier than changing the habits of an already chronically violent person.

We pointed out in Chapter 2 that sensitive periods very early in life might make children vulnerable to profound effects of neglect, rejection, abuse, or failed attachment processes. This implies that part of a prevention program should include very early intervention. In addition, research on early onset delinquency suggests consistent associations with violent and prolonged offending careers. Yoshikawa (1994) sees this fact as an opportunity, pointing to family support for “prevention as cumulative protection” (p. 28).

There is also abundant evidence that serious violent offenders differ from other offenders on a variety of dimensions and specialized interventions should be developed for them. Baglivio et al. (2013) emphasize the need for different interventions for serious violent youth. Loeber and Ahonen (2013) express concern that transfer of serious juvenile offenders to the adult system may “add fuel to the fire” rather than promote desistance.

 
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