The findings from this book sing the same refrain as a chorus of authors past; the best approach to crime prevention is likely to be holistic. In order to prevent violent crime, a holistic approach would entail interventions that focus on both people who develop violent habits and the environmental/contextual situations that pressure violent offenders and provide opportunities and motivation for crime. While we will always have “offenders" the best time to address violence is not after the violence has already occurred. Once individuals have already engaged in violent offending, it is not “too late” to induce desistance, but preventing future offending becomes difficult because habits are hard to break, and collateral consequences of previous arrest reduce legitimate opportunities and “life chances.” High risk, chronic, violent offenders have notoriously high rates of recidivism (e.g., Haggard, 2001). Loeber and Farrington (2000) point out that integrated services across the many agencies providing for serious young offenders is “extremely rare” (p. 754), though the literature is not without recommendations for very promising comprehensive strategies, including the OJJDP’s Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. The strategy entails promoting prevention first, and intervening immediately and effectively when delinquent behavior occurs to prevent children from becoming chronic offenders and progressing to serious and violent crimes (Loeber & Farrington, 2000).
Vila (1997) proposed the use of his general evolutionary-ecological paradigm to structure our thinking about addressing crime; this paradigm features (1) developmental, biological, and sociocultural factors that influence criminal propensity in the individual; (2) motivation for crime, and (3) criminal opportunities (Vila, 1994). The crime control structure Vila advocates maps neatly onto these nodes of criminogenic influence: developmental risks are addressed by nurturant programs; criminal motivation is addressed with deterrence; criminal opportunity is addressed with protection/avoidance strategies (see Figure 13.1). Applying the Communities that Care procedure, framed by this paradigm, would be a strong new system for crime prevention.
Howell (1997, 2003) has also provided a comprehensive framework for preventing delinquency. A long-time observer of the juvenile justice system, Howell strongly advocates a model which includes early prevention programs and compassionate approaches toward delinquents, such as rehabilitation and a “System of Care” for children in need of mental health services. He advocates the implementation of the “wraparound” concept which incorporates the family and its needs in an integrated system of service delivery (p. 229). Others (e.g., Tolan & Titus, 2009) also use compassionate terminology, such as “therapeutic jurisprudence,” to describe the kind of juvenile justice system they would like to see replace the current one.
There is overwhelming agreement among scholars from many fields that prevention should be a major prong of the criminal justice system. Evidence demonstrating the efficacy of prevention programs has accrued at a steady pace, yet one of the most deflating facts that we face, is that “only a small fraction of the at-risk children who could benefit from [prevention] programs actually receive them” (Greenwood & Turner, 2011, p. 101).
The punitive attitude about juvenile offenders described earlier in this chapter persists in spite of the fact that juvenile courts have “considerable procedural leeway and ... a variety of dispositional alternatives” (p. 102). It persists in spite of the fact that practitioners condemn juvenile court procedures as ineffective at preventing reoffending among delinquents (Loeber & Farrington, 2000). As spending on criminal justice agencies has increased, child welfare agencies are generally
Figure 13.1 Vila’s General Evolutionary-Ecological Paradigm of Criminal Behavior Reprinted with permission from Vila, B.J. (1997). Human nature and crime control: Improving the feasibility of nurturant strategies. Politics and the Life Sciences, 16(1), 3-21. Copyright Cambridge University Press.
understaffed and overloaded with child abuse investigations so that their services to would-be juvenile offenders take a lower priority (Loeber & Farrington, 2000). Short of giving 15 year-olds the right to vote, it is difficult to imagine a political tactic that can be used to focus more attention and effort on the disenfranchised children we are talking about.
Although we can imagine many small steps that can be taken more easily, we strongly advocate a radical restructuring of government systems, integrating social services and juvenile justice to better protect children, support families, and address risk factors for myriad problems in order to prevent violence. Vila (1997) argued that “communities and government in the United States routinely plan cities, highways, and military weapons systems 20 years or more into the future” (p. 15). We might propose that within a 20-year timeline, a better system could be achieved by following a system of steps that move from the system we have to the system we want. No chaos. Unfortunately, the low political standing of those who would benefit most directly means that there is little political energy for taking on the job of repairing the system, even though society as a whole would benefit from a sustained reduction in violent crime. Furthermore, politicians elected in two-year cycles would never receive credit for any gains in time for their next election, creating an enormous disincentive to ever work at long-term change (Vila, 1997). Several prevention approaches that span some of the topics covered above are worth mentioning. The Blue Prints for Violence Prevention Conference, held bi-annually, highlights evidenced-based prevention approaches. Two of the success stories are Multisystemic Therapy, and the Social Development Project.