Crime prevention refers to traditional deterrent, incapacitative, and rehabilitative strategies operated by law enforcement and criminal justice system agencies. Crime prevention programs can be divided into three categories: community prevention, situational prevention, and developmental or risk-focused crime prevention. The basic idea of developmental or risk-focused crime prevention programs is very simple: Identify the key risk factors for offending and implement prevention techniques designed to counteract them.
II. Risk-Focused Prevention
III. What Is a Risk Factor?
As described by Michael Tonry and David Farrington (1995), crime prevention programs refer to traditional deterrent, incapacitative, and rehabilitative strategies operated by law enforcement and criminal justice system agencies. Community prevention refers to interventions designed to change the social conditions and institutions (e.g., families, peers, social norms, clubs, organizations) that influence offending in residential communities. These interventions target community risk factors and social conditions such as cohesiveness or disorganization. Situational prevention refers to interventions designed to prevent the occurrence of crimes by reducing opportunities and increasing the risk and difficulty of offending. Developmental crime prevention programs refer to interventions designed to prevent the development of criminal potential in individuals, especially those targeting risk and protective factors discovered in studies of human development. The focus in this research paper is on developmental or risk-focused prevention. The main aim is to summarize briefly some of the most effective programs for preventing delinquency and antisocial behavior whose effectiveness has been demonstrated in high-quality evaluation research. The focus is especially on programs evaluated in randomized experiments with reasonably large samples, since the effect of any intervention on delinquency can be demonstrated most convincingly in these studies (see Farrington & Welsh, 2006).
II. Risk-Focused Prevention
The basic idea of developmental or risk-focused prevention is very simple: Identify the key risk factors for offending and implement prevention techniques designed to counteract them. There is often a related attempt to identify key protective factors against offending and to implement prevention techniques designed to enhance or strengthen them. Longitudinal surveys are used to advance knowledge about risk and protective factors, and experimental and quasi-experimental methods are used to evaluate the impact of prevention and intervention programs. Risk-focused prevention was imported into criminology from medicine and public health by pioneers such as David Hawkins and Richard Catalano (1992). This approach has been used successfully for many years to tackle illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. For example, the identified risk factors for heart disease include smoking, a fatty diet, and lack of exercise. These can be tackled by encouraging people to stop smoking; to have a more healthy, low-fat diet; and to exercise more. Risk-focused prevention links explanation and prevention; links fundamental and applied research; and links scholars, policymakers, and practitioners. The book Saving Children From a Life of Crime: Early Risk Factors and Effective Interventions, by Farrington and Brandon Welsh (2007), contains a detailed exposition of this approach. Importantly, risk-focused prevention is easy to understand and to communicate, and it is readily accepted by policymakers, practitioners, and the general public. Both risk factors and interventions are based on empirical research rather than on theories. This approach avoids difficult theoretical questions about which risk factors have causal effects.
III. What Is a Risk Factor?
By definition, a risk factor predicts an increased probability of later offending. For example, children who experience poor parental supervision have an increased risk of committing criminal acts later on. In the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, which is a prospective longitudinal survey of 400 London males from age 8 to age 50, a total of 61% of those experiencing poor parental supervision at age 8 were convicted by age 50, compared with 36% of the remainder—a significant difference. Since risk factors are defined by their ability to predict later offending, it follows that longitudinal studies are needed to establish them. The most important risk factors for delinquency are well-known (Farrington, 2007). They include individual factors such as high impulsiveness and low intelligence, family factors such as poor parental supervision and harsh or erratic parental discipline, peer factors such as hanging around with delinquent friends, school factors such as attending a high-delinquency-rate school, socioeconomic factors such as low income and poor housing, and neighborhood or community factors such as living in a high-crime neighborhood. The focus is on risk factors that can be changed by interventions. There is also a focus on protective factors that predict a low probability of offending, but less is known about them. Risk factors tend to be similar for many different outcomes, including delinquency, violence, drug use, school failure, and unemployment. This is good news, because a program that is successful in reducing one of these outcomes is likely to be successful in reducing the others as well. This research paper reviews programs that target family, school, peer, and community risk factors.