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Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Research Papers

Volume 4

Youth Crime: The Impact of Law Enforcement Approaches on the Incidence of

Violent Crime Involving Youth and Matters Related to Understanding the

Implications of These Findings


A Report Prepared for the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Anthony N. Doob (University of Toronto)
Jane B. Sprott (Ryerson University)
Cheryl Marie Webster (University of Ottawa)

Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. When the terms “youth crime” and “youth violence” are employed, what measures are available which might be used to assess these problems?
  4. How does Ontario compare with other regions of Canada on the various measures of youth
    crime/youth violence and youth court processing?
  5. What are the relative impacts of criminal justice and developmental/ social variables on the rates of youth crime/ youth violence?
  6. Are the origins and meaning of more serious and persistent young offenders different
    from less serious offending?
  7. What is the relationship of police strength to youth crime? How much of a change in the
    concentration of police needs to occur before a change in crime will occur?
  8. What is the impact of proactive or targeted police practices (including crime sweeps, sting
    operations, and undercover investigations) on youth crime?
  9. What is the impact of specialized police units (e.g., guns and gangs units, drug squads) on
    youth crime?
  10. What are the impacts on youth crime of changes in the roles of police in schools?
  11. What are the impacts of tough sentencing practices (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences
    for gun crime, “three-strikes-you’re-out” policies) on youth crime?
  12. What are the impacts of the transfer of youths to the adult justice system on youth crime?
  13. What are the impacts of harsher correctional environments (including “boot camp
    facilities”) on youth crime?
  14. What are the impacts of “alternatives to incarcerations programs” on youth crime?
  15. How are ‘communities’ (broadly defined) important in understanding the nature and
    extent of (youth) crime?
  16. Is fair treatment by criminal justice agents (e.g., the police) relevant in terms of
    understanding why certain people (or groups of people) are likely to commit offences?
  17. Why does the public want harsh criminal justice laws and policies?
  18. Is there likely to be public support for criminal justice policies that support prevention
    and rehabilitation approaches (rather than simply punitive approaches)?

  19. Conclusion

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Executive Summary

1. When the terms “youth crime” and “youth violence” are employed, what measures are available that might be used to assess these problems?

Official data (police and court data) are not good proxies for the amount of crime in society. Changes in policy at the stage of police charging can have a large impact on crime “trends.” For example, if there is a new policy in a police division to officially charge all youths and not divert any from the system, we would see an “increase” in youths charged and in the number of youths entering the youth court system. This clearly would not be an indication that youth crime is “increasing” — it is due a change in policy. Likewise, the relatively substantial decreases in the use of court seen in 2003 are not the result of crime decreasing, but rather the result of the implementation the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which focused on dealing with minor offences outside of court. Moreover, for various reasons having to do with apprehension rates and the nature of youth crime, it also seems that youths are blamed for more crime than they actually do. These findings suggest more generally that we have to be careful in assuming that police apprehensions of youths, or arrests, or youth court processing, represent a good proxy for offending more generally.

Instead of seeing these as problems, what often happens is that people naively use police arrest data as an indicator of the amount of crime in society, or more commonly, to estimate changes in the rate of youth crime. This is obviously problematic, because any change in police arrest data might be due to factors other than a change in youths’ behaviour (e.g., a change in the reporting behaviour of adults or a reflection of growing intolerance to certain behaviours).

Assuming one understands crime trends or the nature of crime because one reads the newspaper or watches the news is also problematic. Crime reported in newspapers does not necessarily give a reasonable picture of what is happening. More specifically, changes over time in what the newspapers report do not necessarily reflect changes in crime. Crime and the coverage of crime are driven by different forces.

2. How does Ontario compare with other regions of Canada on the various measures of youth crime/youth violence and youth court processing?

Comparing self-reported delinquency across the provinces reveals relatively few differences. However, there are rather striking differences when looking at police apprehensions or guilty findings across provinces. Thus, one must be careful not to attribute changes in the behaviour of adults (charging practices) to youth (crime). For example, while Manitoba had the highest rate of self-reported violence and property offending, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police apprehensions (and the highest rates of using court and custody). Moreover, while Ontario and Quebec had similar levels of self-reported violent offending and identical levels of self-reported property offending, Ontario consistently had much higher rates of police apprehensions, use of court and use of custody than Quebec. Ontario also appears more willing than other jurisdictions to bring minor violence (minor assaults) into youth court and sentence these cases to custody. However, across all of the four jurisdictions (the largest provinces — Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC), and Canada as a whole, serious violence (homicide, robbery, sexual assaults and assault level 3) was always a very small proportion of the youth court caseload, never accounting for more than 8% of the caseload (found guilty) or the 15% of the cases sentenced to custody.

While the self-reported delinquency across provinces appears relatively similar, it would not be too surprising to find some differences across jurisdictions (and, indeed, with more detailed questions, differences across the provinces may well emerge). There is, for example, evidence that policies that affect communities and families (e.g., concentrated disadvantage within communities or discriminatory rhetoric and practices) can also affect the level of violence in a community. To the extent that the Canadian provinces control policies that affect disadvantaged groups (e.g., social assistance, housing, transportation, daycare, employment, etc.), they can affect the level of violence in society by endorsing or discouraging various types of policies.

More generally, the level of violence in a society is not an “accident.” Factors that vary within a large country and factors that affect portions of a country’s population also have an impact at the national level. Countries that are likely to be low in violence tend to: value and provide healthy environments for children; have stable and healthy communities; provide relative economic equality; ensure violence within the state or by state agents is not tolerated; and have fair and just criminal justice systems.

3. What are the relative impacts of criminal justice and developmental/ social variables on the rates of youth crime/ youth violence?

There is a considerable amount of evidence that certain early-intervention programs show reductions, not only in offending, but in a range of risky behaviours. Graham (1998) provided examples of interventions that have been found to reduce the likelihood of children becoming seriously criminal and that can be cost effective (e.g., nurse home visitation programs; early school based programs that involve the family; parent training programs; and programs that combine parent training and school programs). At the same time, there are programs that appear to be unsuccessful (e.g., individual and peer group counselling; pharmacological interventions; corporal punishment; suspension from school; information campaigns; moral appeals; fear arousal).

Other research has examined the costs of various programs aimed predominately at adolescents who were already involved in the criminal justice system. For many programs that were examined by Aos et al. (1998), there were criminal justice savings that were shown within a year or two. For example, in a “program for first time minor offenders on diversion where youth appear before a community accountability board shortly after committing an offence” (the Thurston County FastTrack Diversion program), there is a 29% reduction in offending, with a savings to the criminal justice system of about $2,700 per participant after one year. In large part, this saving may come from the fact that its taxpayers’ costs are low ($136 per participant). Other intensive programs funded solely with public money take longer to show criminal justice savings. And there are some expensive and thoroughly evaluated programs that will never show any kind of benefit when one looks at a measure like “felony reconvictions by age twenty-five.” Juvenile boot camps are one notable example.

Typically, the issue of cost-effectiveness arises when one is thinking about implementing an early-intervention program or some sort of diversionary program for youths who have already offended. However, the “cost-effectiveness” of standard criminal justice approaches should also be evaluated. Those who support “getting tough” on young offenders rarely think about the costs of that which they advocate. Unfortunately, there has been little serious “cost-benefit” analysis of youth justice policies. However, case studies investigated by Fass and Pi (1992) suggest that there were no criminal justice savings obtained from harsher policies compared with alternatives.

4. Are the origins and meaning of more serious and persistent young offenders different from less serious offending?

It is difficult to measure offending, and even more difficult to determine who the “high-rate” or “persistent” offenders are. Equally plausible definitions will result in very different youths being identified. These definitional issues must be kept in mind when reviewing the research on “persistent” offenders.

Life-course-persistent antisocial behaviour is thought to originate early in life, when the difficult behaviour of a high-risk young child is exacerbated by a high-risk social environment. As these children get older, the domain of factors that can be “risks” expands beyond the family to include a large part of their social world. In contrast, most adolescent-limited youths have had a healthy childhood and, for the most part, outgrow their delinquent activities. In addition, even though the backgrounds of the “life-course-persistent” and “adolescent-limited” offenders were very different, their behaviour in mid-adolescence looked very similar. Hence, therapeutic interventions based solely on adolescent behaviour are more likely than not to be focused on children without problems.

It would appear that the most efficient approach to “life-course-persistent” behavioural problems for both boys and girls would be to focus on ways of minimizing risk occurring early in life. In contrast, interventions for adolescent-limited antisocial youths might be more effective if carried out during adolescence. Further, these therapeutic strategies should acknowledge the broadly non-pathological backgrounds of these youths while also making efforts not to “incur social costs” (Moffitt and Caspi 2001; p. 370) such as those resulting from harsh treatment in the criminal system.

Unfortunately there are no simple diagnostic tools for assessing who might be a “life-course-persistent” offender, or more generally, who might display psychopathy in adulthood. Assessing psychopathy in youthful offenders is almost certain to result in ordinary adolescents being labelled as psychopaths.

5. What is the relationship of police strength to youth crime? How much of a change in the concentration of police needs to occur before a change in crime will occur?

Clearly, the presence of police officers in a particular location at a particular time can affect whether crimes will take place at that location. Whether the addition of police officers to a community will have an additional impact on crime depends, it would seem, on exactly how they are deployed. Our view, however, is that one has to consider current police strength and then consider what the likely change would mean for a police service or police services across the province were more funds put into policing. In other words, in Ontario, we are not talking about going from impoverished police coverage of communities to some more adequate coverage. We are going from a rate that has, generally, served us quite well to some other level. The question then, is not whether “police stop crime,” but whether the level of additional police that is being contemplated would have a big impact on crime. Finally, we think it worth while to note that the variation in effects across communities of the impact of (additional) police strength on crime is important: it suggests that whatever the overall impacts might be, one cannot assume that additions to police departments will have any specific impacts on crime.

A few years ago, a policing scholar pointed out that to say that the police are not an important force in preventing crime is not a criticism of police organizations. “[Police] need to be alert to the dangers of concentrating single-mindedly on traditional approaches to crime reduction. Doing so not only has inherent dangers, but it can also divert attention from other tasks and objectives of policing” (Dixon, 2005; p. 19). One might suggest, therefore, that those responsible for policies related to policing should examine carefully how police resources can best be allocated to accomplish the various responsibilities allocated to the police. Such an approach might lead to a different and more effective allocation of scarce resources.

6. What is the impact of proactive or targeted police practices (including crime sweeps, sting operations, and undercover investigations) on youth crime?

The findings on police programs are, not surprisingly, mixed. Nevertheless, we believe that certain relatively firm conclusions can be drawn. First of all, it is clear that there is no guarantee that a police crackdown on a particular kind of crime will have a lasting favourable impact. Some programs do appear to be capable of reducing crime. Others do not. We suspect that the difference lies in two areas: how well (e.g., how consistently) were they implemented, and how were the effects assessed. Narrow definitions of “success” (e.g., reductions at the place and time of the intervention) are more likely to lead to favourable outcomes than definitions that involve broader and longer-term measures of success. But one cannot assume that a police crackdown will have only positive effects. Their impacts on neighbourhoods and on minor offenders may well be negative.

7. What is the impact of specialized police units (e.g., guns and gangs units, drug squads) on youth crime?

Specialized units within police departments, whether they are focusing on guns, gangs, drugs, or pornography, should generally be seen simply as being specialized ways of accomplishing this overall goal. The challenge that all of these procedures face is that they are not necessarily designed to deal with the problem. The intelligent analysis provided by Klein and Maxon (2006) would suggest that if gangs are the problem, we had best analyze the range of different approaches that can be used to reduce the destructive behaviour of these gangs. Specialized police units that focus on suppression alone are unlikely to provide a sufficient response.

8. What are the impacts on youth crime of changes in the roles of police in schools?

School-based programs to deal with offending by youths can be of two sorts. First, they can be programs that deal with the nature and quality of the school. Improving schools, or more accurately, improving youths experience with schools, appears to be an effective approach to dealing with crime. Providing contact with the police in the school may improve youths’ views of the police. There was no convincing evidence that we could find to suggest that police-school liaison programs reduced crime or gang involvement.

9. What are the impacts of tough sentencing practices (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences for gun crime, “three-strikes-you’re-out” policies) on youth crime?

Despite intuitive expectation, political appeal, and the seductive promise of quick fixes, harsh sentencing practices such as mandatory minimum sentences or three-strikes legislation have not been shown to be effective in reducing crime. Numerous reviews of the criminological literature have repeatedly found no conclusive evidence that supports the hypothesis that harsher sanctions reduce crime through the mechanism of general deterrence. Further, the studies that have found support for the notion that tough sentencing practices deter crime are few in number and suffer from serious methodological, statistical, or conceptual problems that render their findings problematic. In contrast, the research that finds no support for the deterrent effect of harsher sanctions has frequently been conducted in almost ideal research conditions, in which one would, in fact, expect to find a reduction in crime through the mechanism of general deterrence in the case that one existed. Further, the sheer number of these studies, the consistency of their findings over time and space, and their use of multiple measures and methods to conduct the research constitute compelling arguments to accept the conclusion that variation in sentence severity (within the ranges that are plausible in Western democratic countries) does not cause variation in crime rates.

Despite this pessimistic conclusion, it is important to note that it does not — in any way — challenge the notion that the criminal justice system as a whole inhibits or deters most people from committing crime. Indeed, we know that the mere criminalization of certain behaviour and the knowledge that an array of sanctions is imposed with some regularity is sufficient to dissuade most people from illicit activity. Rather, it simply questions whether legal sanctions can be used above and beyond this overall effect to achieve additional crime reduction. Within this more restricted context, it would be necessary to demonstrate that for those individuals who are not inhibited by the general threat of the criminal justice system as it currently operates, the introduction of specific changes in the severity of criminal laws would, in fact, discourage them from criminal acts. Despite extensive testing, little empirical support has been found for this latter supposition. In fact, this conclusion is consistent with the growing notion that politicians — through the enactment of harsher legislation — are generally not well placed to reduce crime. Indeed, despite the obvious appeal inherent in the notion that the problem of crime can be resolved — at least in part — by a simple flick of the legislative pen, this strategy does not appear to hold the key to the solution of crime.

In fact, our mistake seems to be in always thinking that crime can somehow be reduced — if only we can figure out how — by the courts, in particular, or by the criminal justice system more generally. Clearly, the criminal justice system plays a crucial role in maintaining a just and fair society, particularly through the criminalization of certain behaviour and the imposition of appropriate sanctions. Unfortunately, this system is simply not well placed to reduce crime, particularly through tougher sentencing practices. Indeed, public safety needs to be conceptualized within a much broader framework, involving a multitude of sectors. As a former Canadian Minister appropriately noted, “crime prevention has as much to do with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Human Resources, as it does with the Minister of Justice” (cited in Webster, 2004; p. 120). Precisely by looking beyond the criminal justice system, Canada can begin to catch up with many other countries that have already begun turning to other crime preventative initiatives to more effectively address crime. Indeed, North America has lagged behind in this shift in primary policy emphasis from law enforcement to crime prevention, continuing to focus on changes in criminal laws, enforcement techniques and sentencing policy.

10. What are the impacts of the transfer of youths to the adult justice system on youth crime?

The transfer of youths into adult court appears to be done more for political reasons than to address actual problems with the administration of the law. And while transfers may well make short term political sense, a careful examination of the data suggests that the increased use of transfers by any mechanism — judicial decisions, legislative mandates, or prosecutorial decisions — makes bad policy. Crime is not reduced and, in fact, there are reasons, given the lack of rehabilitative programs in the adult system, to expect that wholesale transfers of youth will cause an increase, rather than a decrease, in crime. The policy conclusions then, presuming that one is interested in reducing crime, are clear: “Minimize the number of juvenile cases transferred to [adult] court...” (Redding, 1999; p. 12). There are few, if any, benefits in terms of either short-term or long-term safety that flow from sending youths into adult court.

11. What are the impacts of harsher correctional environments (including “boot camp facilities”) on youth crime?

As in other areas, quick-fix fads like military-style boot camps for youth have not proven to be effective in reducing recidivism rates. Specifically, boot camp graduates appear to do no better in the community upon release than those released from traditional correctional facilities. In fact, neither recidivism nor participation in constructive activities in the community (e.g., work and school) on release appears to be affected by the boot camp experience. Rather, it seems that any positive impacts of boot camps are related to the nature of the aftercare programs that are often attached to boot camps, or simply to the correctional environment that it creates for youth. In other words, lessons can still be learned from the operation of boot camps. Indeed, structured intervention by accredited programs that use individual treatment plans and provide a wide array of services that are able to target particular needs of each offender appear to offer the greatest likelihood of impacting on youth crime. Further, institutions that are perceived by youth to be safe, controlled, structured and active would seem to constitute minimum standards for any incarcerated youth.

12. What are the impacts of “alternatives to incarcerations programs” on youth crime?

As Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino and Buehler (2003) remind us, crime fighters are constantly looking for “quick, short-term and inexpensive cures to solve difficult social problems” (p. 43) such as crime. In fact, this phenomenon has been referred to as the “Panacea Phenomenon” (p. 43). Unfortunately, a review of the criminological literature will quickly show that “alternatives to incarceration” programs are not “quick fixes.” In fact, effective interventions — whether custodial or non-custodial in nature — reflect the complexities of the crimes that they are trying to reduce. Perhaps the most important lesson from a review of the literature is that when considering the impact of a program, the worst-case scenario is typically thought to be that an intervention has no effect on young people. As such, many intuitively sensible programs run for years without being evaluated. The problem is that they can harm as well as help. Indeed, programs that sound good do not ensure that they will be “good” in practice. Said differently, we cannot automatically assume that interventions will have beneficial effects, or at worst, will have no effects. As such, social interventions into the lives of youths need to be assessed carefully and monitored regularly before they can be presumed to be safe, let alone helpful.

Second, effective interventions with youth require the fulfillment of a number of criteria. Specifically, programs need to target known problems facing youth and the specific type of offender who is to benefit from a particular program needs to be identified. In addition, the program needs to be properly and sufficiently implemented as well as professionally operated. Similarly, it needs to have structure — with a clear agenda, adequate program design and focused activities. Further, a “one-size-fits-all” model should be seen as nothing less than inappropriate and misguided given the complexities of crime causation and the multiple interactions that occur between various types of offenders, offences, individual and community-level factors, etc. As such, the political challenge — it would seem — is not only to fund and continuously evaluate “effective programs” as well as have the courage to stop funding programs simply because they “look good.” Rather, it is also to provide the overarching framework to conceptualize crime prevention/reduction on a much broader scale in which individual programs can contribute in a concerted, multi-dimensional effort.

13. How are “communities” (broadly defined) important in understanding the nature and extent of (youth) crime?

Rather than focusing solely on characteristics of individuals, or criminal justice policies, those who are interested — perhaps especially in cities — in doing something about crime might consider what can be done to create communities that are associated with low crime rates. In general, those communities that are low in crime are those with low levels of inequality (financial and racial) and, in various ways, are supportive of its poorest citizens. Supportive communities can, to some extent, help individuals who are at risk to reoffend overcome those deficits. From a policy perspective, the work on communities is particularly important because many of the characteristics of healthy, low-crime neighbourhoods are under direct policy control.

14. Is fair treatment by criminal justice agents (e.g., the police) relevant in terms of understanding why certain people (or groups of people) are likely to commit offences?

It is hard to argue against the proposition that there is social value in having people hold their criminal justice system in high regard. Those who have contact with the criminal justice system as suspects or as accused people would appear to evaluate the system by the manner in which they are treated more than the actual outcome. Said differently, if people are treated fairly, they see the system as being fair regardless of the outcome. A few inappropriate negative words may be enough to lead to a negative evaluation. In addition, one of the reasons that we all should have concern about fair treatment is that, for certain groups of people, it has been shown that when people have respect for their criminal justice system, they are more likely to be law-abiding citizens.

15. Why does the public want harsh criminal justice laws and policies?

When trying to determine the meaning of public opinion polls that consistently show that Canadians think that sentences are too lenient, it would seem important to consider a number of factors. First, the findings may not, in fact, be an accurate representation of the views of the respondents. Indeed, the methodologies used in these types of surveys tend to produce superficial, incomplete, uniformed and, in some cases, misrepresented information. Second, a desire for harsh punishment does not necessarily signify that respondents do not also support more rehabilitative approaches. In fact, endorsement of these two criminal justice strategies may coexist within individuals. In other words, there would appear to be openness to alternative approaches, even within more conservative groups. As Turner, Cullen, Sundt and Applegate (1997) remind us, it is not surprising — given the results of most public opinion polls — that “virtually every elected official has jumped aboard the ‘get tough’ bandwagon and is wary of supporting policies that appear to treat offenders leniently” (p. 7). Recognition (and divulgation) of the limitations of this type of poll may be particularly important in curbing the current political and media support of increased punitiveness.

Third, the impact of people’s views of crime causation on punitive attitudes toward crime and criminals would suggest that politicians (as well as others who speak publicly about crime policy) may affect the level of punitiveness in a society not only as a result of their statements about punishments, but by the way in which they conceptualize the causes of crime. Finally, punitiveness would appear to be linked not only to one’s views about crime and to fear, but also to broader social values such as judgments about the cohesiveness of society and views of the family. Indeed, perceptions that their communities (or country more generally) have deteriorated morally may create a need to reassert social values and to re-establish the obligation to obey the law. As such, broader social interventions that address these wider problems may constitute a more effective (albeit a more long-term) approach to crime reduction.

16. Is there likely to be public support for criminal justice policies that support prevention and rehabilitation approaches (rather than simply punitive approaches)?

It would seem that the time is ripe for more rehabilitative or preventive approaches to crime and criminals. On the one hand, crime rates have been falling for more than a decade and budgetary cuts are becoming more widespread. In addition, more repressive strategies are being shown as ineffective and are consequently being reduced or reversed in many places. On the other hand, the general public would appear to be supportive of more moderate approaches — particularly for youth. Further, preventive programs have been shown to be effective not only in reducing criminal activity, but also in bringing wider social benefits.

The challenge — it would seem — resides in creating responses that are both effective and affective; that is, that can offer a combination of meaningful and sensible consequences. In this light, community-based sanctions need to developed, applied and promoted in such a way as to ensure not only (cost-effective) control/safety, but also the sense that offenders are being held responsible for their crimes. Indeed, “[s]uccessful penal reform must take account of the emotions people feel in the face of wrongdoing” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 275).

More broadly, “[t]he key to countering the myths of law and order must lie in the ability of programs to help overcome the sense of helplessness and insecurity that crime engenders. They must overcome the ‘compassion fatigue’, the feeling that ‘it is all too much’, the sense that there are no definitive answers to complex social problems” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 274). While the criminal justice system needs to recognize its inherent limitations in “fixing society,” certain approaches (e.g., restorative justice models) appear to have been able to capture the public imagination, in part because they “appeal to the creation of social bonds... Their appeal can... best be explained as expressions of social values, sensibility and morality rather than whether these techniques ‘work’ or not in reducing disputes or levels of crime” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 273). Similar approaches (e.g., early intervention programs) — with the same focus on integration, solidarity and cooperation that de-legitimizes crass utilitarian individualism — may have an intuitive appeal by being more consistent with our visions of what a good society entails.

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Introduction


In this paper, we have been asked to explore a number of topics related to the impact of the criminal justice system on youth crime. In many instances, we were not able to find studies of high quality that related specifically to “youth crime,” but we were able to find studies that dealt with the problem of the impact of the justice system on crime more generally.

We decided, as an organizing principle, to break down the questions we thought would be useful to answer into sixteen separate questions.1 We do not pretend to have covered all of the research literature on each of these topics. What we have done, instead, is to try to give the reader a conclusion that the three of us, as criminologists, believe is a reasonable answer to the question and that describes the inference that is most plausibly drawn from the available data. In many instances, there are studies that come to somewhat different conclusions. Some of these different findings can easily be reconciled with our conclusions when one looks at the relative quality of the studies or when one realizes that certain variables are not controlled for, artifacts are not eliminated, or other problems have not been addressed. In other instances, we do not have simple methodological explanations.

Nevertheless, in an uncertain world, one often has to make definite judgments. That is what we were asked to do in this summary of what is known.

We benefitted enormously, and drew extensively from, an information service — Criminological Highlights — that the three of us have been involved with since 1997. With financial support from the Department of Justice, Canada, we have been scanning what is now a list of over 100 academic journals in criminology and related fields, as well as all of the new books received by the Library of the Centre of Criminology. A group of about a dozen faculty and doctoral students at the Centre of Criminology choose eight of these papers for each issue of Criminological Highlights and one-page summaries of these papers are written. In order for a paper to be chosen, it must be seen as being methodologically sound as well as being relevant for policy-makers. Hence the papers that have been summarized in Criminological Highlights and that, in turn, are summarized here, have already been through a very rigorous selection process. Not only have these papers largely been published in refereed journals, but they have also been considered and discussed carefully by the group that puts together this information service. In many cases, therefore, we have used portions of the actual summaries that were produced for Criminological Highlights, in part because these summaries have been checked by most of the Criminological Highlights group.

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1. When the terms “youth crime” and “youth violence” are employed,

what measures are available that might be used to assess these problems?


Measuring youth crime is a non-trivial problem. There are issues with both self-report (offending or victimization) measures and with “official” measures of crime (e.g., police arrest data and court data).

Self-report measures

For certain offences, studies of youth “self reports” can be used as estimates of youth crime. An important thing to keep in mind whenever one talks about self-report data, however, is that studies differ dramatically in the specificity of questions that are asked. Doob and Cesaroni (2004) note that:

if a youth is asked whether he or she damaged anyone’s property, a certain portion will admit to damaging property. If, on the other hand, they are asked a set of specific questions about property damage (e.g. broken windows, scratched or otherwise damaged cars, broken limbs off trees, written graffiti on public or private property) a high number of incidents will be reported. (p. 61)

Many self-report studies, however, reveal that it is quite common for youths to do things that, if officially recognized, would be called “criminal.” Most recently, a self-report study conducted in selected Toronto District School Board schools revealed that 37% of the sampled youths in grades seven through nine admitted to engaging in one or more delinquent behaviours in their lifetime (Savoie, 2007). All available self-report data indicate that a majority of adolescents will, at some point, engage in some minor offending. Unfortunately, we do not have good measures (or, obviously, good measures across time) from the youths themselves on rates of offending (provincially or nationally). Thus, is it not possible to examine trends using self-report data.

For high-volume offences, Statistics Canada carries out, every five to six years, a victimization survey of (now) about 25 thousand respondents. Although people sometimes, in these surveys, are able to estimate the age of the offenders who victimized them, often this information is not known. More generally, however, people have to perceive something as an offence in order to report it. In some cases this may be obvious, but in others it may not be. If, for example, one comes home and notices some plant pots have been broken, it could be perceived as an accident, as the result of weather, or as an act of vandalism by the neighbourhood kids. Sometimes perception is everything.

Official measures

Official measures of youth crime (e.g., arrests or court data) also cannot provide an adequate description of the extent of these events.

“For example, in order for an event to be recorded as an arrest we first need an incident (e.g., a fight) to occur that involves a youth age 12 or older. Someone must next notice the incident and see it as an ‘offence.’ The fact that an ‘offence’ has taken place does not necessarily mean that it will be reported to anyone. A youth might start a fight with another youth; however, this fight will never be recorded as an ‘assault’ if the fight ends and nobody does anything about it. Similarly, if a youth were to steal something from a store and not be caught, this ‘theft’ will not be recorded. It goes without saying, then, that an incident cannot become a crime unless someone decides that the police should get involved. If the incident were to be reported to the police, the police must make a decision: Is the incident a crime, and is there any value in officially recording it as such? Many rather insignificant offences, like a fight, minor vandalism, or a minor theft, may be dealt with completely informally and not recorded.

Depending on the type of crime (e.g., theft, vandalism, etc.), the next step would be to identify the suspect. In many cases the police are unable to find a suspect. Victimization data suggest that only about 54 percent of break-ins to houses are reported to the police in Canada (Gannon and Mihorean, 2005). Police statistics (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2003) suggest that only about 12 percent of these are ‘cleared’ by the police (i.e., that a suspect is identified and a person is either charged or a decision is made not to charge the offender). Taking these two figures together, it would seem that of the household burglaries identified by victims, only about 7 percent end up with a suspect being identified by the police. Furthermore, it is well known that the police screen out many cases. Thus, there are many youths who may be identified by the police but not officially charged for a variety of reasons (e.g., too minor an offence, etc.)” (Sprott and Doob, 2004; pp. 115–116).

“Following the decision to charge a young person, the case will typically go on to youth court. However, depending on the jurisdiction, at this stage the case may be screened out of the system and instead go into Extrajudicial Sanctions. Cases referred to some sort of extrajudicial sanctions program may or may not remain in our youth court statistics. If the youth successfully completes the program there is no finding of guilt. If, however, the case stays in youth court, the youth may or may not be found guilty. In addition, depending on the types of charges against the youth, the “guilty” finding may or may not be for the most serious offence the youth had been charged with as the case entered youth court.” (Sprott and Doob, 2004; p. 116)

Other problems with drawing inferences from arrest data

Clearly, then, one could argue that arrest and court data are more measures of the policy decisions of adults than of the offending behaviour of young people. Moreover, for various reasons having to do with apprehension rates and the nature of youth crime, it also seems that youths are blamed for more crime than they actually do. For example, in the US, when the 1997 FBI statistics were released, the fact that 30% of those arrested for robbery were juveniles was interpreted as meaning that 30% of the robberies were committed by juveniles. This ignores the fact that fewer than 20% of robberies are “cleared,” and, therefore, in most robberies there are no arrests. Snyder (1999) demonstrated that inferences about who commits crime based on who is arrested for it are likely to be wrong. There are reasons to believe that juveniles are more likely to be caught than adults: they are less experienced and they are more likely than adults to commit offences in groups. Law enforcement personnel may also be more motivated to locate and arrest juveniles.

Snyder’s (1999) study examined robbery data from seven American states, and used “incident based” data where victims’ perceptions of the age of the offenders were recorded. Compared with incidents apparently involving adult offenders, those involving juvenile offenders were:

A more sophisticated analysis showed that “controlling for other incident characteristics, these data find that juvenile robbery offenders are 32% more likely to be arrested than are adult robbery offenders” (Snyder, 1999; p. 157). In addition, the presence of a weapon increased a juvenile robber’s probability of arrest, but not that of an adult. “This is consistent with the national concern surrounding kids and guns.... [However] the relative seriousness of the offence is less of an issue when handling juvenile offenders. If these biases reflect the attitudes of the public at large, not only are juveniles more likely than adults to be arrested for similar crimes, but juvenile crimes may be reported to law enforcement [agencies] at a higher rate. This would add to the distortion of the juvenile crime component of crime that flows from law enforcement data” (p. 160). More generally, Snyder’s (1999) study demonstrates how cautious one has to be in interpreting reports of crime or arrests as they are contained in official records.

Overall then, the police picture of “crime generally” (let alone the proportion that is committed by youths) is incomplete. Instead of seeing these as problems, what often happens is that people naively use police arrest data as an indicator of the amount of crime in society, or more commonly, to estimate changes in the rate of youth crime. This is obviously problematic, because any change in police arrest data might be due to factors other than a change in youths’ behaviour (e.g., a change in the reporting behaviour of adults or a reflection of growing intolerance to certain behaviours).

Sprott and Doob (2008) have been working on the various pictures of youth crime that come from different measures. These data show much more variability (across provinces, in this case) in “police recorded crime by youths” than in “actual” self-reported offending by youths (these findings are discussed in more detail in Question 2). These findings suggest, more generally, that we have to be careful in assuming that police apprehensions of youths represent a good proxy for offending more generally.

The role of press coverage

One also cannot assume to have accurate knowledge of crime trends by reading the paper or watching the news. For example, in other countries, it has been shown that press coverage of teenage gangs and estimates of juvenile offending are fairly unconnected. For example, the period from 1987 to 1996 was, for many parts of the US, a period when juvenile arrests went up considerably. However, in Hawaii, the increase was modest and, when status offences were excluded, there was, in fact, a decrease in juvenile crime. Perrone and Chesney-Lind (1997) examined newspaper coverage of juvenile delinquency and juvenile gangs during this ten-year period. There was evidence of an explosion of coverage of these topics. In the second five years of the period studied (1992–6), there were almost twice as many stories about gangs as there were in the first period (1987–91) and over seven times as many stories focusing on juvenile delinquency. However, juvenile arrests (other than for status offences) were not increasing during this time, and survey data (of young people) suggest that gang membership was not increasing. Not surprisingly, a state-wide survey in 1997 showed that most people (92%) thought that juvenile arrests had increased in the previous few years. Most of these people thought that the increase was large.

Crime in newspapers, then, does not necessarily give a reasonable picture of what is happening. More specifically, changes over time in what the newspapers report do not necessarily reflect changes in crime. Crime and the coverage of crime appear to be driven by different forces. McCorkle and Miethe (1998) investigated how a moral panic over gangs occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada in the late 1980s. They found that before the mid-1980s in Las Vegas, Nevada, there was no gang problem. In 1985, however, two police officers were assigned to gather evidence on gangs. These officers announced in 1986 that there were 4,000 gang members in the city involved in crime. Media coverage of gangs skyrocketed from fewer than twenty-five stories about gangs per year from 1983–7 to approximately 140–170 per year in 1988–91. A poll in 1989 showed that most residents (89%) thought that gang problems were worsening. Police sweeps were authorized and patrols (often by undercover police) of schools began. New statutes were introduced; consideration was given to banning gang membership; and penalties for “gang-benefiting” crimes were increased. By 1992, the police began to declare a victory over the gangs and, as laws were passed that gave police additional powers and large increases in police budgets were approved, the gang “problem” disappeared from public view.

Police data suggested that during this period police recorded charges against those identified by the police as being gang members increased from about 3% to 7% of those charged, but most of the increase occurred late in the period — around 1992 or so. However, even prosecutors were not comfortable with the labelling of gang members, suggesting that the statistics of gang membership might be vastly exaggerated.

McCorkle and Miethe (1998) argued that such “moral panics” do not occur spontaneously and suggested looking at the group that appeared to benefit the most from the view that “gangs were out of control”: the police. Stories of gangs came, not surprisingly, at a time when there was a budget crunch and when the legitimacy and fairness of the police were being questioned (because of allegations of brutality). Police spoke of the growing threat from gangs, the “fact” that the police were “out-gunned” by the gang members, and the need for new resources and new legislation. The police presented a “four-year plan” for increased resources to combat gangs. In the end, the panic disappeared: newspaper articles about gangs dropped off dramatically by 1994. But the police got their resources and their laws, and attention was diverted from ongoing police scandals. But throughout the whole panic period, even using the police department’s own statistics, gang activity, if it increased at all, never accounted for more than 5–7% of crimes.

Conclusions

Official data (police and court data) are not good proxies for the amount of crime in society. Changes in policy at the stage of police charging can have a large impact on crime “trends.” For example, if there is a new policy in a police division to officially charge all youths and not divert any from the system, we would see an “increase” in youths charged and in the number of youths entering the youth court system. This clearly would not be an indication that youth crime is “increasing” — it is due a change in policy. Likewise, the relatively substantial decreases in the use of court seen in 2003 are not the result of crime decreasing, but rather the result of the implementation the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which focused on dealing with minor offences outside of court. Moreover, for various reasons having to do with apprehension rates and the nature of youth crime, it also seems that youths are blamed for more crime than they actually do. These findings suggest more generally that we have to be careful in assuming that police apprehensions of youths, or arrests, or youth court processing, represent a good proxy for offending more generally.

Instead of seeing these as problems, what often happens is that people naively use police arrest data as an indicator of the amount of crime in society, or more commonly, to estimate changes in the rate of youth crime. This is obviously problematic, because any change in police arrest data might be due to factors other than a change in youths’ behaviour (e.g., a change in the reporting behaviour of adults or a reflection of growing intolerance to certain behaviours).

Assuming one understands crime trends or the nature of crime because one reads the newspaper or watches the news is also problematic. Crime reported in newspapers does not necessarily give a reasonable picture of what is happening. More specifically, changes over time in what the newspapers report do not necessarily reflect changes in crime. Crime and the coverage of crime are driven by different forces.

References

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (2004). Canadian Crime Statistics, 2003. Ottawa, Ontario: Statistics Canada. Catalogue Number XE85-205-XIE.

Gannon, M., and Karen Mihorean. (2005). Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2004. Juristat, 25(7), 1–27.

McCorkle, Richard C. and Terance D. Miethe. (1998). The political and organizational response to gangs: An examination of a “moral panic” in Nevada. Justice Quarterly, 15(1), 41–64.

Perrone, Paul A. and Meda Chesney-Lind. (1998). Representations of gangs and delinquency: Wild in the streets? Social Justice, Volume 24 (4).

Savoie, J. (2007). Self-reported delinquency, Toronto 2006. Juristat, 27(6), 1–19.

Snyder, Howard. (1999). The overrepresentation of juvenile crime proportions in robbery clearance statistics. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 15, 151–161.

Sprott, J.B. and Antony N. Doob. (2004). “Trends in Youth Crime in Canada” (Chapter 6). In Understanding Youth Justice in Canada. Kathryn Campbell (Ed). Pearson Education Publishers.

Sprott, J.B. and Anthony N. Doob. (2008). Research Note: Youth Crime Rates and the Youth Justice System. Under Review.

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2. How does Ontario compare with other regions of Canada on the various

measures of youth crime/youth violence and youth court processing?


As discussed in Question 1, there are complexities around any data used to assess the level of crime or violence in society. Official measures like police and court data are not good proxies for the amount of crime in society because they can be influenced by policy decisions, which can obviously vary across jurisdictions. For example, Carrington (1999) investigated trends in police charging of youths from 1977 to 1996, in particular looking to see if there was any basis for the widely held perception that the Young Offenders Act (YOA) caused an increase in youth crime. He found that the “per capita rate of youth apprehended by police increased rapidly during the late 1970s.... From 1980 to 1988, youth crime remained at about the same level, then it rose to a peak in 1991, and fell back almost to its former level by 1996” (p. 13). This overall increase from the 1970s to the 1990s could not, therefore, be attributed to the YOA, since most of the increase took place either before the YOA was implemented or some years after.

Looking at the data on a province-to-province basis, Carrington (1999) found that the apprehension of youth showed a “jump” after 1985 in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. However, there were drops in rates in Quebec and Ontario, and no evidence of change in the other five provinces and two territories. Rates at which youth were charged were, however, quite a different matter. Across Canada, there was “a jump in charging in 1986 that did not occur in apprehensions of young persons” (p. 18). The result was that there was a 27% higher charge rate in 1986–96 as compared with 1980–83, as compared with a 7% increase in apprehension rate. In other words, the police exercised their discretion differently under the YOA from the way they had under the JDA: they charged a higher proportion of those youth who were apprehended. Quebec was the only province that showed a decrease in charge rates. What happened in the other provinces is that the YOA clearly changed police charging practice — though the extent of the change varied across jurisdictions. These findings remind us that we should be careful not to attribute changes in the behaviour of adults (charging practices) to youth (crime).

More recently, Sprott and Doob (2008) compared differences in self-reported delinquency across provinces to the differences in police and court data. Generally, the level of self-report offending was quite similar across jurisdictions. When looking at selected violent offences, anywhere from 18% (Quebec) to 26% (Manitoba) of youths reported committing assaults, sex assaults (all levels), robbery, possession of weapons (dangerous) or arson in 2004. Ontario was between those two extremes, with 20% of youths reporting engaging in at least one of those offences in 2004. The rate of police apprehension for those same selected violent offences ranged from a low of forty-nine per 10,000 in Quebec to a high of 150 per 10,000 in Saskatchewan. Ontario was between those two extremes at seventy-four per 10,000. The difference between Ontario’s apprehension rate (seventy-four per 10,000) and Quebec’s (forty-nine per 10,000) should be especially noted because there was almost no difference in youths’ self-reported violent offending between those two provinces (18% in Quebec and 20% in Ontario). Similar trends were found when looking at selected property offences. Over all, then, there is considerably more provincial variation in police apprehensions than there is in self-reported offending. This once again illustrates that official data are not good proxies for the amount of crime in society. It is a jurisdictional decision to rely more or less heavily on official responses to youth crime, and thus it appears that the rate at which the youth justice system in a province or region is used has relatively little to do with the rate of underlying problematic behaviour by youth.

Court trends.

Given that the level of self-reported delinquency is relatively similar across the provinces, the next question is how much Ontario, compared with other jurisdictions, decides to use the youth justice system in order to respond to offending. The following are trends, from 1993 to 2004 in the rate of finding cases guilty (Figure 1) and sentencing cases to custody (Figure 2) for Canada and the four largest provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC). The YCJA was implemented in 2003, and thus one notices a relatively large one-year decrease from 2002 to 2003 (in both the rate of guilty findings and sentencing to custody) because of the new legislation.

Alberta has the highest rate of finding cases guilty (Figure 1), followed by Ontario (both of which are higher than the overall rate for all of Canada). BC and Quebec have the lowest rate of finding cases guilty. When looking at sentencing cases to custody (Figure 2), Ontario has the highest rate, followed by Alberta, BC and Quebec.

Rate (per 1,000 youths) of youth court cases found guilty/transferred
Figure 1
Rate (per 1,000 youths) of youth court cases sentenced to custody
Figure 2

While one may think that Ontario has a relatively high use of court and custody compared with the other jurisdictions because it has higher rates of serious violence, this appears not to be the case. First, Ontario had similar levels of self-reported violence compared with other jurisdictions. Second, looking at the cases in court and custody, one notices differences among the provinces in what they choose to bring into youth court and sentence to custody. Table 1a shows the breakdown of cases in youth court that have been found guilty. Quebec and Ontario have similar proportions of violence (about a third of the cases); however, Ontario tends to bring in more minor assaults than Quebec. Table 1b shows the breakdown of violence cases (found guilty). Of all violence cases found guilty in youth court, 48.5% are minor assaults in Ontario. In Quebec, only a quarter of violence cases involve minor assualts (as the most serious charge in the case). In both provinces, serious violence is a very small proportion of the overall youth court caseload (found guilty) and of the overall violence caseload (found guilty). The majority of violence cases (found guilty) in Alberta and BC also involve minor assaults (Table 2b). However, Alberta’s and BC’s caseload tends to focus on offences other than violence, as only 20.5% and 25.2% of their caseloads (respectively) involves violence.

Canada Quebec Ontario Alberta BC
Serious violence* 5.3% 7.1% 5.2% 3.9% 4.7%
Assault level 2 5.2% 7.0% 5.4% 3.4% 4.5%
Assault level 1 12.5% 8.1% 16.1% 9.9% 11.1%
All other violence 6.2% 10.1% 6.5% 3.4% 5.0%
Total Violence 29.1% 32.3% 33.2% 20.5% 25.2%
Break and enter 10.7% 11.1% 9.9% 9.9% 7.4%
Theft under $5,000 9.3% 8.5% 8.5% 13.0% 10.0%
Possession of stolen property,
mischief / damage under $5,000
4.9% 1.9% 4.8% 6.7% 6.9%
All other property 9.5% 7.3% 10.2% 12.2% 8.2%
Total Property 34.4% 28.7% 33.4% 41.8% 32.5%
Drugs 5.6% 13.9% 3.6% 4.4% 4.4%
YOA/YCJA 12.9% 12.8% 12.4% 5.5% 25.7%
All other offences 17.9% 12.3% 17.4% 27.8% 12.1%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Table 1a: Breakdown of cases found guilty in youth court: 2004
*Serious violence = homicide, robbery, sexual assault levels 1, 2, and 3, and assault level 3

Canada Quebec Ontario Alberta BC
Serious violence* 18.1% 22.0% 15.6% 19.0% 18.5%
Assault level 2 17.8% 21.8% 16.4% 16.3% 17.8%
Assault level 1 42.9% 25.0% 48.5% 48.0% 44.0%
All other violence 21.2% 31.2% 19.6% 16.7% 19.7%
Total Violence 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Break and enter 31.2% 38.5% 29.7% 23.7% 22.6%
Theft under $5,000 27.0% 29.6% 25.4% 31.0% 30.9%
Possession of stolen property,
mischief / damage under $5,000
14.2% 6.5% 14.4% 16.0% 21.1%
All other property 27.6% 25.4% 30.4% 29.3% 25.3%
Total Property 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Table 1b: Breakdown of violence cases and property cases found guilty in youth court: 2004
*Serious violence = homicide, robbery, sexual assault levels 1, 2, and 3, and assault level 3

Looking next at custody (Tables 2a and 2b), similar trends emerge. When looking at all cases sentenced to custody, Quebec and Ontario again have higher proportions of violence (38.7% and 34% respectively). Again, however, the majority of violence sentenced to custody involves minor assaults in Ontario (35.3%). Indeed, of the cases sentenced to custody, Ontario has the largest proportion of minor assaults compared with the other three jurisdictions and with Canada as a whole. This, obviously, is a choice on Ontario’s part. Given that minor assaults involve any pushing and shoving, there is a limitless supply to bring into youth court and sentence to custody. Ontario, it appears, is more willing than other provinces to use expensive resourses (court and custody) to respond to these types of behaviours.

Canada Quebec Ontario Alberta BC
Serious violence* 9.0% 14.3% 8.4% 8.1% 6.5%
Assault level 2 5.7% 8.0% 6.3% 3.4% 2.9%
Assault level 1 9.4% 5.7% 12.0% 7.1% 4.5%
All other violence 6.7% 10.7% 7.3% 4.8% 2.9%
Total Violence 30.8% 38.7% 34.0% 23.5% 16.8%
Break and enter 11.8% 12.4% 10.6% 13.9% 9.0%
Theft under $5,000 5.6% 5.0% 5.9% 6.5% 4.2%
Possession of stolen property,
mischief / damage under $5,000
3.4% 1.1% 3.2% 5.0% 4.0%
All other property 8.3% 4.4% 9.1% 10.7% 7.7%
Total Property 29.1% 22.9% 28.9% 36.1% 24.8%
Drugs 3.8% 6.6% 2.8% 4.1% 4.0%
YOA/YCJA 14.9% 13.0% 14.4% 3.8% 40.7%
All other offences 21.3% 18.9% 20.0% 32.6% 13.7%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Table 2a: Offence breakdown of all cases sentenced to custody: 2004
*Serious violence = homicide, robbery, sexual assault levels 1, 2, and 3, and assault level 3

Canada Quebec Ontario Alberta BC
Serious violence* 29.3% 36.9% 24.7% 34.5% 38.6%
Assault level 2 18.5% 20.7% 18.5% 14.4% 17.3%
Assault level 1 30.4% 14.8% 35.3% 30.4% 26.8%
All other violence 21.7% 27.7% 21.5% 20.6% 17.3%
Total Violence 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Break and enter 40.6% 54.2% 36.8% 38.6% 36.2%
Theft under $5,000 19.3% 21.7% 20.6% 18.1% 17.0%
Possession of stolen property,
mischief / damage under $5,000
11.6% 4.7% 11.1% 13.8% 16.0%
All other property 28.6% 19.3% 31.5% 29.5% 30.9%
Total Property 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Table 2b: Breakdown of violence cases and property cases sentenced to custody: 2004
*Serious violence = homicide, robbery, sexual assault levels 1, 2, and 3, and assault level 3

Understanding jurisdictional variation in self-reported delinquency

While the self-reported delinquency across provinces appears relatively similar, it would not be too surprising to find some differences across jurisdictions. And there may indeed be differences, but the self-report questions available to us were too general to reveal them. There is some research on understanding differences in cross-national crime rates. For example, Neapolitan (1999) examined only those countries where there were adequate data on the economic, political, and social situation in the country, and where there was a reasonable level of agreement (from at least two sources) that indicated that the country was “low or high on violent crime relative to most other nations in the same geographic region” (p. 261). Six high-and six low-violent-crime countries (two each from Africa, South America and Asia) were compared. Five dimensions appeared to differentiate between high-and low-crime countries:

It is clear, then, that the level of violence in a society is not an “accident.” Factors that vary within a large country and factors that affect portions of a country’s population also have an impact at the national level. Countries that are likely to be low in violence tend to:

Other research has investigated the role of the community in explaining levels of violence among different groups. For example, in a US national study of American youth, it was found that the amount of self-reported participation in school-related physical fights in the previous year was higher among Blacks (21%), Latinos (18%), and American Indians (31%) than for Whites (13%) or Asians (11%). McNulty and Bellair (2003) examined factors that might explain those group differences. Independent of all other dimensions, it was shown that the youths most likely to be involved in fighting were male, those who thought that fighting was OK, those reporting that they had recently used drugs or alcohol, and those with low school grades. In addition, adolescents whose parents knew the parents of their friends (a measure, perhaps, of the strength of the youths’ community) and youths who frequently interacted with adults were less likely to participate in physical fights.

The most interesting findings relate to the factors that “explain away” the differences among groups. If one statistically removes the impact of living in a community with a high concentration of disadvantaged families, the difference in levels of fighting between Black and White youths disappears. In other words, it seems that the different level of involvement in fighting by Black and White youths is accounted for by the fact that Black youths are considerably more likely to live in poor communities. Similarly, the difference between White and Latino youths disappears when one controls for a measure of family disadvantage — the educational level of the adolescent’s parents. Said differently, the lower levels of education of parents of Latino youths explain the difference between Latino and White youths in their involvement in fighting. Clearly then, policies that affect communities and families can also affect the level of violence in society. To the extent that the Canadian provinces control such policies, they can affect the level of violence in society by endorsing various types of policies.

In a similar theme, Simons, Chen, Stewart and Brody (2003) investigated the effect that discrimination had on delinquency. They found that discrimination predicted delinquent behaviour in a sample of African American children, even after they controlled for other factors (e.g., the quality of parenting, affiliation with deviant peers and prior conduct problems). These findings do not challenge other well-established explanations for group differences in offending. Instead, they highlight another factor that helps explain high rates of offending among certain Black youths. The results of this study clearly suggest that societies that systematically expose their most vulnerable members to discriminatory rhetoric and practices are likely to pay the price in increased crime.

Communities, in fact, play a crucial role, not only with respect to their effect on early delinquency, but also on one’s ability to remain law-abiding upon release from a prison stay. Specifically, community contexts and state policies (e.g., those related to support for the homeless, the unemployed and the families of prisoners) have been identified as fundamental in understanding the determinants of successful re-entry from prison (Visher and Travis, 2003). Factors such as employment and good relationships with family and others in the community emerge as central to inmates’ successful transition into the community and, as such, are important dimensions in explaining recidivism. In fact, attention to the period following incarceration may be at least as crucial to our understanding of reoffending behaviour as a focus on offenders’ individual characteristics and their experience of prison.

Conclusions

Comparing self-reported delinquency across the provinces reveals relatively few differences. However, there are rather striking differences when looking at police apprehensions or guilty findings across provinces. Thus, one must be careful not to attribute changes in the behaviour of adults (charging practices) to youth (crime). For example, while Manitoba had the highest rate of self-reported violence and property offending, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police apprehensions (and the highest rates of using court and custody). Moreover, while Ontario and Quebec had similar levels of self-reported violent offending and identical levels of self-reported property offending, Ontario consistently had much higher rates of police apprehensions, use of court and use of custody than Quebec. Ontario also appears more willing than other jurisdictions to bring minor violence (minor assaults) into youth court and sentence these cases to custody. However, across all of the four jurisdictions (the four largest provinces — Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC) and Canada as a whole, serious violence (homicide, robbery, sexual assaults and assault level 3) was always a very small proportion of the youth court caseload, never accounting for more than 8% of the caseload (found guilty) or the 15% of the cases sentenced to custody.

While the self-reported delinquency across provinces appears relatively similar, it would not be too surprising to find some differences across jurisdictions (and, indeed, with more detailed questions, differences across the provinces may well emerge). There is, for example, evidence that policies that affect communities and families (e.g., concentrated disadvantage within communities or discriminatory rhetoric and practices) can also affect the level of violence in a community. To the extent that the Canadian provinces control policies that affect disadvantaged groups (e.g., social assistance, housing, transportation, daycare, employment, etc.), they can affect the level of violence in society by endorsing or discouraging various types of policies.

More generally, the level of violence in a society is not an “accident.” Factors that vary within a large country and factors that affect portions of a country’s population also have an impact at the national level. Countries that are likely to be low in violence tend to: value and provide healthy environments for children; have stable and healthy communities; provide relative economic equality; ensure violence within the state or by state agents is not tolerated; and have fair and just criminal justice systems.

References

Carrington, Peter J. (1999). Trends in youth crime in Canada, 1977-1996. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 41, 1–32.

Doob, A. N. and Cesaroni, C. (2004). Responding to Youth Crime in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McNulty, Thomas L. and Paul E. Bellair. (2003). Explaining Racial and Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Violence: Structural Disadvantage, Family Well-Being, and Social Capital. Justice Quarterly, 20, 1–31.

Neapolitan, Jerome L. (1999). A comparative analysis of nations with low and high levels of violent crime. Journal of Criminal Justice, 27, 259–274.

Simons, Ronald L, Yi-Fu Chen, Eric A. Stewart, and Gene H. Brody. (2003). Incidents of Discrimination and Risk for Delinquency: A Longitudinal Test of Strain Theory with an African American Sample. Justice Quarterly, 20, 827–854.

Sprott, J.B. and Anthony N. Doob. (2008). Research Note: Youth Crime Rates and the Youth Justice System. Under Review.

Visher, Christy A. and Jeremy Travis. (2003). Transitions from Prison to Community: Understanding Individual Pathways. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 89–113.

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3. What are the relative impacts of criminal justice and developmental/ social

variables on the rates of youth crime/ youth violence?


The impact of criminal justice practices on crime will largely be answered in other questions. Generally though, harsh criminal justice approaches appear to do little to reduce crime. Baron and Kennedy (1998) provide some reasons why criminal justice approaches may not work, especially among a “high-risk” sample of homeless youths. They conducted interviews with 125 male street youth, under age twenty-four, who spent a considerable amount of time each week “on the street” in Edmonton, Alberta. Respondents were asked how many times in the past year they had committed two relatively serious property crimes (“broken into a car; broken into a house”) and how often they had committed a relatively serious assault (“attacked someone with a weapon or fists/feet injuring so badly they probably needed a doctor”). The results showed that those youth who thought that there was a reasonable likelihood that they would be caught by the police for property crime, and those who said that being caught for property crime would be a problem in their lives, were less likely to commit these crimes. However, the most reliable predictor of property crime appeared to be whether a youth believed that his friends were involved in such a crime.

For violent crime, the pattern was somewhat different. The youths’ perceptions of how likely it was that they would be apprehended did not have an impact on the likelihood that they had engaged in serious violent behaviour. Similarly, the youths’ estimates of the impact of police apprehension were unrelated to their own level of violence. As the authors of the paper point out, the serious violent activities that take place on the street “are guided more by impulse and the sway of emotion than by reflection, judgment, or premeditation” (p. 48). There is also evidence that a criminal justice approach like “mandatory minimum sentences” for drug offenders are less effective than treatment in reducing the use of cocaine (see Caulkins et al., 1997). For most offences and offenders then, “toughening up” criminal justice approaches are unlikely to be effective in reducing crime. The policy question, then, is, what can be done outside of the justice system in order to reduce offending?

Early interventions: Family and school

Although it is relatively well established that children of adolescent mothers are at risk on a number of different dimensions (including crime), it is less well understood why this might be the case. Using a longitudinal study of 411 boys born in 1952–3 who were followed from age eight/nine until thirty-two, Nagin, Pogarsky and Farrington (1997) investigated this issue. They found that the reason that the sons born of adolescent mothers were more likely to commit criminal acts than were the sons born of older mothers was a combination of two factors: the lack of resources of these families and the fact that the mothers seemed to lack parenting skills or provided poor role models to their offspring. The policy question that needs to be addressed, then, is a simple one: how can communities intervene with families, in positive ways, to decrease the likelihood of later offending?

Olds et al. (1998) used the “gold standard” for attributing causality — the randomized trial experiment — to determine the effects of a broad-based intervention in a child’s life — home visits by a nurse before and after the birth of a child — on offending behaviour during adolescence. Mothers in their first completed pregnancy who were “at risk” (i.e., young, single and/or of low socio-economic status) participated in the experiment. These women were randomly assigned to three different groups (a control group or one of two experimental groups), and thus the groups can be considered to be equivalent for all practical purposes. For some of the mothers (the control group), the program simply provided assessment and referrals for treatment. For one “experimental” group, they received this same assessment and referrals, but a nurse also visited them an average of nine times during pregnancy. The nurse promoted positive health-related behaviours during pregnancy and the early years of the child, as well as general help to the mother (e.g., family planning, getting a job, parenting skills, etc.) during these visits. For the second experimental group, this monthly support visitation program continued until the child was two years old.

The results are simple to summarize. The nurse visitation program, especially when the monthly visits continued until the child’s second birthday, reduced the incidence of involvement with the police, arrests and contact with the child welfare system as a “person in need of supervision” during the child’s early adolescent years (up to age fifteen) (Olds et al., 1998; p. 1242). “Adolescents born to nurse-visited women who were unmarried and from low-SES families had fewer episodes of running away from home, arrests, convictions and violations of probation than did their counterparts in the comparison group. They also had fewer sexual partners and engaged in cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption less frequently” (Olds et al., 1998; pp. 1241–2).

Generally, the earlier in life an intervention is provided, the more likely it will have an effect. But even programs administered to children just starting school have been found to reduce problem behaviours. For example, the program “First Step to Success” focused on “at-risk” kindergarten children, but involved teachers, peers, parents, or caregivers, as well as the child. It started with a formal screening of kindergarten children to identify problem children. The school intervention had thirty “formal” days of programming, though since a child had to “pass” each day, it took longer than thirty days to complete (on average around forty days). The first five days involved a “consultant” who did not need to be a formal professional. On each of these days, there were two twenty-to thirty-minute sessions in school. Essentially, it was a program where the child earned negotiated school and home privileges for appropriate behaviour. It was a fairly rigid “program” designed to effect change at home and at school.

Walker et al. (1998) investigated a group of children who received the program compared with a randomly assigned “waiting list control” group of children. Quite large (and statistically significant) changes were found in the treatment group that were not found in the wait-list control group. Although the experiment was carried out when the children were in kindergarten, one group was followed through grade two. The improvements in the children’s behaviour continued.

The results are “consistent with existing literature on the case for early intervention with at-risk children.... That is, comprehensive early interventions, especially those involving parents, appear to (a) teach relationships between choices and their resulting consequences, (b) develop the social-behavioural and academically related competencies that allow children to cope effectively with the demands of friendship-making... and (c) reduce the long-term probability that at-risk children will adopt a delinquent lifestyle in adolescence” (Walker et al., 1998; p. 74). Furthermore, “by the standards used in other fields, [the program] is a relatively brief and inexpensive intervention” (Walker et al., 1998; p.76). Responses to the program by teachers and parents have been “generally positive, perhaps because the demands on them during implementation are relatively low level compared to the gains achieved” (Walker et al., 1998; p. 76).

This intervention into the lives of “at-risk” kindergarten children appears to have been successful in reducing anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, it would appear to be a program that parents and teachers approve of and that can be implemented with rather minimal costs. Though it is hard to estimate the actual cost of the program, it would appear that the cost of “treating” a single child would be less than the dollar cost of charging a single child with a common assault and having that child go through the court system and receive an absolute discharge at the end. This cost estimate, of course, ignores the other beneficial effects of the program and the harmful impact of criminal justice contact.

Consequences of legal sanctions

Findings such as these suggest that social programs designed to promote healthy children can reduce crime. Resources (financial and otherwise), support, advice, help and training in child rearing matters would appear to be important for the eventual well-being of these children who are “at risk.” However, programs need to occur early (prenatal or within the first few years of life). Once children are older, and perhaps already engaging in delinquency and receiving legal sanctions, there is evidence that there could be further detrimental effects that are felt into adulthood. Tanner, Davis and O’Grady (1999) found, for example, that delinquency in adolescence can reduce educational and occupational attainment in young adulthood. These findings “testify to the importance of avoiding trouble when young: early deviance, both directly and indirectly has lingering effects that negatively influence life chances (Tanner, Davis and O’Grady 1999; p. 269). And, of course, there are costs to society — in particular, all of the problems associated with low SES due to the lower educational and occupational attainment (e.g., housing problems, health issues, increased reliance on social assistance, etc.) Generally, then, focusing early in the life-course to prevent delinquency from occurring is likely to achieve the most beneficial results across a range of domains (e.g., not only reduced offending, but also stable employment in adulthood, fewer housing and health problems, lower reliance on social assistance, etc.) As Tanner et al. (1999) acknowledge, however, “responses to delinquency may have an effect on life course trajectories.... Research indicates that adults who are officially identified and processed as criminals find it harder than other job seekers to secure employment” (p. 270).

Criminal justice responses may also affect another factor that is related to delinquency: parenting styles. There is, in fact, “an increasing body of research that suggests that delinquency is not merely an outcome but a process variable that affects and is affected by parenting in an interactional process” (Stewart et al., 2002; p. 37). Delinquency, legal sanctions and bad parenting all increase the occurrence of one another.

Stewart et al. (2002) suggested that “delinquency is most apt to have negative consequences when resulting in official responses by legal authorities” (p. 37). It is noted that legal sanctions disrupt the quality of family life by embarrassing the parents, thus increasing conflict and subsequent stress levels in the family. Stewart et al. (2002), therefore, looked at youths at three different points in time (average age: 13.5, 14.5 and 15.5 years). Poor parenting was assessed using self-reports by parents, as well as systematic observations by survey interviewers. Delinquency of the youth was assessed by way of a self-report questionnaire. Youths also reported whether they had come into contact with the justice system, as well as the type of contact that had occurred.

Delinquency and parenting were examined at ages 13.5 and 15.5. At age 14.5, the youths were asked about contact with the justice system as offenders. The statistical model that was used looked at changes in delinquency and parenting (from age 13.5 to 15.5). The findings demonstrated that poor parenting at age 13.5 was associated with increased delinquency at age 15.5. However, about half of this effect was due to the impact of legal sanctions occurring between these two ages. Not surprisingly, those youths who were most involved in delinquency and most subject to poor parenting practices at age 13.5 were most likely to receive legal sanctions. However, the impact of poor parenting practices at age 13.5 was largely mediated by the occurrence of legal sanctions. Similarly, poor parenting at age 15.5 was associated with higher levels of delinquency at age 13.5. This effect was almost completely due to the impact of legal sanctions that took place between age 13.5 and age 14.5.

“Poor parenting behaviours led to increases in delinquency and earlier delinquency led to an increase in poor parenting” (Stewart et al., 2002; p. 52). Legal sanctions were a result of delinquency and poor parenting at age 13.5. “Legal sanctions, in turn, predicted further increases in delinquency and decreases in parenting quality a year later at [age 15.5]” (Stewart et al., 2002; p. 52). Clearly, there are negative effects of increased contact with the criminal justice system. Thus, in addition to early interventions like the kind Olds et al. (1998) evaluated, laws that minimize the impact of legal sanctions (e.g., by reducing formal entry into the court, probation, or custodial systems) may also help to reduce recidivism.

Other promising types of interventions

It would be a mistake to think that the two studies highlighted here, which showed a significant reduction in problem behaviour (nurse home visits and “first steps to success”), are isolated incidents of these types of programs “working.” In a review of “what works,” Graham (1998) provided examples (and references to details of programs) of interventions that have been found to reduce the likelihood of children becoming seriously criminal and that can be cost effective. These include the following:

At the same time, it should be pointed out that not everything works. Among the interventions that appear to be unsuccessful are the following:

There are also programs that can reduce offending among youths who are already involved in the justice system. A US government report coming from a blue-ribbon panel of experts from at least three countries (including Canadian Marc LeBlanc at the University of Montreal) draws on knowledge from the social sciences on how best to deal with serious and violent juvenile offenders. When considering “late” interventions, the study group found that interventions aimed at those youth who already had become serious and/or violent offenders were also possible, though “interventions for serious and/or violent offenders often have to be multimodal in order to address problems, including law breaking, substance use and abuse, and academic problems. The administration of multimodal programs requires integration of services of the juvenile justice system, mental health, schools, and child welfare agencies. Aftercare programs are essential....” (Loeber and Farrington, 1998). One challenge for a country like Canada, then, is to integrate services that are often fragmented across ministries and levels of government.

Aside from family and early school interventions, there are also broad community interventions that have reduced crime. Typically, these community interventions involve changing the physical environment, and one classic example is the redesign of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC (Felson et al., 1996). The Port Authority bus terminal is the biggest bus station in the world, handling about 175 thousand passengers a day. A block away from the prostitutes, porn and drugs in Times Square, it was also the home of “several hundred” homeless people. The homeless had taken over most public areas in the building, such that facilities designed for bus travellers were no longer available for them. The goal was to reduce crime (largely robbery, assaults and thefts) and to deal effectively with the problems of the homeless, drugs, prostitution, etc. The Port Authority (PA) police were incapable of taking control by “normal” police approaches. Although the PA police force is large (it is the twenty-eighth largest police force in the US), with 125 officers assigned permanently to the bus terminal, they, alone, could do little. Other approaches had to be used. Instead of seeing the problem as being dealt with by way of “law enforcement” and, for example, arresting or harassing transients in the bus terminal, the PA contracted with a social service agency to provide services to “their” transient population. The police then induced transients to cooperate with the agency by providing the alternatives of accepting help, leaving, or going to jail. The transient problem was made manageable.

Physical modifications were also important. Entrances and exits were made more accessible. Niches and dark corners were eliminated. Areas where people could hide or sleep without being observed were made into public spaces by turning brick walls into glass walls. Benches where people had slept were removed and replaced with single seats that were made purposefully uncomfortable to sleep on. Information kiosks were set up to make it easy for visitors to get legitimate information rather than being victimized by various types of hustlers. Stores — particularly chain stores that people felt comfortable patronizing — were brought in. Video games that attracted young toughs were replaced with games that problematic folk were uninterested in. Physical changes facilitated the “flow” of people quickly and easily through the station, thereby reducing the opportunity for them to be victimized.

The result of these changes was fewer complaints. Also, ratings of various aspects of the terminal went up. There were 80% fewer homeless in the facility. Public order complaints were reduced dramatically, as were the numbers of most offences. People felt more safe and saw the police as doing a better job. Only about a third as many people said that they felt insecure or very insecure in the PA terminal after the changes had been implemented as compared with before. Declines in crime had been occurring in New York (as well as other parts of the United States and in Canada) at the time that the PA bus station was being cleaned up (beginning in 1991), but decreases were larger in the PA bus station than in the surrounding areas. Equally important is the fact that “there was no evidence of displacement of robbery to nearby precincts” (Felson et al., 1996).

“Combining physical design and clever management, the Port Authority has brought its transient problem under substantial control and reduced its crime problem” (Felson et al., 1996). Some of the design changes were rather mundane: they made fourteen design changes in the washrooms, which, in total, helped reclaim the washrooms for use by bus station users. Perhaps what is most interesting is that crime, disorder and unpleasantness were reduced dramatically without resorting to hard-line police tactics. Crime was designed and managed away.

We can be either optimistic or extremely pessimistic about findings such as those presented here. The reasons for optimism are clear: much is known about what will make a healthy (and peaceful) young person. We know that the lives of young people are shaped early, and thus early interventions are crucial. At the same time, we know that interventions in mid-to-late adolescence can have positive effects. Moreover, there are environmental changes that can reduce offending in a community. The pessimism comes from the fact that knowing what should be done and actually doing something about it are different. None of the effective approaches discussed here are interventions that can be announced, implemented and shown to have a measurable effect on crime within a single political mandate.

Cost-effectiveness

As already highlighted, Graham (1998) identified programs that were found to reduce delinquency and that were generally cost effective. However, additional research has been conducted which explored the costs of various programs aimed predominately at adolescents who were already involved in the criminal justice system. For example, one study, carried out by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, examined programs for youth where there was sound research to examine their costs and outcomes (Aos et al., 1998). Looking at programs aimed later in adolescence, there were programs that reduced subsequent offending, but their impact on youth was often “modest.” “The best interventions for juvenile offenders lower the chance of re-offending by about 40%” (Aos et al., 1998; p. 7). Typically, the programs reduce rates of recidivism by about 20–30%. This is important to keep in mind, because it means that the graduates from the best-known programs will often reoffend. It is also relevant when one hears claims about “quick-fix” interventions. But these modest impacts — e.g., a reduction of reconviction rates from 45% to 27% (a 40% reduction) for probationers in some locations — may still be worth while.

The question, from a public policy perspective, is simple: If a program is likely to reduce recidivism by only modest amounts (20–30%), is it still worth it? The answer is “yes” — sometimes. First of all, one has to ask whether one is interested only in public costs — typically “criminal justice system” costs. Some programs do not show a savings on criminal justice costs alone, but do show savings if the costs to victims of crimes are included. Also, for some programs (e.g., early intervention programs directed at health or education issues), other benefits of the program to society can be measured.

But for many of the sixteen programs that were examined by Aos et al. (1998), there were criminal justice savings that were shown within a year or two. For example, in a “program for first time minor offenders on diversion where youth appear before a community accountability board shortly after committing an offence” (the Thurston County FastTrack Diversion program), there is a 29% reduction in offending, with a savings to the criminal justice system of about $2,700 per participant after one year. In large part, this saving may come from the fact that its taxpayers’ costs are low ($136 per participant). Other intensive programs funded solely with public money take longer to show criminal justice savings. And there are some expensive and thoroughly evaluated programs that will never show any kind of benefit when one looks at a measure like “felony reconvictions by age twenty-five.” Juvenile boot camps are one notable example.

Cost-effective programs also exist for reducing recidivism among more serious juvenile offenders. They are not necessarily cheap to implement, but when considered as investments, they are sensible. Some of the intensive supervision programs, for example, cost $4,500–$6,000 per participant and take a few years to show criminal justice savings. A program for chronic juvenile offenders including a home placement with trained foster parents and other treatment and probation services was quite expensive, but showed benefits to victims and for criminal justice budgets. Evaluated solely in terms of changes in recidivism rates, these programs might be seen as having only modest benefits. However, as investments to achieve victim and criminal justice savings, they were very effective.

Typically, the issue of cost-effectiveness arises when one is thinking about implementing an early-intervention program or some sort of diversionary program for youths who have already offended. However, the “cost-effectiveness” of standard criminal justice approaches should also be evaluated. Those who support “getting tough” on young offenders rarely think about the costs of that which they advocate. Given that those areas of social life that are supported, in part, by government — health care, education, transportation, housing — are all in need of money, it is important to consider the costs and benefits of “tough approaches” to youths. Unfortunately, there has been little serious “cost-benefit” analysis of youth justice policies. In this light, a case study by Fass and Pi (2002) is interesting, not so much because of its conclusions, but rather because it helps to identify some of the variables that need to be assessed when evaluating the utility of youth justice policies.

Fass and Pi (2002) compared “tougher” responses with their less punitive alternatives. More specifically, their research examines: probation vs. diversion; intensive vs. regular probation; open custody vs. probation; and prison vs. open custody. The principal data for their study came from the records of 13,144 youths referred to the Texas Youth Commission in Dallas County. The results suggested that the following factors are important when thinking about the costs and benefits of “tough approaches” to young offenders:

The results of any estimation exercise such as this one have to be considered with caution. However, case studies investigated by Fass and Pi (1992) suggest that there were no criminal justice savings obtained from harsher policies compared with alternatives. In addition, the authors’ estimates of gains for victims and others are only substantial when “quality of life” factors are included in the equation. In some instances, tough penalties may even increase estimated costs to victims. Indeed, harsh policies appear to augment crime and criminal justice processing in the long term, despite temporarily deferring criminal activity as a result of the sentence that is handed down.

Conclusions

There is a considerable amount of evidence that certain early-intervention programs show reductions, not only in offending, but in a range of risky behaviours. Graham (1998) provided examples of interventions that have been found to reduce the likelihood of children becoming seriously criminal and that can be cost effective (e.g., nurse home visitation programs; early school-based programs that involve the family; parent training programs; and programs that combine parent training and school programs). At the same time, there are programs that appear to be unsuccessful (e.g., individual and peer group counselling; pharmacological interventions; corporal punishment; suspension from school; information campaigns; moral appeals; and fear arousal).

Other research has examined the costs of various programs aimed predominately at adolescents who were already involved in the criminal justice system. For many programs that were examined by Aos et al. (1998), there were criminal justice savings that were shown within a year or two. For example, in a “program for first time minor offenders on diversion where youth appear before a community accountability board shortly after committing an offence” (the Thurston County FastTrack Diversion program), there is a 29% reduction in offending, with a savings to the criminal justice system of about $2,700 per participant after one year. In large part, this saving may come from the fact that its taxpayers’ costs are low ($136 per participant). Other intensive programs funded solely with public money take longer to show criminal justice savings. And there are some expensive and thoroughly evaluated programs that will never show any kind of benefit when one looks at a measure like “felony reconvictions by age twenty-five.” Juvenile boot camps are one notable example.

Typically, the issue of cost-effectiveness arises when one is thinking about implementing an early-intervention program or some sort of diversionary program for youths who have already offended. However, the “cost-effectiveness” of standard criminal justice approaches should also be evaluated. Those who support “getting tough” on young offenders rarely think about the costs of that which they advocate. Unfortunately, there has been little serious “cost-benefit” analysis of youth justice policies. However, case studies investigated by Fass and Pi (1992) suggest that there were no criminal justice savings obtained from harsher policies compared with alternatives.

References

Aos, Steve, Robert Barnoski and Roxanne Lieb. (1998). Preventive programs for young offenders: Effective and Cost effective. Overcrowded Times, 1998 (April), 9 (2), 1,7–11.

Baron, Stephen W. and Timothy F. Hartnagel. (1997). Attributions, affect, and crime: Street youths’ reactions to unemployment. Criminology, 35 (3), 409–434.

Caulkins, Jonathan P., C. Peter Rydell, William L. Schwabe, and James Chiesa. (1997). Mandatory minimum drug sentences: Throwing away the key or the taxpayers’ money. Rand Corporation, Drug Policy Research Centre.

Fass, Simon M. and Chung-Ron Pi. (2002). Getting Tough on Juvenile Crime: An Analysis of Costs and Benefits. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 39, 363–399.

Felson, Marcus and eleven others. (1996). Redesigning Hell: Preventing crime and disorder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In Preventing Mass Transit Crime Ronald V. Clarke, editor). Crime Prevention Studies, Volume 6. Monsey, New York: Criminal Justice Press.

Graham, John. (1998). What works in preventing criminality. In Reducing offending: An assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour. Goldblatt, Peter and Chris Lewis (editors). London: Home Office.

Howell, J.C. and J.D. Hawkins. (1998). “Prevention of youth violence”. In Youth Violence (Crime and Justice: A Review of the Research, Volume 24). (pp. 263–315). Michael Tonry &Mark H. Moore (Eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Loeber, Rolf and David P. Farrington. (1998). Never too early, Never too late: Risk factors and successful intervention for serious and violent juvenile ofenders. Studies on Crime Prevention, 7(1), 7–30.

Nagin, Daniel S., G. Pogarsky and David P. Farrington. (1997). Adolescent mothers and the criminal behaviour of their children. Law and Society Review, 31, 137–162.

Olds, David, Charles R. Henderson Jr., Robert Cole, John Eckenrode, Harriet Kitzman, Dennis Luckey, Lisa Pettitt, Kimberly Sidora, Pamela Morris and Jane Powers. (1998). Long-term Effects of Nurse Home Visitation on Children’s Criminal and Antisocial Behaviour. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280, 1238–1244.

Stewart, Eric A., Ronald L. Simons, Rand D. Conger and Laura V. Scaramella. (2002). Beyond the Interactional Relationship between Delinquency and Parenting Practices: The Contribution of Legal Sanctions. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 39, 36–59.

Tanner, Julian, Scott Davies and Bill O’Grady. (1999). Whatever happened to yesterday’s rebels? Longitudinal effects of youth delinquency on educational employment. Social Problems, 1999, 46, 250–274.

Walker, Hill M., Kate Kavanagh, Bruce Stiller, Annemieke Golly, Herbert H. Severson and Edward G. Reil. (1998). First step to success: An early intervention approach for preventing school antisocial behaviour. Journal of Emotional and Behavioural Disorders, 6 (2) 66–80.

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4. Are the origins and meaning of more serious and persistent

young offenders different from less serious offending?


There is some evidence that there are two (not completely distinct) groups of offenders: those who are referred to as “adolescent-limited” offenders and those often referred to as “life-course-persistent” offenders. Neither label is completely adequate, but the concept is important. Adolescent-limited offenders are those who are, in fact, quite ordinary youths. Indeed, self-report surveys reveal that engaging in delinquency during adolescence is normative. Few youth make it to adulthood without committing what would be offences if they were caught. Fortunately, most do not get caught. Another group of more serious offenders (life-course-persistent) seem to be offending because of a combination of events that may begin prior to birth. Before we discuss the differences between these two groups of offenders, it would be worth while to first discuss some definitional issues around identifying “persistent” young offenders.

Definitional issues

It is difficult to measure offending, and even more difficult to determine who the “high-rate” or “persistent” offenders are. Hagell and Newburn (1994), for example, cite a study that looked at all youths who had been arrested three or more times in two parts of England. Starting with this population of youths, three definitions of “persistence” were applied to the pool of 531 youths who had been arrested three times in a year (number of arrests; number of offences attributed to them; and number of offences known to have been committed by them). An attempt was made to identify the 10% most-persistent youthful offenders. The only problem was that sixty-nine different youths were identified by one or more of these criteria, but only thirty of these sixty-nine were identified by all three criteria.

As the authors point out, “These are the juveniles in whom the police, the courts, the press and the public are particularly interested” (p. 101). The offences they were doing were the same as other juveniles, just more of them: “It is not the case that these persistent offenders were committing the more violent or serious offences....” (p. 102). It was also noted that if one looked at persistence over time, and one used as a measure of persistence the “frequency of known and alleged offending over a three month period,” those who would be defined as persistent varied across time: “It was rare for [offenders] who met the criteria in each quarter to be the same individuals” (p. 103). “Offending, particularly persistent offending by juveniles, is a relatively transitory activity” (p. 105). But the overwhelming finding bears repeating: “Persistent offenders... – whichever of the three definitions was used – did not seem to be strikingly different from the full sample, with the tautological exception of the frequency of their offending” (p. 119). “Very serious offences – grievous bodily harm, aggravated burglary, rape and sexual offences – did not represent in total as much as one percent of all offences attributed to persistent young offenders – a pattern that is typical of juvenile offending generally” (p. 120). “Any definition of persistence will inevitably be arbitrary” (p. 122). Definitions can be created and applied, but equally reasonable-sounding definitions would identify a different group of offenders.

As another example of how difficult it can be to define and measure different “types” of offenders, one need only look at the complexities around how to define a “gang.” There is, in fact, no consensus on what constitutes a youth “gang” or how one defines whether a given youth is a member of a gang. “Experts” do not appear to agree as to what is the best single definition. Hence, it is easy to get vastly different estimates of the prevalence of gangs (or changes in the prevalence) simply because there is no consensus regarding what constitutes membership in a gang. Some “gang” researchers suggest that a gang is a group of youths who are seen as a distinct group, recognize themselves as a group (usually with a name) and have been involved in a great enough number of anti-social acts that people see them in a negative way. The problem is that the first two criteria would fit the Boy and Girl Scouts or university fraternities. The third might also fit university fraternities. Aside from anything else, that which constitutes “gang” behaviour is also associated with other “memberships” (e.g., class, ethnicity, neighbourhood). (See Esbensen, Winfree and Taylor 2001 for more on this issue).

Adolescent-limited vs. life-course-persistent offenders

Keeping these definitional issues in mind, research has generally found that youths who begin offending early are more likely to persist (however defined) in their offending behaviour after adolescence. It is these youths who may end up being “life-course-persistent offenders.” “The cause of antisocial behaviour for the life-course persisters, according to [psychologist] Terrie Moffitt, is a result of the interaction between neuropsychological impairments and poor social environments. This ‘double hazard’ of perinatal risk and social disadvantage increases the risk for deviant behavioural outcomes....” (Tibbetts and Piquero, 1999; p. 845). What is important in this theory is that it is the “interaction between a child’s vulnerabilities to neuropsychological disorders and poor social environments that produces early onset, and not necessarily the independent influence of these determinants” (Tibbetts and Piquero, 1999; p. 847). In other words, a child has to experience both, not just one, for “early onset” problem behaviour to emerge. And these “early-onset” offenders are the ones who are more likely to continue offending and thus become “life-course-persistent” offenders.

Adolescent-limited offenders, on the other hand, are otherwise healthy youths who simply engage in some offending during adolescence. Thus, the backgrounds of “adolescent-limited” and “life-course-persistent” offenders are fundamentally different. For example, Moffitt and Caspi (2001) identified, from a longitudinal study of New Zealand children, those who had extreme and stable anti-social behaviour problems from ages five to eleven. Subsequently, they identified a group of youths who were offending in mid-adolescence, but who were not problematic children. There were about ten times as many “life-course-persistent” (or “early-onset”) boys as girls. For the adolescent-limited youths, there were only 1.5 boys for every girl. Nevertheless, the “risk predictors” from childhood for the boys and girls who were identified as having “life-course-persistent” (or “early-onset”) behavioural problems were more or less the same. The “adolescent-limited” girls and boys had many fewer “risk” factors than the life-course-persistent adolescents, but, once again, the boys and girls looked very much alike. “The childhood background of delinquents in the life-course persistent path is pathological, but the background of delinquents on the adolescent-limited path is normative” (p. 367).

Identifying the specific risk factors for “early-onset” problem behaviour, then, is crucial, as it is these youths who may persist in offending throughout the life-course. Tibbetts and Piquero (1999) found that the combination of low birth weight and residence in a weak family structure (e.g., a large number of changes in the mother’s marital status, absence of husband/father) was likely to lead to early-onset delinquency (for boys, but not girls). Moreover, boys from low socio-economic situations who were low birth weight were much more likely to be early-onset delinquent youth than were those of relatively high birth weight. For high SES boys, there was no impact of birth weight. Thus, for boys it would appear that being disadvantaged at birth and during childhood combine to create a risk of early-onset anti-social behaviour. The adverse impact of low birth weight could be reduced or eliminated through social means: “Supportive environments and early interventions stand a fighting chance at diminishing the consequences of birth-related difficulties, and such approaches may have an even more demonstrable impact on inner-city youths” (Tibbetts and Piquero, 1999; p.869). (See also Piquero and Tibbetts (1999) for a similar study, with similar conclusions).

Jarjoura, Triplett, Brinker (2002) also found that growing up in a chronically poor household was associated with youthful offending. They found that both early chronic (to age five) and late chronic (ages eleven to fifteen) poverty affected offending. This suggests that poverty may act through different mechanisms at these two developmental periods. For instance, poor prenatal and postnatal care, as well as deficient nutrition in the earlier interval and lack of educational or employment opportunities in the latter period, may constitute possible intervening variables. Whatever the mechanisms, growing up chronically poor clearly suggests a context of persistent disadvantage for the child. Unfortunately, it may only be at the moment in which the disadvantaged youth offends for the first time that the community becomes aware of the adverse effects of policies which permit chronic poverty.

It is clearly important to differentiate between “life-course-persistent” and “adolescent-limited” forms of anti-social behaviour in adolescence. It would appear that the most efficient approach to “life-course-persistent” behavioural problems for both boys and girls would be to focus on ways of minimizing risk occurring early in life. In contrast, interventions for adolescent-limited anti-social youths might be more effective if carried out during adolescence. Further, these therapeutic strategies should acknowledge the broadly non-pathological backgrounds of these youths, while also making efforts not to “incur social costs” (Moffitt and Caspi 2001; p. 370) such as those resulting from harsh treatment in the criminal system. There are, however, many more “adolescent-limited” male and female offenders than “life-course-persistent” ones. Moreover, even though their backgrounds are very different, their behaviour in mid-adolescence looked very similar. Hence, therapeutic interventions based solely on adolescent behaviour are more likely than not to be focused on children without problems.

There are, unfortunately, no easy diagnostic tools that can be used to identify potential life-course-persistent offenders, or, for that matter, to identify those who may display psychopathy in adulthood. Research on adult psychopathy has noted that these individuals often displayed antisocial behaviour as youths. Based on this finding, researchers have begun looking for ways to identify “fledgling psychopaths” (Seagrave and Grisso, 2002; p. 219). Particularly with public concern with youth crime, it is not surprising that efforts to predict violence inevitably have started to focus on “juvenile psychopathy.”

The difficulties with such a strategy are multiple in nature. First, the relatively transient quality of behavioural patterns in normal adolescence make it likely that assessment with measures adapted from adult instruments have a high probability of identifying normal youths as psychopaths. In addition, and although some of these measures have already been developed, they have not yet been sufficiently validated, nor do they yet have published guidelines on their use. These deficiencies are problematic. For example, if the existing assessment tools are to be useful, they must measure stable traits. Yet, “there have been no published studies using the instruments... at different points in time during... childhood or adolescence” (Seagrave and Grisso, 2002; p. 232). Moreover, “no published studies have addressed whether high psychopathy scores in adolescence predict high psychopathy scores in adulthood, much less a higher risk of violent and other antisocial conduct in adulthood” (Seagrave and Grisso, 2002; p.234). Further problems exist in interpreting any, even short–term, predictability from these measures. Indeed, some studies have shown weak relationships between juvenile psychopathy and offending, but have not even attempted to control for other known “risk” factors, such as substance abuse or ADHD.

Interestingly, supporters of efforts to measure psychopathy, such as Stephen Hart at Simon Fraser University, agree with the call for caution with respect to the infiltration of adolescence by the merchants of psychopathy. As Hart notes, “there is no consensus among developmental psychopathologists that a personality disorder as a general class of psychopathology even exists in childhood or adolescence... There are good reasons... to believe that personality does not crystallize until at least late adolescence or even early adulthood.... If stable personality does not exist... then surely personality disorder cannot” (Hart, Watt and Vincent, 2002; p. 242). In addition, the limited information “used to assess juvenile psychopathy imposes a limit on the accuracy and reliability of the assessment” (Hart, Watt and Vincent, 2002; p. 243). Other researchers note that the concerns raised with respect to psychopathy hold for other measures of psychopathology as well (see, for example, Frick, 2002 or Lam et al., 2002).

Conclusions

It is difficult to measure offending, and even more difficult to determine who the “high-rate” or “persistent” offenders are. Equally plausible definitions will result in very different youths being identified. These definitional issues must be kept in mind when reviewing the research on “persistent” offenders.

Life-course-persistent anti-social behaviour is thought to originate early in life, when the difficult behaviour of a high-risk young child is exacerbated by a high-risk social environment. As these children get older, the domain of factors that can be “risks” expands beyond the family to include a large part of their social world. In contrast, most adolescent-limited youths have had a healthy childhood and, for the most part, outgrow their delinquent activities. In addition, even though the backgrounds of the life-course-persistent and adolescent-limited offenders were very different, their behaviour in mid-adolescence looked very similar. Hence, therapeutic interventions based solely on adolescent behaviour are more likely than not to be focused on children without problems.

It would appear that the most efficient approach to “life-course-persistent” behavioural problems for both boys and girls would be to focus on ways of minimizing risk occurring early in life. In contrast, interventions for adolescent-limited anti-social youths might be more effective if carried out during adolescence. Further, these therapeutic strategies should acknowledge the broadly non-pathological backgrounds of these youths, while also making efforts not to “incur social costs” (Moffitt and Caspi 2001; p. 370) such as those resulting from harsh treatment in the criminal system.

Unfortunately there are no simple diagnostic tools for assessing who might be a “life-course-persistent” offender, or more generally, who might display psychopathy in adulthood. Assessing psychopathy in youthful offenders is almost certain to result in ordinary adolescents being labelled as psychopaths.

References

Eggleston, Elaine P. and John H. Laub. (2002). The Onset of Adult Offending: A Neglected Dimension of the Criminal Career. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 603–622.

Esbensen, Finn-Aage, L. T. Winfree, Jr., Ni He, and T. J. Taylor. (2001). Youth Gangs and Definitional Issues: When is a Gang a Gang and Why Does it Matter? Crime &Delinquency, 47 (1), 105–130.

Hagell, Ann and Tim Newburn. (1994). Persistent Young Offenders. London: Policy Studies Institute.

Jarjoura, G. Roger, Ruth A. Triplett, and Gregory P. Brinker. (2002). Growing Up Poor: Examining the Link Between Persistent Childhood Poverty and Delinquency. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 18, 159–187.

Moffitt, Terrie E. and Avshalom Caspi. (2001). Childhood Predictors Differentiate Life-Course Persistent and Adolescent-Limited Anti-Social Pathways among Males and Females. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 355–375.

Piquero, Alex and Stephen Tibbetts. (1999). The impact of pre/perinatal disturbances and disadvantaged familial environment in predicting criminal offending. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 8 (1), 52–70.

Seagrave, Daniel and Thomas Grisso. (2002). Adolescent Development and the Measurement of Juvenile Pathology. Law and Human Behavior, 26, 219–239. Hart, Stephen D., K.A. Watt and G.M. Vincent. Commentary on Seagrave and Grisso: Impressions of the State of the Art (pp. 241–245). Frick, Paul J. (2002). Juvenile Psychopathy from a Developmental Perspective: Implications for Construct Development and Use in Forensic Assessments (pp. 247–253). Lynam, Donald R. (2002) Fledgling Psychopathy: A View from Personality Theory (pp. 255–259).

Tibbetts, Stephen G. and Alex R. Piquero. (1999). The influence of gender, low birth weight, and disadvantaged environment in predicting early onset of offending: A test of Moffitt’s interactional hypothesis. Criminology, 37 (4), 843–877.

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5. What is the relationship of police strength to youth crime? How much of a change

in the concentration of police needs to occur before a change in crime will occur?


One might have thought that the nature of the relationship of “police strength” to crime would have been a topic that would have been solved by now. It has not been solved. There are two problems in answering the original question that was posed. The first question asks, what is the impact of police strength on youth crime? The simple fact is that we do not have any consistent measures, in most communities, of youth crime per se. When a crime is committed, it may or may not get reported to the police. But if it is reported, one cannot attribute this crime to “youth” or “adults” unless one has an identified suspect or, preferably, a person who has been found guilty of the offence. Hence, the best we can do in this area is to look at the impact of police strength on crime more generally.

The second issue that needs to be addressed at the outset is that we are talking about the impact of variation in police strength within plausible limits. We are not going to look at the impact of situations in which it is known that there are, essentially, no police (e.g., if the police are on strike, or if the police have, for whatever reason, left the community). Such circumstances are not at the end of the continuum of police strength; they are qualitatively (not quantitatively) different.

We are also not talking about hypothetical situations in which police strength is increased to such an extent that police are, in effect, omnipresent. We have no doubt — and do not see any point in studying, at least in this context — situations in which one protects a person or facility from “normal” crime by surrounding the person or location with large numbers of police.

Let us put this issue in context. At the moment, we have about 195 police officers per hundred thousand people in the general population and about 272 police employees (sworn police officers plus civilian employees) per hundred thousand people in the general population. The density of police (and total police employees) has increased dramatically since 1962, when the comparable figures were 141 police officers per hundred thousand in the population and 171 total employees per hundred thousand in the population (All figures on police strength and resources come from Statistics Canada, 2007, “Police Resources in Canada, 2007”).

In Canada, we spent about $9.88 billion on police forces in 2006. The figure for Ontario was about $3.4 billion. Roughly speaking then, since most of the expenses of a police force are in personnel costs, and since those that are not (e.g., costs of facilities, cars, etc.) are likely to increase roughly in proportion to the size of the personnel, one might assume that an increase of 10% in the size of Ontario’s (total) police strength would cost an additional $300 million or so. Increases in police strength, then, are obviously costly. There is little point in talking about the impact of doubling or tripling the size of police forces or even increasing them quickly by 50%. It is highly unlikely that such changes would take place. Hence, even trying to estimate what such changes would do to “crime rates” makes little sense.

But we should consider what “plausible” increases in police strength would do. Ontario, in 2007, had approximately 24,450 police officers. An increase across the province of 1,000 police officers would constitute an increase of about 4%. We would expect that the cost might be on the order of something like $100 million.

When talking about the impact of police strength, then, one first has to consider what one means by “increase.” There are some data that suggest that targeted increases in the density of policing that focus on “hot spots” of trouble can reduce crime in those areas and may not simply displace crime to other areas. Again, this should not be seen as a surprising finding. For example, in one study (described in a review: Braga, 2001), areas were located with high rates of drug-related calls and drug arrests. Police crackdowns on drug sales and increased patrolling in these areas for more than a year led to reduced citizen calls to police in these areas as compared with control areas that did not receive the special attention. There was little evidence of displacement into the immediate area. Braga (2001) concludes that “focusing police efforts at high-activity crime places can be used to good effect in preventing crime... [and that] focused crime prevention efforts do not inevitably lead to the displacement of crime problems” (p. 121, emphasis added).

In effect, what studies such as this one show is that heavy concentrations of police can have an impact, at least on calls for service. This is not to say that more police resources — if untargeted — will have a similar impact. Nor, of course, does it suggest that additional police resources within a community are needed in order to get additional benefit. All it really suggests — but this is an important conclusion — is that expensive resources such as police time should be used thoughtfully, in a manner that is empirically based.

The problem, however, is that the focusing of additional police resources does not, inevitably, accomplish very much. In 2002, the Philadelphia police, as part of a program dubbed “Operation Safe Streets,” stationed 214 police officers at the city’s highest drug-activity locations. The impact of this intervention was examined by looking at trends in 121 weeks prior to the intervention (in order to be able to compare outcomes with what might have been expected on the basis of preexisting trends) and eighteen weeks after the intervention. Looking separately at the homicide rates, violent crime rates and drug crimes, there were no city-wide impacts. There were, however, localized impacts of the program. As the authors put it, “The program was creating ‘bubbles’ of relative safety near officer locations. The intervention was working in a spatially delimited fashion and benefiting residents in the immediate vicinity. The program was a success but, spatially, a small-scale success” (Lawton, Taylor and Luongo, 2005; p. 446). They further note that “Crackdowns respond to current crises. Because they are ‘out of the ordinary’, they cost a lot, they attract attention, and... they get results. But they are rarely sustainable because of high costs.... The goal then is to engineer more cost-effective crackdowns, which can be sustained over time” (p. 449). In this context, then, a study that showed that substantial increases in police presence in certain areas of Washington, D.C. during high (“orange”) terror alerts announced publicly by the Office of Homeland Security were associated with somewhat lower (reported) crime rates is hardly surprising (Klick and Tabarrok, 2005).

These impacts of these very specific temporary or geographically limited increases in police strength on crime are, of course, not necessarily going to be the same as overall increases in police strength in a jurisdiction. However, there is no reason to expect that there will be simple effects on crime of increases in overall police strength, since the manner in which police departments deploy additional personnel is likely to vary.

One of the more highly quoted people on the issue of crime rates generally is Steven Levitt, author of the best-seller book Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner, 2005). Levitt’s own empirical work has, a number of times, been questioned for simple accuracy or completeness (see, for example, Webster, Doob and Zimring, 2006). But in a paper entitled “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not,” Levitt (2004) did what he does best: present simple plausible conclusions based, apparently, on empirical evidence. The first of the “four factors that explain the decline in crime” listed by Levitt is “increases in the number of police.”

Levitt starts off this section with the rather simple and empirically controversial statement that “Police are the first line of defense against crime” (p. 176), suggesting, obviously, an image of thousands of criminals on one side, peaceful citizens on the other, and “the police” holding the criminal at bay. If holding back the hoards is the imagery, it would seem logical to expect that the more police officers one has “defending against crime,” the more likely one would be to be successful. Interestingly, Levitt cites four studies, including two of his own. One of these, a highly cited 1997 study, was found to contain a computational error (McCrary, 2002). When the error was corrected, McCrary found no significant effects of police strength. Levitt cites McCrary, but then cites his “re-specification” (Levitt, 2002), which managed to create statistical significance once again by using a completely different set of measures.

This little excursion into a little controversy about data and analysis demonstrates, unfortunately, one of the problems with this area: there are contradictory findings that would appear to us to relate somewhat, not only to whether or not the researcher made a mistake (as in the case of Levitt, 1997), but more importantly, to the exact nature of the analysis that was carried out. Thus, for example, Marvell and Moody (1996) looked at the impact of police strength measured at the city and the state level on “total” (index) crime in the US and each of the seven “index” crimes that are recorded relatively consistently across jurisdictions. They find effects of police strength for some crimes for some units of analysis (states, cities), but the results are not entirely consistent. Nevertheless, they conclude that “higher police levels reduce most types of crime, particularly at the city level.” At the same time, they also warn the reader that they “only estimate the average impact over many cities and states, and impacts in some localities are sure to be quite different from the average” (p 640). Said differently, how the police use resources may be as important as the absolute level of police strength in the community.

A relatively large amount of research on this topic was stimulated by the US Congress’s decision in 1994 to contribute to local policing by, among other things, funding the hiring of 100,000 new (“community”) police officers across the country. These grants were designed to do a number of different things (e.g., hiring, training and providing support to police officers). The findings are inconsistent. One study (Muhlhausen, 2006) that examined the impact of these grants and of total police expenditure per capita found quite inconsistent results across seven categories of crime. However, certain parts of the program appeared to show, perhaps, more promise than others (in particular the programs that were “intended to redeploy veteran officers from administrative tasks to community policing” (p. 1). Simply giving grants to hire more police officers did not appear, in these analyses, to be very effective.

This conclusion is not too different from the conclusion of the United States Government Accountability Office, which found declines in some areas of crime and not others. These funds were obviously being distributed at a time when crime in the US (and in Canada) was already declining. The Government Accountability Office estimated that the funds “contributed to declines in the crime rate that, while modest in size, varied over time and among categories of crime” (Summary, p. 1).

Other researchers have been more optimistic about the impact of these grants (Evans and Owens, 2007) and others less optimistic (Worrall and Kovandzic, 2007). This latter study looked only at the impact of these grants on larger cities (cities over 100,000 residents), controlling, among other things, for level of pre-existing law enforcement expenditures. In this analysis, the addition of federal grants for hiring more police had no consistent impact.

Conclusion

Clearly, the presence of police officers in a particular location at a particular time can affect whether crimes will take place at that location. Whether the addition of police officers to a community will have an additional impact on crime depends, it would seem, on exactly how they are deployed. Our view, however, is that one has to consider current police strength and then consider what the likely change would mean for a police service or police services across the province were more funds put into policing. In other words, in Ontario, we are not talking about going from impoverished police coverage of communities to some more adequate coverage. We are going from a rate that has, generally, served us quite well to some other level. The question then, is not whether “police stop crime,” but whether the level of additional police that is being contemplated would have a big impact on crime. Finally, we think it worth while to note that the variation in effects across communities of the impact of (additional) police strength on crime is important: it suggests that whatever the overall impacts might be, one cannot assume that additions to police departments will have any specific impacts on crime.

A few years ago, a policing scholar pointed out that to say that the police are not an important force in preventing crime is not a criticism of police organizations. “[Police] need to be alert to the dangers of concentrating single-mindedly on traditional approaches to crime reduction. Doing so not only has inherent dangers, but it can also divert attention from other tasks and objectives of policing” (Dixon, 2005; p. 19). One might suggest, therefore, that those responsible for policies related to policing should examine carefully how police resources can best be allocated to accomplish the various responsibilities allocated to the police. Such an approach might lead to a different and more effective allocation of scarce resources.

References

Braga, Anthony A. (2001). The Effects of Hot Spots Policing on Crime (2001, November) Annals, American Academy of Political and Social Science, 578, 104–125.

Dixon, David. (2005). Why Don’t the Police Stop Crime? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 38(1), 4–24.

Evans, William N. and Emily G. Owens. (2007). COPS and Crime. Journal of Public Economics, 91, 181–201.

Hart, Stephen D., K. A. Watt and G. M. Vincent. (2002). Commentary on Seagrave and Grisso: Impressions of the State of the Art. Law and Human Behavior, 26, 241–245.

Klick, Jonathan and Alexander Tabarrok. (2005). Using Terror Alert Levels to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime. Journal of Law and Economics, XLVIII, 267–279.

Lawton, Brian A., Ralph B. Taylor and Anthony J. Luongo. (2005). Police Officers on Drug Corners in Philadelphia, Drug Crime, and Violent Crime: Intended, Diffusion, and Displacement Impacts. Justice Quarterly, 22(4), 427–451.

Levitt, Steven D. (1997). Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime. American Economic Review, 87(3), 270–290.

Levitt, Steven and Stephen J. Dubner. (2005). Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: HarperCollins

Levitt, Steven D. (2004). Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18(1), 163–190.

Levitt, Steven D. (2002). Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime: Reply. The American Economic Review, 92(4), 1244–1250.

Marvell, Thomas B. and Carlisle E. Moody. (1996). Specification Problems, Police Levels, and Crime Rates. Criminology, 34, 609–646.

McCrary, Justin. (2002). Using Electoral Cyles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime: Comment. The American Economic Review, 92(4), 1236–1243.

Muhlhausen, David B. (2006). Impact Evaluation of COPS Grants in Large Cities. Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (2007). Police Resources in Canada, 2007. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

United States Government Accountability Office. (2005). Community Policing Grants: COPS Grants Were a Modest Contributor to Declines in Crime in the 1990s.

Webster, Cheryl Marie, Anthony N. Doob and Franklin E. Zimring. (2006). Proposition 8 and Crime Rates in California: The Case of the Disappearing Deterrent. Criminology and Public Policy, 5(3), 417–447.

Worrall, John L and Tomislav V. Kovandzic. (2007). Cops grants and crime revisited. Criminology, 45(1), 159–190.

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6. What is the impact of proactive or targeted police practices (including crime

sweeps, sting operations and undercover investigations) on youth crime?


The police, like any other organization, are often quick to embrace “quick-fix” approaches to dealing with crime. Experimenting with different approaches is obviously beneficial not only to the community in which the experimentation takes place. It is also useful for others who want to learn from the experience of others. However, these “experiments” are only useful if there are convincing data that demonstrate what the effects really are. In recent years, one very influential spokesperson for “new approaches” to policing was William Bratton, who was chief of police for New York City in the early 1990s. Bratton, among other things (see, e.g., Bratton, 1997), suggested that if the police responded aggressively to minor incivilities (the so-called “broken windows” policing), other more serious crime problems would take care of themselves.

Other police chiefs were not so sure. One such chief, Chief Constable Charles Pollard (now Sir Charles Pollard) of the Thames Valley (England) police, noted that such an approach could well undermine the legitimacy of the police, since it implies that all problems of order are police problems and should be dealt with harshly rather than sensitively (Pollard, 1997). Nevertheless, in terms of dealing with problems of order, the so-called broken windows “theory” of policing has “emerged as the dominant applied approach” (Herbert, 2001; p. 446) in many areas, for three reasons. First, it fits police culture. Second, it is consistent with cultural understanding of crime and deviance. Finally, it is compatible with the current political culture. Both “broken windows” policing and “community policing” models of policing “developed as an explicit reaction against the previously hegemonic model of policing — the professional model” — with its “dual emphases: greater aloofness from the citizenry and greater emphasis on technology” (Herbert, 2001; p. 447).

The extreme of such approaches may well be New York’s experiment in the 1990s in dealing with smoking marijuana in public view. Between 1994 and 2000, the New York City police increased their arrest rate for the misdemeanor charge of smoking marijuana in public view (MPV) from fewer than 2,000 arrests to over 50,000 arrests per year. In 2000, arrests for MPV accounted for 15% of all felony and misdemeanor arrests in the city (Harcourt and Ludwig, 2006). What was the effect of this crackdown on violent crime? The answer is a bit complex. But simply put, when the violent crime rate in 1989 (before the marijuana crackdown) and the change in violent crime between 1984 and 1989 is taken into account, it would appear that those locations with the most MPV arrests had higher, not lower, levels of violent crime at the end of the decade.

The problem with many of these “quick-fix” approaches to crime is that they often occur at times when it is easy to interpret an artifact as a real effect. As one pair of authors noted, when discussing why there were so many “successes” in crime prevention in the 1990s in the United States, “Any study of the influences on American crime patterns during the past 20 years is complicated by the massive period effects that have generated dramatic year-to-year changes in crime across the country.... Those cities that experienced the largest increases in crime during the [beginning of] this period [the 1980s] subsequently also experienced the largest drops [in the 1990s]” (Harcourt and Ludwig; p. 291). The policy of targeting minor disorder and hoping that such approaches would reduce serious crime — the so-called “broken windows policing” approach — had been seen as being largely responsible for the reduction in serious crime in New York City in the 1990s. Harcourt and Ludwig (2006) demonstrated that this effect was largely or exclusively an artifact. They noted that the areas of New York that had received the most aggressive “broken windows policing” (generally, not just with respect to marijuana arrests) were the areas in which crime had increased the most in the late 1980s.

In effect, then, what goes up comes down, whether or not there is a police officer arresting people for minor offences. Another study (Rosenfeld, Fornango and Rengifo, 2007) suggested that this “order maintenance policing” might have had some effect on the rates of at least two crimes: robbery and homicide. But even these authors estimate order maintenance policing was, at most, responsible for only about 10% of the decline in homicide rates and only 4% of the decline in robbery. However, it is also possible that those precincts in which order maintenance policing was implemented most aggressively were also subjected to other changes in policy that might have been responsible for some or all of this drop.

Other studies also suggest that such policies are not likely to be overwhelmingly effective. In one such “crackdown” on minor forms of disorder in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, the crackdown appeared to have had little impact on “real crime.” Its effects appeared to be restricted to problems that were the direct subject of the crackdown (Katz, Webb and Schaefer, 2001).

Part of the reason that these kinds of aggressive policing of minor forms of social disorder do not appear to be very effective is that, when looked at systematically (with appropriate controls), the relationship between general forms of disorder and crime disappears. In a systematic examination of the impact of neighbourhood disorder (Sampson and Raudenbush, 1999), measures of social and physical disorder were not related to personal violence and household burglary (assessed by victimization measures) once characteristics of the neighbourhood (e.g., willingness of neighbours to intervene in problems, trusting one’s neighbours, mixed land use) had been controlled for. “The results are consistent and point to a spurious association of disorder with predatory crime” (p. 627). When one looks at officially recorded crime, “disorder” once again disappears as a predictor of homicide and burglary once measures of collective efficacy and prior crime rates are controlled for. “The key result is that the influences of structural characteristics and [neighbourhood characteristics related to social cohesion] on burglary, robbery, and homicide are not mediated by neighbourhood disorder” (p. 629). The exception is the case of officially recorded measures of robbery, where there was still a relationship with disorder. Whether this was due to a “complex feedback loop” (p. 637) or an artifact of official data (e.g., “citizen calls to the police or police accuracy in recording robberies is greater in areas perceived to be high in disorder” (p. 638) is not clear.

In social science, one always worries about whether the circumstances in which the problem was studied are relevant to Canada. To use but one example, there is a study that suggests that the (police) crackdown on gun violence in Richmond, Virginia, was effective in reducing homicides. When the crackdown started, the homicide rate in Richmond was about 70 per hundred thousand residents. In 2007, Toronto’s homicide rate was about 3.4 per hundred thousand (it is normally about 2.5). Even if the Richmond program were effective (and there are contradictory findings on this), should we assume that the approach that might have been successful in Richmond with its 70 per hundred thousand homicide rate can reduce homicide rates in a city like Toronto, which has a rate that is less than 1/20 the rate of Richmond? But the Richmond findings themselves are problematic. Rosenfeld, Fornango and Baumer (2005) suggest what they consider to be an effect of a criminal justice crackdown on violence and drug crimes in which firearms had been used. Ludwig (2005) suggests, on the other hand, that the effect that was seen was due to a pre-existing trend downwards, which was inadequately controlled for in other studies.

These findings are quite similar to careful analyses of Boston’s program called “Operation Ceasefire.” This program focused on communication with gang youth, telling them in face-to-face meetings that firearm possession would not be tolerated, and that a tough approach toward youth gangs would be followed as long as the problem existed. Those apparently responsible for violence were also told that “all available levers would be pulled to ensure swift and tough punishment of violators” (p. 423). There was a drop in youth firearm homicides, but this drop was insignificant once existing trends in other cities and other known contributors to homicide were taken into account. (Rosenfeld, Fornango and Baumer, 2005).

Rosenfeld et al.’s (2005) conclusion was quite different from that of an earlier study (Braga, Kennedy, Waring and Piehl (2001), which came to a much more favourable conclusion. Those authors suggest that “Operation Ceasefire was likely responsible for a substantial reduction in youth homicide and youth gun violence in the city” (p. 220). However, even if this conclusion is accurate, it should be understood that the program was, more or less, a “problem-solving policing” program, where a number of different simultaneous interventions were carried out by a number of different agencies. If it was effective, it may have been so only while the program was being actively implemented. The “effects,” if there are any, may disappear as soon as the program winds down.

We do not want to suggest that all crackdowns will not work. In some circumstances, they can. The worry is that they may work — perhaps though the fairly obvious mechanism of increasing the perceived likelihood of apprehension of those thinking about doing things that would come to the attention of the police. But these effects may be short-lived. Ludwig (2005) reports that in Pittsburgh, in response to concerns about guns being illegally carried in public places, concentrations of police on the street were increased dramatically (20%–50%) in high-risk areas during high-crime periods (specified days and times). The police officers involved in this show of force did not have to respond to normal calls for service. Their focus, instead, was on traffic stops and “stop-and-talk” activities with pedestrians who appeared to have a high “risk” for carrying guns. The analysis involved comparisons of intensively policed areas with control areas, pre-and post-implementation during the targeted times and the “regular patrol density” times.

Using “assault related gunshot injuries” and reports of “shots fired” as the measures of success, there appeared to be larger decreases in the densely patrolled areas during the times when there were many police present. Furthermore, perhaps because of intensive officer training, focused activities and community involvement, the decrease in gun violence was apparently accomplished without aggravating community-police relationships. The concern, obviously, is that if targeted patrols of this sort were employed in a city, they could be seen as giving the police a licence to target certain racial (or other) groups.

It would appear, then, that targeted increases in police patrols can suppress gun violence, at least during the time that the police are present, and that with proper procedures, it is possible to do this without creating strained relationships between the police and the community. To the extent that the focus can be narrow (i.e., on people and locations likely to have a high rate of carrying illegal guns), and to the extent that there is “extensive officer training and... [involvement of the] community in project design and implementation” (p. 682), the overall impact can be positive. Nevertheless, it would appear that the effectiveness of such strategies is likely to be limited to those times and locations in which the concentration of police is high.

As a US Department of Justice report on “The benefits and consequences of police crackdowns” (Scott, n.d.) suggests, crackdowns are likely to work largely by increasing the perception of apprehension. He suggests that “Crackdowns appear to be most effective when used with other responses that address the underlying conditions that contribute to the particular problem (Scott, n.d., p. 13). Most importantly, and consistent with the findings of Ludwig (2005) described above, “Most crackdown studies have found that any positive impact they have in reducing crime and disorder tends to disappear (or decay) rather quickly and occasionally even before the crackdown ends. The effect can wear off for various reasons, including the tendency for police implementation to become less rigorous over time and for offenders to adapt to the crackdown” (Scott, n.d., p. 15).

An example of findings consistent with this conclusion comes from a study of drug enforcement in New York City (Sviridoff and Hillsman, 1994). This was an intensive “buy-and-bust” program that was well integrated into three relatively small neighbourhoods in the city. More than 1,000 arrests were made in the first ninety days. Seventy vehicles were confiscated. There was evidence that police presence in the neighbourhood was noticed by drug dealers. There was evidence, as well, that drug dealing changed and became less visible in the neighbourhoods. These are not, however, surprising observations: people do not do things when they think they will be apprehended. From the perspective of accomplishing a short-term clean-up, then, such an approach might be seen as being effective. It appears unlikely that any effects would live beyond the crackdown.

These findings are similar to focused police attention in other areas. The results of a study (Cohen, Gorr and Singh, 2003) of a crackdown on “nuisance bars” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by their police narcotics squad demonstrates how complex some of these effects are. It was found that enforcement — in the form of raids on these nuisance bars — suppressed drug dealing in the immediate two-to three-block radius. That is, within one month of the commencement of a series of drug raids, some reduction in the number of drug calls was apparent. However, this decrease was only temporary in nature. Second, the size of this decrease — assumed to be an indication of reduced drug dealing in the immediate area of the nuisance bar — increased as the amount of enforcement rose. Yet, while this effect continued after the enforcement ended, the suppression of drug dealing only lasted for a few months. Indeed, although “[l]arger reductions in drug calls accompany longer enforcement periods... enforcement effects achieved during an intervention do not persist after treatment is withdrawn” (p. 286). An unexpected finding was that the closure of a nuisance bar appeared to increase the amount of visible drug dealing in the area — possibly constituting “further indirect evidence of limits on residual suppression effects after enforcement ceases” (p. 279). Both of these outcomes — the relatively short duration of the initial enforcement effects and the negative impact of closing problematic establishments — highlight the importance of looking beyond the short term when evaluating enforcement strategies. Finally, the nature of the areas in which the bars were located was also important. For example, the (temporary) enforcement effects were largest in “low-risk” areas (e.g., areas with little vacant land, few bars and a low proportion of commercial properties). However, “even these most responsive enforcement targets... show little evidence of being able to sustain the suppression effects achieved during periods of active police enforcement into post-enforcement periods” (p. 290).

There are, of course, other papers that are more optimistic about the impact of “get tough” interventions. O’Shea (2007), for example, presented data from Mobile, Alabama, that concluded that “get tough” approaches work. However, there was no comparison group and the study used what we consider to be an inadequate number of data points to “model” pre-existing trends. Such studies are common. The difficulty is that in an era where crime rates are quite varied, the effects of interventions at a particular point in time are difficult to evaluate without adequate data collected as part of adequate research designs.

The second literature that we believe should be considered along with the material on the impact of such programs describes the research on the perceptions of those subject to such police actions. There may be a delicate trade-off between police actions and perceptions of fairness of the criminal justice institutions. This issue is particularly important when considering the views of racial minority groups. Within this latter context, one should concern oneself with the manner in which these proactive or targeted police activities can end up being targeted at minority groups.

For example, Greene (1999) reports that one set of problems with New York City’s zero-tolerance policing is that it appeared to be associated with a great deal of tolerance for police misconduct and abuse. The number of complaints against the police increased 60%. These included a “sudden and sharp increase” in the number of “complaints filed by citizens... that involved incidents where no arrest was made or summons issued” (p. 176). Investigation into one incident of police torture found the incident was part of a “pattern of police abuse, brutality, and misconduct” (p. 176). Hence, even if policing did play a part in the reduction of crime in New York City during the 1990s, there was a cost.

In another study of the so-called “Weed and Seed” program in the United States, it appeared that from residents’ perspectives, a police crackdown did not improve the quality of life. The theory behind these programs is that by encouraging and enabling the police to remove offenders from neighbourhood streets (the “weed” phase), residents will be able to take more control of their communities. Then, by providing various programs (the “seed” phase), communities will eventually become safe without the need of special police interventions. In Santa Ana, California, a large police operation (in March 2000) took place in which scores of people were arrested and charged with offences. After the police sweep, some recreation programs and a community cleanup program were implemented, though little seems to be known about how many people from the community were involved with, or benefited from, these programs.

In the “experimental” area in which the police action took place, the police sweep seemed to have increased the level of concern in the community about gangs. Prior to the sweep, 5.9% of the residents had concerns about street gangs. In the years after the sweep, this increased to 21.1% having these concerns. In contrast, in “control” neighbourhoods in Santa Ana (in which there were no special police activities), complaints about gangs were fairly constant (11.7% of those interviewed in the first period and 11.4% in the second period expressed concerns). In addition, people in the “experimental” neighbourhood were no more likely to change their views about the prevalence of crime and disorder problems than were people in the “control” neighbourhoods.

Residents of Santa Ana were also asked whether they feared being a victim of crime. Prior to the arrest sweep, 9% of those in the “experimental” neighbourhood thought that they were likely to be a victim of crime. After the sweep, this proportion doubled (18.3%). In contrast, in other Santa Ana neighbourhoods, the perceived likelihood of victimization went down slightly.

We have no reason to believe that effects such as this one are universal. We raise it simply as a reminder that effects can be negative and positive. Similarly, “rounding up” large numbers of youths for relatively minor crimes can have negative impacts: One study (Sweeten, 2006) demonstrated that, controlling for the amount of crime a youth had been involved in, taking a youth to court decreased that youth’s chances of finishing high school. Since society values high school graduation and having a high school diploma increases a person’s life chances, policies that interfere with such outcomes should be considered carefully.

Conclusion

The findings on police programs are, not surprisingly, mixed. Nevertheless, we believe that certain relatively firm conclusions can be drawn. First of all, it is clear that there is no guarantee that a police crackdown on a particular kind of crime will have a lasting favourable impact. Some programs do appear to be capable of reducing crime. Others do not. We suspect that the difference lies in two areas: how well (e.g., how consistently) they were implemented, and how the effects were assessed. Narrow definitions of “success” (e.g., reductions at the place and time of the intervention) are more likely to lead to favourable outcomes than definitions that involve broader and longer-term measures of success. But one cannot assume that police crackdowns will have only positive effects. Their impacts on neighbourhoods and on minor offenders may well be negative.

References

Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring and Anne Morrison Piehl. (2001). Problem-oriented Policing, deterrence, and youth violence: A Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38(3), 195–225.

Bridenball, Blaine and Paul Jesilow. (2005). Weeding Criminals or Planting Fear: An Evaluation of a Weed and Seed Project. Criminal Justice Review, 30(1), 64–89.

Bratton, William J. (1997). Crime is down in New York City: Blame the police. In Dennis, Norman (editor). Zero tolerance: Policing a free society. London, England: Institute of Economic Affairs Health and Welfare Unit.

Cohen, Jacqueline, Wilpen Gorr, and Piyusha Singh. (2003). Estimating Intervention Effects in Varying Risk Settings: Do Police Raids Reduce Illegal Drug Dealing at Nuisance Bars? Criminology, 41 (2), 257–292.

Greene, Judith A. (1999). Zero tolerance: A case study of police practices and practices in New York City. Crime and Delinquency, 45 (2), 171–187.

Harcourt, Bernard E. and Jens Ludwig. (2006). Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and a Five-City Social Experiment. The University of Chicago Law Review, 73 (1), 271–320.

Harcourt, Bernard E. and Jens Ludwig. (2006). Reefer Madness: Broken Windows Policing and Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in New York City, 1989–2000. Law and Economics Working Paper, No. 317. University of Chicago Law School, December 2006.

Herbert, Steve. (2001). Policing the Contemporary City: Fixing Broken Windows or Shoring Up Neo-Liberalism. Theoretical Criminology, 5, 445–466.

Katz, Charles, Vincent J. Webb, and David R. Schaefer. (2001). An Assessment of Quality-of-Life Policing on Crime and Disorder. Justice Quarterly 18, 825–865.

Ludwig, Jens. (2005). Better Gun Enforcement, Less Crime. Criminology and Public Policy, 4 (4), 677–716.

Mazerolle, Lorraine Green, Colleen Kadleck, and Jan Roehl. (1998). Controlling drug and disorder problems: The role of place managers. Criminology, 36 (2), 371–403.

O’Shea, Timothy C. (2007). Getting the Deterrence Message Out: The Project Safe Neighbourhoods Public-Private Partnership. Police Quarterly, 10(3), 288–307.

Pollard, Charles. (1997). Zero tolerance: Short term fix, long term liability? In Dennis, Norman (editor). Zero tolerance: Policing a free society. London, England: Institute of Economic Affairs Health and Welfare Unit.

Rosenfeld, Richard, Robert Fornango and Eric Baumer. (2005). Did Ceasefire, Comstat, and Exile reduce homicide? Criminology &Public Policy, 4(3), 419–450.

Rosenfeld, Richard, Robert Fornango, and Andres F. Rengifo. (2007). The Impact of Order-Maintenance Policing on New York City Homicide and Robbery Rates: 1988–2001. Criminology, 45 (2) 355–384.

Sampson, Robert J. and Dawn Jeglum Bartusch. (1998). Legal cynicism and (subcultural?) tolerance of deviance: The neighbourhood context of racial differences. Law and Society Review, 32, 777–804.

Sampson, Robert J. and Stephen W. Raudenbush. (1999). Systematic social observation of public spaces: A new look at disorder in urban neighbourhoods. American Journal of Sociology, 105, 603–651.

Scott, Michael S. The Benefit and Consequences of Police Crackdowns. US Department of Justice. Office of Community Oriented Police Services.

Sviridoff, Michele and Sally T. Hillsman. (1994). Assessing the Community Effects of Tactical Narcotics Teams. In Layton, D.M. and Uchida, C.D. (eds.). Drugs and Crime: Evaluating Public Policy Initiatives. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Sweeten, Gary. (2006). Who Will Graduate? Disruption of High School Education by Arrest and Court Involvement. Justice Quarterly, 23 (4), 462–480.

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7. What is the impact of specialized police units (e.g., guns and gangs units,

drug squads) on youth crime?


In the fall of 2007, a prominent US gang researcher, Scott Decker, wrote a short editorial-type article with the provocative title “Expand the use of police gang units.” He makes the completely defensible argument that “the gang itself contributes to levels of crime, not just that gangs attract individuals already involved in crime. The group context of gang behaviour provides support and opportunities for members to engage in more illegal behaviour as well as more serious illegal behaviour” (p. 730). Although Decker provides data on the numbers of youths estimated to be in gangs in the US and the number of gangs there are estimated to be in the US, these numbers are subject to enormous problems of definition (see, for example, Gordon, 2000; Wortley and Tanner, 2006; Esbensen, Winfree and Taylor, 2001).

But Decker’s conclusion needs to be understood. He notes explicitly that most police-led gang interventions have a “suppression emphasis.... that inhibits effective relationships between the police and the community, serves to further isolate the police from the community, and threatens already fragile relationships” (p. 731). Further, he suggest that “the challenges of responding to gang crime require specialized training, the development of specialized functions, and more importantly the integration of such functions into a broader workgroup with law enforcement, the community and other agencies who own a piece of the response to gangs. Such agencies include schools, community groups, neighbourhood associations and not-for-profit agencies. Failure to integrate will result in more of the conclusions [in past]... gang interventions: Many such interventions make the problem worse, more have no effect, and fewer still show positive results” (p. 732).

We cannot, in this one section, pretend to give a complete overview of all of the attempts by police to intervene in the “gang” problem, just as we cannot review all of the specialized units that police may have set up at some point in time. Specialized units are obviously designed to address very specific problems. One can easily see why these units are particularly attractive when addressing problems of youth. For example, as one study noted, “When it comes to gun policy, one of the few uncontroversial assertions is that unsupervised adolescents should not carry them in public” (Cook and Ludwig, p. 27).

Two broad approaches have been used to limit the use of firearms by adolescents: reducing demand (the motivation to carry or use a firearm) and reducing supply (the availability of guns). The latter often uses specialized units. The basic analysis, then, used in Cook and Ludwig’s study, was to look at the relationship between a measure of gun ownership and reported gun carrying by adolescents. Various other factors were statistically held constant — crime rate in the community, socio-economic status, age and race of the youth, whether the youth lived in an urban area, as well as measures of neighbourhood disadvantage. The most notable finding is that “controlling for individual characteristics, the likelihood of gun carrying is positively related to gun prevalence in the county, and strongly so” (Cook and Ludwig, 2004; p. 40). The findings suggest that “a 50% increase in county gun ownership is associated with approximately a doubling of the prevalence of teen gun carrying” (Cook and Ludwig, 2004; p. 41).

It could be argued, however, that communities in which guns are prevalent are simply more dangerous, and therefore youths are more likely to arm themselves for self-defence purposes. Two facts argue against this as an alternative explanation for these findings. First, in this study, violent crime rate was controlled for (using robbery rate as a proxy for violent crime). More persuasive was the finding that “Gun prevalence has little effect on the likelihood that the teen carries any type of weapon, either a gun, knife, or something else.... While [gun prevalence] does not affect the likelihood that a teen carries a weapon, the availability of guns clearly increases the likelihood that those teens who do carry weapons choose guns” (p. 41).

Hence, enormous efforts are spent trying to reduce gun availability as well as gun violence. In the previous section, we noted that even successful programs tend to have local and temporary impacts (see Ludwig, 2005).

Part of the problem with such suppression programs is that they ignore the social circumstances in which they operate. It can be easily seen, for example, that programs that target individuals within gangs may have completely different effects from programs that target gangs per se, since taking a few youths out of a gang may simply lead to replacement of these youths rather than any change in overall gang activity. As two top gang researchers in the United States put it, “Gang prevention is not synonymous with delinquency prevention” (Klein and Maxon, 2006; p. 114). What is generally needed is “having a clear model in place to guide a program, determining the proper targets for the program, and connecting the conceptual model to program implementations” (p. 123). Typically the problem is that the focus is simply on youth “at risk” to offend, despite the fact that “long-term successful gang control will not be achieved by intervention with youth but by intervention with the nature of gang-spawning communities” (p. 128). There is no “one size fits all” in gang control. Unfortunately, because there has been so much wasted effort as a result of repeating the failures of the past, we know less than we should about how to stop gang behaviour. But we do know that “Commonly, but not uniformly, gang formation is spawned in communities or subsections of communities with poverty, discrimination, inadequate resources, and low community efficacy and where official (police, court, school, etc.) hostility is felt” (p. 247).

Klein and Maxon (2006) suggest that if one looks at gang control efforts in the last few decades, one finds that there have been two broad approaches: approaches that attempt to control individual group members and approaches that focus on groups or gangs. Within each of these, one can focus on prevention, intervention or suppression of the behaviour that is of concern. In addition, the program can approach the problem by concentrating efforts on individual youths, on group processes, on gang structures or on the community. This matrix results in twenty-four different possible ways to focus gang control efforts. When one looks at documented gang control efforts, most programs use only one of these twenty-four approaches. The most popular approaches concentrate on individual change. Little attention is given to the community context of gangs or group processes or group structure. “People attempting to control gang problems largely ignore the fact that gangs are groups” (Klein and Maxon, 2006; p. 255). In contrast, “Gangs in the Far East are cast as group problems and in Europe as social welfare and immigration problems. Yet in America, although gangs are groups spawned in describable community contexts, we respond to them much more as requiring individual change efforts” (Klein and Maxon, 2006; p. 256).

It is clear, then, that gang “control efforts must begin with carefully derived goals whose achievement can be measured.... More effort needs to be concentrated on gang structures, group processes and community contexts....” (Klein and Maxon, 2006; p. 261). Data need to be gathered to understand what is happening and to learn from our experience. And of course, programs need to be implemented with care. “The overall goal would be local social control – by community members, in the community, of their own problems.” Though such approaches may take a long time, we are where we are because of “decades of uncoordinated, inadequately conceptualized gang programming and policy” (Klein and Maxon, 2006; p. 263).

In a paper produced by the RCMP’s Research and Evaluation Branch, the approach suggested does not, interestingly enough, focus largely on simple suppression. The author notes that “in any [gang] prevention program, intensive efforts aimed at the reduction of risk factors [for gang membership] must be undertaken” (Chatterjee, 2006; p. 64). But the report goes further than focusing simply on the individual. It further concludes that “Empirical evidence has shown that community mobilization was one of the most effective strategies in addressing the gang problem” (Chatterjee; p. 65). This is not to say that some form of “suppression” may not be part of the problem. But focusing exclusively or almost exclusively on simple suppression simply will not get the job done.

Nevertheless, an American report suggests that gang units within police departments that largely focus on suppression are a common response to concerns about gangs (Greene and Pranis, 2007). One study of these gang units found that they tended to focus on intelligence-gathering and suppression and tended to be isolated from the community, except insofar as they were collecting intelligence about gang activities (Greene and Pranis, 2007; p. 70). Of course, as we have noted earlier, any program that is begun when a problem is at its highest point is almost certain to be seen, locally, as having been successful.

Perhaps part of the problem in these approaches to gangs is something that we have already noted: they tend to focus on the problem of individual offenders rather than focusing on the gang as a social institution. If “success” is measured simply in terms of the number of people who are apparently gang members who are arrested, then although this measure might show “success,” true success measured as a reduction in criminal behaviour by the gang more generally is almost certainly going to demonstrate failure.

Suppression may be effective if it can be targeted in such a way as to influence the gang itself. The importance of knowing the gang structure can be illustrated by a simple comparison. If a gang is organized hierarchically, such that orders and control come from above, then those at the top of the structure might well be the appropriate people for the police to focus their efforts on. On the other hand, consider an organization that is not hierarchical, but rather has a few key members who serve, informally, as communication links among non-hierarchically organized members. Searching for “leaders” may accomplish little compared with focusing on individuals who serve this “central” role.

In one study (McGloin, 2005), police in Newark, New Jersey, were able, collectively, to gather information from “interviews” with members of street gangs. Putting together the information that was available about the links between individual gang members made it clear that, in Newark, gangs were not tightly organized. However, an analysis of gang structure revealed that there were certain individuals who served as the connection points between other individuals or groups of individuals. In other words, if these “connecting” individuals were to disappear, there would be no linkages among various subgroups or individuals. For example, in one gang, one individual served as the only connection between two large groups of gang members. These subgroups themselves may have internal cohesion, but the “gang” as a whole did not. In other words, by using information gathered by police, it was possible to understand the importance of specific individuals to the overall structure of the gang. Descriptions of the “general characteristics” of a gang (e.g., hierarchically structured vs. loosely organized) does not reveal important characteristics of the networks that exist among gang members. By systematically analyzing “knowledge about particular individuals and their known associates, one has the capacity to gather some interesting and powerful information.... Social patterns in relationships can be easily missed or overlooked” (p. 623).

Police intervention with gangs can be effective, but it also can have paradoxical effects. It would appear that the gangs in the one city studied by McGloin (2005) were not structured such that a collective-responsibility-based approach by police could possibly reduce gang activity. Indeed, such a police strategy might have created a more cohesive and organized gang structure (p. 624). Focusing attention, on the other hand, on individual gang members who occupy key locations within the social structure may be effective in destroying the gang structure. Obviously, “the utility of this analytic technique for interventions is, at this stage, hypothetical” (McGloin, 2005; p. 628). Nevertheless, interventions based on an empirically based “network analysis” would appear to have a higher likelihood of success than interventions based on hypothetical gang structures that may not exist.

Conclusion

Specialized units within police departments, whether they are focusing on guns, gangs, drugs or pornography, should generally be seen simply as being specialized ways of accomplishing this overall goal. The challenge that all of these procedures face is that they are not necessarily designed to deal with the problem. The intelligent analysis provided by Klein and Maxon (2006) would suggest that if gangs are the problem, we had best analyze the range of different approaches that can be used to reduce the destructive behaviour of these gangs. Specialized police units that focus on suppression alone are unlikely to provide a sufficient response.

References

Chatterjee, Jharna. (2006). Gang Prevention and Intervention Strategies. RCMP Research and Evaluation Branch.

Cook, Philip J. and Jens Ludwig. (2004). Does Gun Prevalence Affect Teen Gun Carrying After All? Criminology, 42 (1), 27–53.

Decker, Scott H. (2007). Expand the Use of Police Gang Units. Criminology &Public Policy, 6(4), 729–734.

Esbensen, Finn-Aage, L. T. Winfree, Jr., Ni He, and T. J. Taylor. (2001). Youth Gangs and Definitional Issues: When is a Gang a Gang and Why Does it Matter? Crime &Delinquency, 47 (1), 105–130.

Gordon, Robert M. (2000). Criminal business organizations, street gangs, and “wanna-be” groups: A Vancouver perspective. Canadian Journal of Criminology, January 2000, 39–60.

Greene, Judith and Kevin Pranis. (July 2007). Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies. Washington: Justice Policy Institute.

Klein, Malcolm W. and Cheryl L. Maxon. (2006). Street Gang Patterns and Policies. New York: Oxford.

Ludwig, Jens. (2005). Better Gun Enforcement, Less Crime. Criminology &Public Policy, 4 (4), 677–716.

McGloin, Jean Marie. (2005). Policy and Intervention Considerations of a Network Analysis of Street Gangs. Criminology &Public Policy, 4 (3), 607–636.

Tyler, Tom R. (2001). Public Trust and Confidence in Legal Authorities: What do Majority and Minority Group Members want from the Law and Legal Institutions? Behavioural Sciences and the Law,19, 215–235.

Wortley, Scot and Julian Tanner. (2006). Immigration, Social Disadvantage, and Urban Youth Gangs: Results of a Toronto-Area Survey. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 15(2), Supplement, 18–31.

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8. What are the impacts on youth crime of changes in the roles of police in schools?


Young people do lots of things that can be constituted as being crime. Some of these acts involve behaviour that would fall into the category of violent crime or sexually violent crime. A push or a shove can be an assault. A demand for money can be robbery or extortion. Touching someone inappropriately and without consent can be a sexual assault. Some of these acts take place in schools.

Because schools are full of youths, there would appear to be a concentration of serious violent crime in schools. In the United States, the authors of one study published almost a decade ago (Donohue, Schiraldi and Ziedenberg, 1999) examined data from a variety of sources and came to the conclusion that lethal violence in school is rare on almost any prevalence scale. Similar to the six years prior to 1997–8, in 1997–8, there were forty shooting deaths in US schools. That number is, however, an overestimation, because the data included any deaths that occurred near, or on the way to, school. Thus, any deaths (suicides or homicides) of children or adults, committed by children or adults, were included. The authors estimated the rate of juveniles murdered outside of school to be forty times higher than the rate of murders in school. The authors concluded that “the number of children killed by gun violence in schools is about half the number of Americans killed annually by lightning strikes” (p. 2).

The authors also reported results from victimization surveys administered to students between 1989–1995, which found that there was a 0.1% increase in overall victimization. During that same time period, however, the US saw significant increases in the rate of juvenile arrests for serious violence. The authors also examined “violence-related” hospital emergency admissions. Only about 6% were said to have occurred at school. In contrast, 48% of the injuries occurred at home, 29% at work and 15% on the streets. Moreover, in a self-report survey in 1993, roughly 90% of students surveyed said that they felt “safe” or “very safe” at school.

Nevertheless, a slightly more recent study (Schiraldi and Zeidenberg, 2001) reports that “Despite remarkably stable rates of student victimization over the past 23 years, suspensions and expulsions have increased... from 3.7% of students in 1974... to 6.8% of students in 1998 (3.2 million students suspended)” (p. 3). Given that the school is one of the few institutions in which positive interventions into the lives of young people can occur with little difficulty (i.e., without the obstacles inherent in interventions involving the family or peers), these large percentages translate into lost opportunities for positive intervention by the educational system. The “mass exclusion of... children from the educational process” (p. 4) has been criticized on various grounds, including the fact that it appears to increase the likelihood of troublesome behaviour by these youths, as well as augment the chances that young people will drop out of school. In the US, suspensions are strongly associated with race: “African Americans are approximately 2.6 times as likely to be suspended from schools as Whites” (p. 4). Hence, consideration of these outcomes requires one to remember that the data support neither the view that school violence is increasing nor that schools are a particularly dangerous place for youths.

The fact that violence in schools is rare — or that a given individual is probably safer in school than in other locations in which he or she spends time — does not mean that it does not occur. Nor does it mean that we should not address problems of violence in school. Hence, there is interest in what the schools can do.

One problem with the manner in which people talk about school disorder is that they seem to imply that school disorder or violence is explainable solely in terms of characteristics of youths. It turns out that school disorder is at least partly the responsibility of those who run schools. When looking at various forms of school “disorder” (victimizations, perceptions, incidents of disorder, suspensions and self-reported offending), Welsh (2001) found that “school climate variables significantly predicted all five measures of disorder... although the pattern and magnitude of effects differed somewhat for each measure.... For example, two school climate variables, ‘Respect for Students’ and ‘Fairness of Rules’, were strong predictors of both offending and misconduct” (p. 938). “Dimensions of school bonding are related to school disorder in general.... The strongest predictor of offending was Positive Peer Associations, but Belief in Rules and School Effort [commitment to school] also predicted Misconduct negatively” (p. 939).

Another study (Gottfredson, 2001) found that administrative and management practices, clear communication and goal setting, fair procedures for students and teachers, as well as consistent, although not punitive, enforcement of rules contribute to a reduction in student offending. “The research implies that principals and teachers control behaviour by setting rules, communicating clear expectations for behaviour, consistently enforcing rules, and providing rewards for rule compliance and punishments for rule infractions.... By maximizing student learning and engagement, schools increase commitment to education and attachment to school. By modeling appropriate behaviour and establishing a fair and just discipline system, school staff enhance student beliefs in the validity of rules and laws” (pp. 90–91). Put simply, well-run schools have impacts far beyond their immediate educational goals.

Hence, one could argue that rather than focusing solely on bad youths as an explanation for school disorder, this study suggests that it may be more useful to realize that “[s]chool disorder can be reduced by conscious efforts on the part of school administrators, teachers, parents, students and community groups.... Individual schools should carefully assess their own climate to determine which factors may be contributing to disorder” (p. 943). One of the most optimistic findings from this research is its suggestion that schools and school boards can reduce problems of disorder within their institutions not only by choosing “good” youths, but also by creating effective schools. The environment in which school-age children spend their time is clearly important. Focusing on identifying difficult youths (and, in many jurisdictions, excluding them from school) may not be as effective as concentrating on what could be done to improve the school. Most of the school climate variables reflect characteristics that have value without reference to disorder. However, by creating a fair environment in which youths want to work hard and, in general, feel attached to school values, one not only gets better schools, but one also gets schools that are relatively free of disorder.

Part of the reason that it is important to look at schools is that schools have been found to be a consistently important protective factor for both delinquency and drug abuse (Smith, Lizotte and Thornberry, 1995). High-risk youth who were resilient to delinquency and drug abuse had more protective factors than the high-risk youth who were not resilient. Educational factors consistently distinguished resilient youth from non-resilient youth. Those youth who were good at school, valued school, and who reported having positive interactions with teachers, were more likely to be resilient to delinquency and drug abuse. This highlights the significant positive role school plays in adolescents’ lives. Since youth appear, naturally, to become resilient over time, focus should be on developing attachments to school early on. Evidence from this study suggests that developing such an attachment early on would also have an effect in preventing drug abuse much later on in life.

The American findings cited above are completely consistent with Canadian findings reported by Sprott, Jenkins and Doob (2005), who found that youths who were particularly at risk because they had many factors that were associated with high rates of violent offending were especially likely to be “protected” from committing violent crime if they experienced high levels of school attachment.

The findings described here that relate to the school emphasize the fact that school boards do not need special “anti-crime” programs in order to have an impact on crime. There are, of course, anti-crime programs in schools. Some of these, in the US, have been funded federally and have similarities across locations. The problem in evaluating such programs is often a problem of understanding what aspects of a program might have been effective, even when there are data suggesting the program was effective.

One of the largest national programs in the United States is Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), originally developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles (California) Police Department and the city unified school district. There were many problems with the quality of the analyses that were carried out in some of the studies that were done attempting to assess its effectiveness. Nevertheless, looking at the various measures related to drug use, one meta-analysis of separate evaluations found no significant impact of the program on drug use (Ennett, Tobler, Ringwalt and Flewelling, 1994). Another, more methodologically adequate, evaluation (Rosenbaum et al., 1994) found essentially no reliable effects of the impact of the program. As the authors noted, “the study provides relatively little empirical support for the comprehensive model of school-based drug education, of which DARE is a prime exemplar” (Ennett, Tobler, Ringwalt and Flewelling, 1994; p. 26).

This is not to say that programs such as these are not popular. In the world of political acronyms, the program G.R.E.A.T. — Gang Resistance Education and Training — stands out. In a paper entitled “The Outlook is G.R.E.A.T.,” it was found that “G.R.E.A.T. is generally received and evaluated positively by the middle school administrators, teachers, and counsellors.... (Peterson and Esbensen, 2004; p. 237). As the authors point out a few lines later, however, “there was less agreement from educators that the G.R.E.A.T. program had actually reduced gang participation” (p. 237).

These findings appear to have been accepted by the sponsor of the program, the US Department of Justice, which confirms that parents and educators like the program. Furthermore, there is some evidence consistent with the view that those exposed to the program developed favourable attitudes to the police. But most importantly, the Department of Justice, the sponsor of the program, concluded that “the program did not reduce gang membership or future delinquent behaviour” (US Department of Justice, 2004, p. 4; see also Esbenson et al, 2001). Perhaps this is not surprising: a nine-hour program cannot be expected to have a huge impact on youths.

Conclusion

School-based programs to deal with offending by youths can be of two sorts. First, they can be programs that deal with the nature and quality of the school. Improving schools, or more accurately, improving youths’ experience with schools, appears to be an effective approach to dealing with crime. Providing contact with the police in the school may improve youths’ views of the police. There was no convincing evidence that we could find to suggest that police-school liaison programs reduced crime or gang involvement.

References

Donohue, E., V. Schiraldi, and J. Ziedenberg. (1999). School House Hype: School Shooting and the Real Risks Kids Face in America. Washington, D.C.: The Justice Policy Institute, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Ennett, Susan T., Nancy S. Tobler, Christopher L. Ringwalt, and Robert L. Flewelling. (1994). American Journal of Public Health, 84, 1394–1400.

Esbensen, Finn-Aage, Dana Peterson, Terrance Taylor, Adrienne Freng and D. Wayne Osgood. (2001). Final Report: The National Evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program.

Rosenbaum, Dennis P., Robert L. Flewelling, Susan L. Bailey, Chris L. Ringwalt and Deanna L. Willkinson. (1994). Cops in the classroom: A longitudinal evaluation of drug abuse resistance education (DARE). Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31(1), 3–31.

Gottfredson, Denise C. (2001). “Chapter 3: School Effects” in Schools and Delinquency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peterson, Dana and Finn-Aage Esbensen. (2004). The Outlook is G.R.E.A.T.: What Educators Say about School-Based prevention and the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program. Evaluation Review, 28, 218–245.

Schiraldi, Vincent and Jason Ziedenberg. (2001). Schools and Suspensions: Self-reported Crime and the Growing Use of Suspensions. Justice Policy Institute Policy Brief. 1. Online: < www.cjcj.org >.

Smith, C., Lizotte, A.J., &Thornberry, T.P. (1995). “Resilient youth: Identifying factors that prevent high-risk youth from engaging in delinquency and drug use”. Current Perspectives on Aging and the Life Cycle, 4, 217–247.

Sprott, Jane B., Jennifer M. Jenkins, and Anthony N. Doob. (2005). The importance of school: Protecting at-risk youth from early offending. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 3 (1), 59–77.

US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. (2004). Evaluating G.R.E.A.T.: A school based gang prevention program. Washington: Office of Justice Programs.

Welsh, Wayne N. (2001). Effects of Student and School Factors on Five Measures of School Disorder. Justice Quarterly 18: 911–947.

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9. What are the impacts of tough sentencing practices (e.g., mandatory minimum

sentences for gun crime, “three-strikes-you’re-out” policies) on youth crime?


Over the past thirty years, many reviews have been carried out of the research literature on the marginal deterrent effect of increased sentence severity on crime. These comprehensive summaries examined a substantial number of studies on the deterrent effect of sentence severity and have concluded — almost unanimously — that no convincing evidence exists to suggest that harsher sentences deter crime. The few reviews that have claimed that severe sanctions do, in fact, reduce crime are based on a highly selected group of papers of questionable value. Despite these findings, most scholars have been reluctant to claim definitively that variation in the severity of sentences (within ranges that are plausible in Western democratic countries) does not have an impact on crime rates. Instead, the majority have suggested that more evidence is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

Within this context, a review by Doob and Webster (2003) re-examined many of the principal summaries on this topic, as well as a substantial number of more recent studies, and found no conclusive evidence that supports the hypothesis that harsher sentences would reduce crime through the mechanism of general deterrence. Particularly given the significant body of literature upon which this conclusion is based, the consistency of the findings over time and space, and the multiple measures and methods employed in the research conducted, these scholars suggest that “[i]t is time to accept the null hypothesis” that “variation in the severity of sanctions is unrelated to levels of crime” (p. 143). Although the existence of the criminal justice system as a whole and the perception of an increased likelihood of apprehension appear to deter crime, no consistent and convincing evidence has emerged over the last quarter century to justify the claim that increases in sentence severity have a deterrent effect on criminal activity.

This conclusion is couched in the recognition that we cannot logically “prove” that harsher sentences do not deter crime. Strictly speaking, one cannot prove the absence of a phenomenon. It may exist somewhere, but research may not have (yet) identified where this is. Having said this, these scholars argue that one can still conclude that no consistent body of literature has developed over the last twenty-five to thirty years indicating that harsh sanctions deter crime. While one must always reserve judgment for the possibility that — in the future — someone may discover persons or situations in which the relative severity of sentences does, in fact, have an impact on crime, it would not seem unreasonable to conclude that at the present time, in Western populations and with the current methods and measures available, variation in sentence severity does not affect the levels of crime in society.

In drawing this conclusion, Doob and Webster (2003) begin by examining the major published reviews of the deterrence literature (eleven summaries in total). With two exceptions — neither of which purport to be comprehensive — these reviews of the deterrence literature are pessimistic about the possibility that harsher sentences handed down in criminal courts would decrease crime. Indeed, Doob and Webster’s assessment of general deterrence was found to be consistent with the views expressed by most criminologists who have reviewed the current body of literature and concluded that the evidence does not support the hypothesis that variation in sentence severity will differentially affect crime rates. Further, the summaries that challenge this conclusion not only constitute sporadic anomalies, but also do not address most of the relevant research literature on the topic.

Subsequent to this examination of many of the major reviews of the deterrence literature, Doob and Webster (2003) looked at the research that is held out, occasionally, as evidence that harsher sentences deter crime. These studies were found to be relatively few in number. Additionally, they suffer from one or more methodological, statistical or conceptual problems that render their findings problematic. In some cases, causal inferences between sentence severity and crime cannot be drawn because of the basic nature of the data under analysis (e.g., a simple comparison of crime and punishment in two locations). In other cases, alternative explanations (e.g., incapacitation) are more plausible than deterrence. In still others, there are questions of data selection, measurement or methodology that raise sufficient doubt about the generality of the findings that inferences are dangerous. Finally, while some findings do, in fact, seem to support a deterrent effect, they appear in unstable and inconsistent ways (e.g., for some offences but not others, in some locations but not others). In brief, Doob and Webster (2003) suggest that the data held out as supportive of the general deterrent impact of sentence severity are not strong enough to allow one to conclude that there is a relationship between the severity of sanctions and crime. A strong finding would be one that appears to be reliable across time, space, and perhaps offence. The research examined in this essay that is favourable to the conclusion that there is a deterrent impact of the severity of sentences clearly does not fulfill these criteria.

Simply as a relevant illustration within the Canadian context, the House of Commons Committee heard testimony in 2005, from a prosecutor from the State of Florida, in favour of the deterrent effect of a new law that required minimum sentences of ten years, twenty years or life in prison for certain gun crimes. This witness asserted that “In the 10-20-Life period, violent crime is down 30%.... fewer people were robbed... fewer people were killed... I'm a prosecutor. I'm in the courtroom every day. These laws are good.” And, in fact, violent gun crime rates had dropped 28% in Florida since the introduction of this harsher legislation. However, a more careful analysis shows this conclusion to be flawed. Specifically, Piquero (2005) demonstrated that crime generally, and violent crime in particular, had already been decreasing in Florida since about 1990. In fact, the rate of decrease appeared to be somewhat higher before the change in the law as compared with subsequent to it. Using sophisticated statistical analyses, Piquero showed that — contrary to the prosecutor’s claims — there was no real evidence of a decrease associated with the timing of the change in the law. These analyses also demonstrated that results are “highly sensitive to when you start calculating the percent change and this is especially true in Florida’s case because some percent change calculations used by the state of Florida to assess [the] 10-20-Life [minimum sentence law] use data from the years before the passage of the law. Because total crime and homicides were high in these time periods, the use of data from these years as a base for calculating change is likely to inflate the apparent impact of [the law]” (p. 792).

However, this examination of the apparent deterrent effect of the Florida legislation also makes a more important general point: “Simple before/after comparisons cannot tell the public definitively whether the law was the cause of the change in crime. Many other factors that were occurring at the same time could also have led to changes in crime rates” (p. 793). These issues underscore the problems associated with making sweeping claims about a law’s effects in the absence of rigorous analyses that are sensitive to the possibility that other factors may be responsible for a drop in crime.

Similarly, the same Canadian House of Commons Committee was repeatedly told that another study — by Kessler and Levitt (1999) — showed conclusive evidence that harsher sanctions deter crime. This study examined the impact of Proposition 8 — a sentencing enhancement for repeat offenders — for a number of eligible crimes in California. Kessler and Levitt demonstrate that immediately following the introduction of this new legislation, California experienced a 3.9% drop in the crime rates of those offences falling under Proposition 8, independent of other state or national changes occurring during this period that may have also affected the crime rates of the eligible offences. This decrease in crime was attributed exclusively to a deterrent effect, as there would have been “no additional incapacitation effect from the sentence enhancement in the short run...[b]ecause the criminal would have been sentenced to prison even without the law change” (p. 343).

Despite this compelling finding, this conclusion of a deterrent impact failed to withstand scrutiny when more complete and more detailed crime data were examined and the comparability of “control” groups was examined. In a study by Webster, Doob and Zimring (2006), these scholars found that “the addition of annual crime levels for all years (versus only the odd-numbered years that Kessler and Levitt examine) calls into question the prima facie support for a deterrent effect presented” (p. 417) in the original research. “Specifically, it demonstrates not only that the crime drop in California began before, rather than after, the passing into law of the sentence enhancements in 1982 but also that the downward slope did not accelerate after the change in law. Furthermore, the comparability of the two ‘control’ groups with the ‘treatment’ group is challenged, rendering suspect any findings based on these comparisons” (p. 417). These scholars conclude that “[w]ithout any confidence in the validity of the analyses, the findings must logically be rejected” (p. 439).

In their review, Doob and Webster (2003) also examine the research that does not find support for a deterrent effect on variation in sentence severity, focusing largely — albeit not exclusively — on those studies that assessed the general deterrent impact of the structural changes in sentencing laws occurring over the last decade in the US. This recent body of literature is not only impressive in its scope and number, but also in its ability to take advantage of dramatic sentencing changes that have occurred, particularly with respect to three-strikes legislation. In addition, these studies were frequently conducted in almost ideal research conditions in which one would expect to find a deterrent effect in the case that one existed. In particular, there was generally a substantial amount of publicity surrounding the introduction of these new sentencing laws. Hence, people would be likely to know (or at least believe) that harsh sentences would follow conviction for the offences covered by these laws. Further, these studies of sentencing changes have been replicated in different countries and with different units of analysis (e.g., states, counties, cities, etc.) and have produced similar findings. Finally, some of these studies were able to break down “punishment” into its various components (i.e., apprehension, conviction, sentencing), permitting an assessment of the separate or unique effects of sentence severity.

Even under these conditions, sentencing levels were not found to be important in determining crime. Indeed, Doob and Webster (2003) continued to find no consistent and plausible evidence that harsher sentences deter crime. This conclusion is potentially even more dramatic when one notes the scope of the studies that were reviewed. Specifically, the findings were consistent across simple descriptive comparisons of crime rates between harsh “three-strikes” sentencing states and those without these severe sentencing laws, as well as studies examining the effects of variation in the implementation of three-strikes legislation. In addition, similar conclusions were drawn from research on the impact of changes in sentencing policy, more generally, as well as studies on the specific effect of mandatory minimum penalties or the impact of habitual offender laws in deterring crime. Further, research on offenders’ thought processes was found to corroborate the same findings.

As an illustrative example, a study by Stolzenberg and D’Alessio (1997) of California’s “three-strikes” legislation uses month-by-month data from California’s ten largest cities to examine trends in crime rates before and after the introduction of the new “three-strikes” law. “The results generally indicate that the three-strikes law did not decrease the California Crime Index [a crime rate based on the rate of reported “index” crimes] below that expected on the basis of pre-existing trends” (p. 464). As already discussed in the context of Piquero’s study (2005), it is important to look at pre-existing trends, since crime in California — as elsewhere in North America — was already going down before the three-strikes law came into force. As such, one cannot logically attribute any drop in crime to a law that is introduced after crime has already begun falling. Further, this general finding of no measurable impact on the law beyond what was happening before the law came into force held for nine of the ten California cities under analysis. In addition, there seems to be no reasonable explanation related to the three-strikes law for the data from the tenth city (Anaheim).

Similar conclusions are drawn by even more sophisticated studies examining a larger number of instances of similar changes in the law. Using data from 188 US cities with populations of 100,000 or more, a study by Kovandzic, Sloan and Vieraitis (2004) examines the deterrent impact of state-level sentencing laws on crime. These scholars report that “Of the 147 estimated impacts of the [three-strikes] law on crime rates (21 states by seven crime categories), 42 represented statistically significant decreases in crime on passage of the laws and 44 represented statistically significant increases. Overall [the results show that there were] 73 decreases and 74 increases in crime” (p. 229). Analogous findings are reported by Schiraldi and Ambrosio (1997). Without any theoretical basis to justify a deterrent effect in some states but not others or with some offences but not others, this type of finding simply underlines the unreliability of isolated support for deterrence. One would look for other events occurring at the same time as the passage of the new laws that may explain the changes in crime rates.

Indeed, the lesson appears to be that little weight — in general — should be put on single “case studies,” such as the one reported by the Florida prosecutor in the Canadian House of Commons, in concluding whether increases in the length of prison sentences have an impact on crime. Both the Kovandzic et al. (2004) and the Schiraldi and Ambrosio (1997) papers would suggest that the careful choice of comparisons could “demonstrate” any desired result — a point well illustrated by Kessler and Levitt. In fact, Piquero (2005) reiterates this observation — in another context — by warning us that analyses such as those used by Kessler and Levitt (1999) frequently choose simply to attribute a change in crime to one particular event, which took place during the relevant time period, without ruling out other possible situations or circumstances that may have occurred simultaneously with the targeted intervention. Illustratively, evidence of a drop in levels of crime in California (or Florida or, for that matter, anywhere else) around the time of the introduction of a new harsher law does not necessarily signify that it was the new legislation that was the cause of this change in crime rates.

This conclusion — and, for that matter, those of the majority of criminologists who have examined the hypothesis that variation in sentence severity has a deterrent effect — defies an intuitive appeal that is inherent in the logic of deterrence. Indeed, we seem to naturally (want to) accept the notion that any reasonable person — like ourselves — would be deterred by the threat of a more severe sanction. However, Doob and Webster (2003) suggest that this continued belief in the deterrent effect of harsh sentences — even in the face of consistent evidence to the contrary — is rooted, at least in part, in a simplistic form of reasoning about deterrence. On the one hand, we may not adequately separate the effects of certainty of apprehension and severity of punishment in our minds and, by extension, think of the latter largely within the context of a high likelihood of the former. As research has shown us (see Ross, 1982, for a pertinent example), the assumption that the majority of offences have a high probability of apprehension is clearly not a safe one. On the other hand, we may not adequately break down the actual process by which deterrence works.

In fact, many people may not be aware of the complex sequence of conditions that must be met in order that variation in sentence severity can potentially affect levels of crime. As von Hirsch et al. (1999, p. 7) have outlined, individuals must first be aware that the punishment has changed in order for harsher sentences to deter crime. It does no good to alter the sanction if potential offenders do not know that it has been modified. Indeed, consequences that are unknown to potential offenders cannot affect their behaviour. Unfortunately, this requirement would appear to lack empirical support. As Roberts and Stalans (1997) report (also noted elsewhere in this report), public opinion studies have found repeatedly that the majority of citizens are generally unable to correctly identify the maximum sanction for most offences. Even more notable within the context of harsh penalties, Roberts (2003) found that even fewer people are aware of those crimes for which mandatory minimum sentences are assigned. In a similar vein, a study by Kleck, Sever, Li and Gertz (2005) compared criminal justice processing measures with estimates from members of the general public of these same measures in fifty-four of the largest counties in the US. In general, respondents to the survey underestimated the proportion of offenders who received prison sentences, but were reasonably accurate on the length of the average sentence. However, those individuals living in more punitive locations did not perceive their locations to be more punitive than those of people living in less punitive areas — a finding inconsistent with deterrence notions. Ironically, this result is consistent with other criminological research, which has shown that people are largely ignorant of punishment levels in their communities. Changes in actual penalties being handed down are not accompanied by changes in the proportion of citizens who think that sentences are too lenient.

A second requirement for there to be a deterrent effect of harsher sanctions is that potential offenders rationally weigh the consequences of their actions before engaging in criminal activity. Similar to the first condition, this assumption lacks empirical support. Specifically, many offences — particularly those of a violent nature — tend to be committed in the heat of the moment rather than based on rational decision-making processes. For instance, a Canadian study by Baron and Kennedy (1998) on homeless male youth in Edmonton suggested that serious crimes committed on the street “are guided more by impulse and the sway of emotion than by reflection or rational judgement, or premeditation” (p. 48). More broadly, research conducted in three Canadian penitentiaries by Benaquisto (1997) found that when describing their “crime story,” only 13% of inmates explicitly spoke of their actions in terms of costs and benefits.

As a third requirement, this criminal justice strategy is equally dependent on the potential offender perceiving the actual increased penalty as costly or punitive. Even in the case that rational decisions are, in fact, being made, general deterrence is ultimately perceptual in nature, whereby an individual’s assessment of criminal justice costs associated with illicit activity may not correspond to those projected by legislation (Doob and Webster, 2003). Corroborating this premise, this same research conducted in Edmonton on street youth by Baron and Kennedy (1998) concluded that “[h]arsher penalties would not deter those most at risk for criminal behaviour, [precisely] because [this population is] involved in a lifestyle that reduces the perceptions of risk and provides an environment [in which] criminal behaviour is required and rewarded” (p. 52). In other words, punishment — less or more severe — is frequently seen simply as a rite of passage or part of the “normal” course of life events. Similarly, Foglia (1997) found, in her study of the perceived likelihood of arrest on the behaviour of inner-city teenagers in a large US northeastern city, that “the threat of formal sanctions means little to young people from economically depressed urban neighbourhoods.... The irrelevance of arrest is understandable considering these young people have less to lose if arrested” (p. 433). Simply put, if penalty structures are irrelevant to potential offenders, it does not matter how severe they might be.

Fourth, individuals must also believe that there is a reasonable likelihood that they will be apprehended for the offence and receive the punishment that is imposed by a court in order for harsher sanctions to deter crime. In fact, potential offenders rarely even think about getting caught, and when they do, they generally assume that the likelihood of being apprehended is low. In one study by Tunnel (1996), 87% of offenders interviewed who had been in prison twice or more (at least once for armed robbery or burglary) reported that they never thought that they would be caught. Similarly, Pogarsky, Kim and Paternoster (2005) examined data from a panel study of American young people who were interviewed when they were seventeen to twenty-three years old and again four years later. It was found that the number of times the respondent was arrested between the two interviews was unrelated to the respondent’s estimate of the change in the perceived certainty of apprehension. This finding was true for both theft and violence-related offences. In other words, being arrested did not change a person’s view of the likelihood of arrest in the future. Furthermore, this lack of effect was found both for those with relatively high rates of offending prior to the first interview and those with relatively low rates of offending. Indeed, “this finding that arrests do not affect certainty perceptions contradicts one of the central tenets of deterrence theory. Punished individuals should be less apt to recidivate at least partly because they increase their estimate of the certainty of punishment” (p. 20).

In fact, Pogarsky and Piquero (2003) provide one possible — albeit partial — explanation for this apparent contradiction. Using a sample of University students who are asked to consider the hypothetical situation in which they had been drinking, were probably intoxicated and had to decide whether to drive home, these subjects estimated the likelihood that they would, in fact, drive. They were also asked to report the number of times that they were “stopped by the police when they believe their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit” (p. 103). The results of this study initially showed that those respondents who had previously been caught were more likely to indicate that they would drink-drive than their non-apprehended counterparts. However, a more detailed analysis reveals that this effect is attributable largely to low-risk offenders. Compared with low-risk individuals who had not been apprehended, those (low-risk) people who had previously been caught were considerably less likely to think that they would be apprehended if they drove while impaired. Said differently, those with a relatively low risk of offending appear to believe in the gambler’s fallacy — that is, the belief that relatively rare events are unlikely to recur, especially soon afterward — whereby their initial apprehension is seen by them as a shield from being caught in the future. In contrast, there was no impact of previous apprehensions and no evidence that the belief in the gambler’s fallacy was related to the perceived likelihood of future apprehension for those at high risk of offending. In sum, it may be that vicarious punishment — the perception that others are likely to be apprehended — makes individuals less likely to offend. However, the personal experience of being apprehended appears to make low-risk people believe that — next time — they can get away with it.

An additional limitation of the assumption underlying the theory of general deterrence that individuals considering criminal acts will perceive a reasonable likelihood of apprehension is demonstrated by research conducted by Foglia (1997). This study examines the impact of perceived risk of arrest on the delinquency of 298 inner-city teenagers in a northeastern US city who were drawn from schools in “high-risk” neighbourhoods. This scholar found that perceived risk of arrest was not related to the respondent’s own delinquency. In fact, while “the threat of legal sanctions did not deter these inner-city youths... they were influenced by the behaviour of their friends, their own sense of right and wrong, and their parents (and perhaps other adults in their lives)” (p. 437). Indeed, the likelihood of being caught for criminal activities may be important for middle-class people (and middle-class politicians who talk about deterrence) because, as sociologists point out, they have a “high stake in conformity.” However, this would not appear to be the case for disadvantaged youth who see formal sanctions as arbitrary and, as such, unpredictable. Consequently, the youths’ perceptions of the likelihood of being apprehended have no impact on the likelihood that they will engage in crime.

Fifth, deterrence-based strategies assume that potential offenders not only know about the change in punishment, perceive that there is a reasonable likelihood of apprehension and rationally weigh the general consequences of their actions, but also conduct sophisticated analyses of the relative costs of various penalties. Indeed, in order for harsher sentences to be an effective deterrent, individuals must be willing to commit a crime for which they think that there is a reasonable likelihood of serving the current sanction (for instance, four years in prison — the current minimum sentence for the eight most serious gun-related offences), but would not do so if they thought that the penalty would be harsher (for instance, a five-year custodial sentence as proposed by Bill C-2 for those who carry out certain offences with a handgun or prohibited weapon) (Doob, 1996). In fact, one Canadian study of three federal penitentiaries, conducted by Benaquisto (1997), found that the vast majority of inmates interviewed never even considered the possible consequences of their actions, much less distinguished fine gradations between them.

When viewed from this strictly logical perspective, the lack of evidence in favour of a deterrent effect for variation in sentence severity may gain its own intuitive appeal. Clearly, the number of intervening processes that must take place between (a) the change in penalties for a crime and (b) the possible impact of that alteration on the population of potential offenders may be considerably greater than most of us imagine. When one factors in the perceptual element at the root of deterrence, the complexity of the process only increases. In fact, the very logic upon which deterrence rests may break down.

However, the problem with tough sentencing practices is not only the lack of empirical evidence supporting their effectiveness in reducing crime through deterrence mechanisms. Rather, there are also a number of collateral effects. For instance, a study by Harris and Jesilow (2000) examined the impact of California’s three-strikes laws by surveying as well as interviewing judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in five large California counties. It was found that “Three Strikes has significantly disrupted the efficiency of the courtroom and has made the prediction of case outcomes difficult” (p. 192). For example, in four of the five counties studied, it appears that almost all prior strikes were introduced into evidence. As such, plea bargaining became difficult because it became hard to predict when prosecutors would be willing to dismiss prior “strike” allegations. Similarly, even though judges “routinely offered second strike defendants the lowest possible sentence, seemingly to encourage defendants to plead guilty... substantial numbers of [prosecutors, lawyers and judges] believed that they could not predict which cases were likely candidates for leniency” (p. 201). However, “[t]he greatest effect of Three Strikes for workgroup (judges, prosecutors, defence) members has been an increase in trials.... Three strikes prohibits such deals [where a guilty plea is substituted for a lesser punishment]. Defendants who face extended prison terms are unlikely to agree to plead guilty.... Overall the felony trial rate is higher than before Three Strikes....” (p. 198). In sum, the three-strikes law in California has had a disruptive impact on the sensible running of the courts. Similar findings were found by Austin, Clark, Hardyman and Henry (1999). In their study of the impact of California’s three-strikes legislation, they reported a dramatic increase in trial rates for second-and third-strike cases (4% of non-strike felony cases go to trial, compared with 9% for second-strike cases and 41% for third-strike cases). Further, they also found that the law had an initial impact on the number of preliminary hearings, although this increase did not last long. These findings are corroborated by Merritt, Fain and Turner (2006), who also noted an increase in trial rates for the first two years after the introduction of a new “tough on crime” law was passed in Oregon in 1994.

Beyond these disruptions to the efficiency of the courts, harsh sentencing laws have also been found to impact on the balance of powers in the courtroom. Specifically, there has been an enlargement “of the discretionary powers – and hence sentencing powers – of the prosecutor at the expense of the judge” (Austin, Clark, Hardyman and Henry, 1999; p. 158). As Merritt, Fain and Turner (2006) note within the specific context of mandatory minimum sanctions, it is clear that “prosecutorial discretion is the force that drives the implementation and... the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing policy” (p. 33). This enhancement of prosecutorial authority to determine which offenders are prosecuted while judges lose much of their authority over the sentencing process also appears to impact on non-targeted offences as well as those which fall under harsher legislation.

As an illustrative example, a study by Merritt, Fain and Turner (2006) examines the effect of a sentencing referendum (Measure 11), brought in by the voters in Oregon, which resulted in long mandatory minimum sentences for sixteen violent and sex-related crimes. Further, it prohibited “early” release from prison and it provided automatic transfer of youth to adult court for these same offences. These scholars reported that there was a decrease in the prosecution of Measure-11-eligible cases and an increase in the prosecution of “alternate” cases (typically, lesser degrees of the same offences, which did not attract the mandatory penalty). Further, it was found that the nature of pleas changed: there was an increase in the number of cases in which the accused decided to plead to lesser included offences and a decrease in pleas involving the original charge. However, the rate of prison sentences increased both for Measure-11-eligible cases and for Measure-11-alternate cases. The group contributing most to the increased use of prison sentences for Measure 11 cases were cases in which the offender had no history of offending. The average prison sentence increased from seventy-seven to 105 months. However, this “success” has to be understood in the context of another effect: sentence lengths for some of the Measure-11-alternate cases decreased. Over all, though, imprisonment rates in Oregon increased during this period.

Indeed, what seemed to be happening was that after the new law came into effect, rather than being charged with a Measure-11-eligible offence, an offender may be charged with a lesser offence, yet receive approximately the same sentence that the Measure-11-eligible offence would have drawn before Measure 11 came into effect. In other words, “fewer offenders have been sentenced for the [Measure 11] offences, whereas a greater proportion of offenders have been sentenced for Measure-11-alternate offences. [The] analysis suggests that this shift resulted from the use of prosecutorial discretion and the downgrading of cases, that, although technically Measure-11-eligible, were not deemed appropriate for the associated mandatory minimum penalty” (p. 31). Said differently, prosecutors were sometimes willing to downgrade the offence when the mandatory minimum punishment did not fit the crime.

In fact, because the law requires disproportionately severe sentences for large numbers of offenders, there are frequent efforts to avoid the harshness of the law on the part of prosecutors as well as judges. For instance, Harris and Jesilow (2000) noted in their study of California’s three-strikes legislation that public defenders — recognizing the possibility of jury nullification — would attempt to inform the jury that the current offence is a third strike. Freiberg (2000) also found that the draconian measures frequently associated with harsh sanctions have — in many cases — led prosecutors to circumvent mandatory penalties by altering charges. Similarly, Morgan (2000) reported that judges will do what is within their power to avoid imposing some of the harshest applications of mandatory sentencing laws — particularly with youth — when they feel that they are in conflict with standard criminal law principles such as proportionality, discretion and natural justice. Further, Harris and Jesilow (2000) noted that in Californian counties in which prosecutors went by the book, there was some evidence that judges were more willing to ignore prior convictions.

Beyond these problems of inconsistencies in the application of the law and the outcome of criminal cases, harsh sentencing policies, such as habitual offender legislation, have also led to disproportionate sentences. Indeed, Austin, Clark, Hardyman and Henry (1999) provide multiple examples, resulting from California’s three-strikes legislation, of individuals receiving twenty-seven years to life (to be served in prison) for attempting to sell stolen batteries or a minimum of five years (to be served) for selling $5 worth of marijuana. Distortion in sentencing is also rooted in the increase in the prison population resulting from dramatically longer sentences. Although less than initially projected, Austin, Clark, Hardyman and Henry (1999) report that the impact of California’s three-strikes legislation on the prison population still led to an increase of approximately 10,000 (three-strikes) sentenced offenders in prison admissions each year. This number translated into an increase of almost 30,000 (roughly 27%) between spring 1994 and the spring of 1998. More importantly, Vitiello (1997) noted that the “time served” for non-three-strikes offenders in California has had to be reduced dramatically in order to make room for three-strikes offenders. Specifically, a one-year sentence translated — at the time of his study — into seventy-one days, on average, in custody.

Equally problematic is the “profoundly discriminatory impact” of such harsher sentencing policies (Morgan, 2000; p. 182). As Vitiello (1997) reports on California, African Americans make up 7% of the state’s population, but account for 38% of those sentenced under these provisions (p. 399 and n. 20). Indeed, the law is particularly harsh on them because it includes drug offences. Though there is evidence (see p. 456, footnote 350) that Whites and Blacks use cocaine and marijuana at the same rate, arrest rates are much higher for African-Americans. To this list of problematic issues rooted in harsher sentences, Vitiello (1997) also adds the problematic increase in the elderly prison population, whose care is very expensive, as well as the (more or less) impossibility to consider what might be called “selective rehabilitation” (pp. 448–449) that may be more effective as a crime control method than incapacitation.

Perhaps more worrisome are the findings of a study by Kovandzic, Sloan III and Vieraitis (2002), which used data from 188 American cities — only some of which had three-strikes legislation. This research examined the potential homicide-promoting effects of this legislation in the period before, during and after these laws came into effect. Starting from a “rational decision-making” perspective, these scholars examined the possibility that offenders in three-strikes states will attempt to avoid apprehension for serious offences by acting in a rational way. More specifically, it is argued that because the penalty for an offence like robbery is, in effect, the same as the penalty for homicide for many serious offenders, the “rational” criminal may attempt to avoid apprehension by killing victims, potential witnesses or police officers. The results demonstrated that “[h]omicide rates have grown faster (or declined at a slower rate) in three strikes cities compared with cities without the laws” (p. 408). Further, “[p]assage of a three-strikes law has increased homicides, on average, by 13% to 14% over the short term, and 16% to 24% over the long term” (p. 409). Finally, “there is no evidence that increases in homicide rates promote state legislatures to enact three strikes laws” (p. 412). While one cannot be certain — from these results— that this effect occurs because of the hypothesized mechanism of sophisticated offenders killing innocent people in attempts to avoid detection and prosecution or, alternatively, because of some other plausible explanation (e.g., homicide as a defiant reaction against more severe sanctioning practices), these findings remind us again that “policy makers should take more care to weigh not just the potential benefits of a proposed crime control solution but the costs as well” (p. 419).

Conclusions

Despite intuitive expectation, political appeal, and the seductive promise of quick fixes, harsh sentencing practices such as mandatory minimum sentences or three-strikes legislation have not been shown to be effective in reducing crime. Numerous reviews of the criminological literature have repeatedly found no conclusive evidence that supports the hypothesis that harsher sanctions reduce crime through the mechanism of general deterrence. Further, the studies that have found support for the notion that tough sentencing practices deter crime are few in number and suffer from serious methodological, statistical, or conceptual problems that render their findings problematic. In contrast, the research that finds no support for the deterrent effect of harsher sanctions has frequently been conducted in almost ideal research conditions, in which one would, in fact, expect to find a reduction in crime through the mechanism of general deterrence in the case that one existed. Further, the sheer number of these studies, the consistency of their findings over time and space, and their use of multiple measures and methods to conduct the research constitute compelling arguments to accept the conclusion that variation in sentence severity (within the ranges that are plausible in Western democratic countries) does not cause variation in crime rates.

Despite this pessimistic conclusion, it is important to note that it does not — in any way — challenge the notion that the criminal justice system as a whole inhibits or deters most people from committing crime. Indeed, we know that the mere criminalization of certain behaviour and the knowledge that an array of sanctions is imposed with some regularity is sufficient to dissuade most people from illicit activity. Rather, it simply questions whether legal sanctions can be used above and beyond this overall effect to achieve additional crime reduction. Within this more restricted context, it would be necessary to demonstrate that for those individuals who are not inhibited by the general threat of the criminal justice system as it currently operates, the introduction of specific changes in the severity of criminal laws would, in fact, discourage them from criminal acts. Despite extensive testing, little empirical support has been found for this latter supposition. In fact, this conclusion is consistent with the growing notion that politicians — through the enactment of harsher legislation — are generally not well placed to reduce crime. Indeed, despite the obvious appeal inherent in the notion that the problem of crime can be resolved — at least in part — by a simple flick of the legislative pen, this strategy does not appear to hold the key to the solution of crime.

In fact, our mistake seems to be in always thinking that crime can somehow be reduced — if only we can figure out how — by the courts, in particular, or by the criminal justice system more generally. Clearly, the criminal justice system plays a crucial role in maintaining a just and fair society, particularly through the criminalization of certain behaviour and the imposition of appropriate sanctions. Unfortunately, this system is simply not well placed to reduce crime, particularly through tougher sentencing practices. Indeed, public safety needs to be conceptualized within a much broader framework, involving a multitude of sectors. As a former Canadian minister appropriately noted, “crime prevention has as much to do with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Human Resources, as it does with the Minister of Justice” (cited in Webster, 2004; p. 120). Precisely by looking beyond the criminal justice system, Canada can begin to catch up with many other countries that have already begun turning to other crime preventative initiatives to more effectively address crime. Indeed, North America has lagged behind in this shift in primary policy emphasis from law enforcement to crime prevention, continuing to focus on changes in criminal laws, enforcement techniques and sentencing policy.

References

Austin, James, John Clark, Patricia Hardyman and D. Alan Henry. (1999). The impact of ‘three strikes and you’re out’. Punishment and Society, 1, 131–162.

Baron, Stephen W. and Leslie W. Kennedy. (1998). Deterrence and homeless male street youths. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 40 (1), 27–60.

Benaquisto, Lucia. (1997). The Non-Calculating Criminal: Inattention to Consequences in Decisions to Commit Crime. Montreal: McGill University, Department of Sociology.

Brown, Mark. (1998). Serious violence and dilemmas of sentencing: A comparison of three incapacitation policies. Criminal Law Review, 710–722.

Doob, Anthony N. (1996). Criminal Justice Reform in a Hostile Climate in Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. Public Perceptions of the Administration of Justice. Montreal: Les Editions Themis, Inc., pp. 253–275.

Doob, Anthony N. and Cheryl Marie Webster. (2003). Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null Hypothesis. In Michael Tonry (ed.). Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Volume 30. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 143–195.

Foglia, Wanda D. (1997). Perceptual deterrence and the mediating effect of internalized norms among inner-city teenagers. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 414–442.

Freiberg, Arie. (2000). “Guerrillas in our Midst? Judicial Responses to Governing the Dangerous” in Mark Brown and John Pratt (eds.) Dangerous Offenders: Punishment and Social Order. New York and London: Routledge.

Harris, John C. and Paul Jesilow. (2000). It’s not the Old Ball game: Three strikes and the courtroom workgroup. Justice Quarterly, 17, 185–203.

Kessler, Daniel and Steven D. Levitt. (1999). Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish Between Deterrence and Incapacitation. Journal of Law and Economics, XLII: 343–363.

Kleck, Gary, Brion Sever, Spencer Li, and Mac Gertz. (2005). The Missing Link in General Deterrence Research. Criminology, 43 (3), 623–659.

Kovandzic, Tomislav V. (2001). The Impact of Florida’s Habitual Offender Law on Crime. Criminology, 39, 179–203.

Kovandzic, Tomislav V., John J. Sloan III, and Lynne M. Vieraitis. (2002). Unintended Consequences of Politically Popular Sentencing Policy: The Homicide Promoting Effects of “Three Strikes” in U.S. Cities (1980–1999). Criminology and Public Policy, 1, 399–424.

Kovandzic, Thomislav V., John J. Sloan, III, and Lynne M. Vieraitis. (2004). “Striking Out” as Crime Reduction Policy: The Impact of “Three Strikes” Laws on Crime Rates in U.S. Cities. Justice Quarterly, 21(2), 207–239.

Merritt, Nancy, Terry Fain, and Susan Turner. (2006). Oregon’s Get Tough Sentencing Reform: A Lesson in Justice System Adaptation. Criminology and Public Policy, 5 (1), 5–36.

Morgan, Neil. (2000). Mandatory sentences in Australia: Where have we been and where are we going? Criminal Law Journal, 24, 164–183.

Piquero, Alex R. (2005). Reliable Information and Rational Policy Decisions: Does Gun Research Fit the Bill? Criminology and Public Policy, 4(4), 779–798.

Pogarsky, Greg and Alex R. Piquero. (2003). Can Punishment Encourage Offending? Investigating the “Resetting” Effect. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40, 95–120.

Pogarsky, Greg, KiDeuk Kim and Ray Paternoster. (2005). Perceptual Change in the National Youth Survey: Lessons for Deterrence Theory and Offender Decision-Making. Justice Quarterly, 22 (1), 1–29.

Roberts, Julian V. (2003). Public Opinion and Mandatory Sentencing. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 30, 483–508.

Roberts, Julian V. and L. J. Stalans. (1997). Public Opinion, Crime and Criminal Justice. Boulder, Colorado: Westview.

Ross, H. Laurence. (1982). Deterring the Drinking Driver: Legal Policy and Social Control. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.

Schiraldi, Vincent and Tara-Jen Ambrosio. (1997). Striking Out: The Crime Control Impact of “Three-Strikes” Laws. Washington, D.C.: The Justice Policy Institute.

Stolzenberg, Lisa and Stewart J. D’Alessio. (1997). “Three Strikes and You’re Out”: The Impact of California’s New Mandatory Sentencing Law on Serious Crime Rates. Crime and Delinquency, 43, 457–469.

Tunnell, Kenneth D. (1996). Choosing Crime: Close Your Eyes and Take Your Chances. In Hancock, Barry W. and Paul M. Sharp (editors) Criminal Justice in America: Theory, Practice, and Policy. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Vitiello, Michael. (1997). Three strikes: Can we return to rationality? The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 87 (2), 395–481.

von Hirsch, Andrew, Anthony E. Bottoms, Elizabeth Burney, and P-O. Wikström. (1999). Criminal Deterrence and Sentence Severity: An Analysis of Recent Research. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Webster, Cheryl Marie. (2004). Limits to Justice: The Role of the Criminal Justice System in Reducing Crime. In Bruce Kidd and Jim Phillips (eds.). From Enforcement and Prevention to Civic Engagement: Research on Community Safety. Toronto: Centre of Criminology, 96–121.

Webster, Cheryl Marie, Anthony N. Doob, and Franklin E. Zimring. (2006). Proposition 8 and Crime Rates in California: The Case of the Disappearing Deterrent. Criminology and Public Policy, 5 (3): 417–448.

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10. What are the impacts of the transfer of youths to the adult justice system on

youth crime?


Transferring youths to adult court has always been possible in both Canada and the US. Since Canada enacted its first youth justice legislation (1908), the only way in which a youth could be transferred to adult court is for a judge to look at the case and decide. Traditionally, in the US, a similar provision (judicial waiver) was also the most commonly used means to transfer a case into adult court. However, beginning “in the 1970s, state legislatures... changed laws to move juvenile offenders into criminal court based on age and/or offense seriousness without the case-specific consideration offered by the discretionary juvenile court judicial waiver process. State transfer provisions changed extensively in the 1990s. Since 1992, all states but Nebraska have changed their transfer statutes to make it easier for juveniles to be tried in criminal court. But the pace of such changes has slowed considerably. From 1992 through 1995, 40 states and the District of Columbia enacted or expanded transfer provisions. From 1998 through 2002, legislatures in 18 states enacted or expanded their transfer provisions. From 2003 through 2004, only 4 states made substantive changes in transfer provisions, and only 2 of those states expanded them.” (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006; p. 113). In addition to “judicial waiver,” some US states (twenty-nine states by the end of 2004) also exclude certain cases from youth court jurisdiction (statutory exclusion or automatic transfer) or allow prosecutors to decide where the case should be heard (direct file or prosecutorial waiver, though only seventeen states had such provisions by the end of 2004). Currently, there are some estimates that up to 200,000 youths are transferred into adult court each year in the US.

Canada also amended its transfer laws during the 1990s — once changing the test for whether a case should be transferred (presumably to make it easier to get a case into adult court), and another time creating “presumptive transfers,” which meant that certain serious violence cases should “presumptively” be held in adult court unless the defence could show why the case should be kept in youth court. Unlike the US, these changes in Canada had no impact on the number of cases transferred each year — anywhere from around fifty to 120 cases were transferred during the 1990s (on average a little over eighty cases). Currently, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there are no “transfers” to adult court; instead, the youth court judge can impose an adult sentence if the prosecution seeks it and if a youth sentence could not achieve proportionality.

While Canada appears not to have increased its use of transfers during the 1990s, the US did. In most cases, when the laws in the US were changed to either exclude certain cases from youth court jurisdiction (statutory exclusion or automatic transfer) or to allow prosecutors to decide where the case should be heard (direct file or prosecutorial waiver), it resulted in large numbers of youths being transferred to adult court. Also, in most cases, the decision to change the laws was not based on any problems with the administration of the laws, but rather was based on an extraordinary case that was not well understood by the public. For example, when a young offender, Willie Bosket, killed two New York City subway passengers shortly after being released from a maximum security youth facility in 1978, the public focus was not on why the state had failed to deal effectively with a young person who had spent only eighteen months out of state agency placements between age nine and age fifteen. Instead, the focus was on the fact that the law, as it was at that time, “only” allowed him to be incarcerated for five and a half years — until his twenty-first birthday. Just as the story of another Willie (Willie Horton) was to influence a presidential election in 1988, Willie Bosket was the unambiguous cause of the introduction, two weeks after he was sentenced, of a change in New York’s law deeming children thirteen years old or more to be dealt with automatically (though statutory exclusion) as adults if they were charged with murder. And those fourteen years old or older, charged with a range of offences including robbery and certain forms of burglary and assaults, were also automatically dealt with as adult offenders.

Canada’s changes to its transfer laws during the 1990s were also based more on political reasons as opposed to any identifiable problems with the law. As already mentioned, the first change occurred in 1993 (changing the “test” for when a case should be transferred) and the second change occurred just three years later in 1996 (creating “presumptive transfers”). Given the short time between amendments, the government had absolutely no evidence, in 1996, that there were any problems in the law that might not have already been “fixed” by the amendments that went into effect in 1992. Clearly, then, the “need” to change the transfer laws was political, not substantive. This suggests that, similar to the US, Canada also amended its transfer laws for political rather than substantive reasons. Unlike the US, however, Canada’s changes appear to have had no effect on the number of youths transferred.

The American research on the effect of transfers on crime rates is of two sorts. First, one body of literature examines the impact of transfer policies on crime by way of a presumed general deterrence effect. In other words, do certain “easy” methods of transferring youths to adult court (prosecutorial waivers, statutory exclusion, or judicial waiver) act as a deterrent? The second body of literature looks at the youths who were transferred (in the US) and asks the question whether these youths were more or less likely to reoffend as a function of being transferred (specific deterrence). There is now a considerable amount of research on both the general and specific deterrent effect of transfers. The research is easy to summarize: transfers appear to have no deterrent effect (general or specific).

General deterrence

Transfers appear to have no consistent general deterrent effect. For example, one study of the change in New York’s law, which was accompanied by a lot of publicity, showed no measurable change in crime rates over time or in comparison with a jurisdiction where the law did not change (Bishop, 2002). Similar findings have been reported for other jurisdictions. For example, Steiner, Hemmens and Bell (2006) analyzed violent crime rates in twenty-one states, for which there existed five years of data prior to and five years of data after the date of a new “statutory exclusion” law, to assess the possible impact on crime. For seventeen of the states, there was no significant change in the juvenile violent crime rate (as measured by juvenile arrest rates). In four states, however, there were changes. In two of the four states, there were increases, and for the other two, there were decreases. For only one of these states (Maine) was the change as predicted: an abrupt, permanent decrease after the change in the law. For these four states, control states were identified that did not have legislative waivers at around the same time as the intervention states and that resembled the intervention state on other dimensions (e.g., size, location, juvenile arrest rate). In no cases did these control states show effects similar to the intervention state, suggesting that the changes in crime rates were real. However, the inconsistent direction of these changes in juvenile crime rates suggests that the law change may have been completely irrelevant to the change in crime rates even in these four states. When arrest rates for homicide were examined, there were no significant effects coinciding with the changes in law.

Though there are no clear explanations for why there might have been a significant drop in crime that coincided with the implementation of legislative transfers of violent juvenile offenders to adult court in two states (Maine and Wisconsin), these findings need to be considered alongside the increases in crime that took place in two other states (Indiana and Missouri). Isolated instances in selected jurisdictions of “success” in lowering crime through harsh practices need to be evaluated in a larger context. In these instances, there are as many significant negative impacts of the transfer provisions as there are positive impacts. Similar results were found when Steiner and Wright (2006) examined the effect of prosecutorial waivers on youth crime rates.

Specific deterrence

Transfers appear not to have any specific deterrent effects, either. Youths who are transferred are, if anything, more likely to reoffend than those who are dealt with in youth court. For example, Bishop (2002) found no difference between transferred and non-transferred youths for burglary, but for robbers, “transfer was associated with a higher prevalence of re-arrest” (p. 131). Similar findings appear in other studies. For example, Winner et al. (1997) examined all juvenile cases resulting in a transfer in the State of Florida in 1987. In all, Florida transferred 3,142 juveniles to adult court that year (Florida’s population is about half of that of Canada). Juveniles who were not transferred but who shared a set of similar characteristics were used as a comparison group. A problem with such approaches, however, is that the matching may not be completely adequate. Nevertheless, in this study, the matching criteria look reasonable. Over all, 42% of the young people who were transferred in 1987 were rearrested before November 15, 1994, compared with 43% of those dealt with in juvenile court — essentially no difference. When the data were broken down by eight classes of offences, however, there was some variability in the impact of a transfer across groups. One group (those being prosecuted for felony property offences) were more likely to recidivate if they were not transferred. Most of the other offence groupings were more likely to recidivate if they were transferred (some groups were significantly more likely). A more sophisticated analysis showed that “the net effect of transfer was to increase recidivism in the long term, a finding that was consistent with the short-term analysis” (p. 553). Moreover, as a group, “the transferred subjects tended to be rearrested more quickly than the non-transferred subjects throughout the long follow-up period” (p. 555), and the “average number of re-arrests was higher for transfers than for non-transfers.” All in all, then, even for the property felons, “when [those who were transferred] did reoffend, they reoffended more often and more quickly.”(p. 558)

More recently, Myers (2003) investigated the specific deterrent effect on transfers, but to reduce a potential selection bias (the possibility that high recidivism among transferred youths merely reflects the fact that only the worst youths are treated as adult), he looked only at robbery and aggravated assault. Further, he statistically held constant other variables known to be associated with recidivism in order to assess the impact of transfer on reoffending. Recidivism was defined as arrests that occurred after the final disposition of the case. Not surprisingly, a number of differences (e.g., criminal record of the youth) existed between the transferred population and those retained in youth court. However, the results are easy to describe: “Waived [transferred] youths were more likely to be rearrested following final disposition than were their counterparts in juvenile court” (p. 90). In fact, “[b]eing waived to adult court more than doubled the simple odds of a post-disposition arrest” (p. 90). Furthermore, “youths transferred to adult court were rearrested more quickly following final disposition than were their counterparts who remained in juvenile court” (p. 92). In addition, this same population was more likely to be rearrested for a violent offence than the young offenders who remained in youth court.

There are a number of possible explanations for this effect. One possibility is that appropriate treatment facilities may be more available in youth court than in adult court. It is also plausible that those youth transferred to adult court gain the opportunity to learn from more experienced adult offenders about how to commit crimes. Finally, it is possible that the impact of being publicly labelled as a criminal has negative repercussions. These findings are similar to those from other studies. “It seems, then, that legislative waiver laws… can realistically be expected to have little or no deterrent utility. In fact, the evidence suggests a criminogenic effect – or that these laws may serve to increase the frequency and seriousness of future offending by those youths who are excluded from juvenile court” (Myers, 2003; p. 94).

Other consequences

There are other issues to consider in addition to the deterrent effect — or lack thereof — of transfers. Redding (1999), for example, found that:

Adult court processing typically takes more time than youth court processing (p. 6).

It is not clear that young offenders, especially serious and violent offenders will serve more custodial time in the adult system than in the youth system (p. 7).

Juveniles in adult prisons are, compared with juveniles in juvenile facilities “eight times more likely to commit suicide, 500 times more likely to be sexually assaulted and 200 times more likely to be beaten by staff…” (p. 9).

In addition, adult facilities typically lack programs appropriate for youth, in part because the number of youth in a given facility tends to be small.

The US Department of Justice has even concluded that “[Transfer] does not appreciably increase the certainty or severity of sanctions” (quoted, p. 12). Interestingly, one of the suggestions was that “juvenile courts [be empowered] to impose adult sentences, with authority to supervise rehabilitation... into adulthood...” (p. 12). This is similar to the provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Conclusions

The transfer of youths into adult court appears to be done more for political reasons than to address actual problems with the administration of the law. And while transfers may well make short-term political sense, a careful examination of the data suggests that the increased use of transfers by any mechanism — judicial decisions, legislative mandates, or prosecutorial decisions — makes bad policy. Crime is not reduced and, in fact, there are reasons, given the lack of rehabilitative programs in the adult system, to expect that wholesale transfers of youth will cause an increase, rather than a decrease, in crime. The policy conclusions then, presuming that one is interested in reducing crime, are clear: “Minimize the number of juvenile cases transferred to [adult] court...” (Redding, 1999; p. 12). There are few, if any, benefits in terms of either short-term or long-term safety that flow from sending youths into adult court.

References

Bishop, Donna M. (2002). Juvenile offenders in the adult criminal justice system. Crime and Justice: A review of research. Volume 27. Michael Tonry (ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Klein, Eric K. (1998). Dennis the Menace or Billy the Kid: An analysis of the role of transfer to criminal court in juvenile justice. American Criminal Law Review, 35, 371–410.

Myers, David L. (2003). The Recidivism of Violent Youths in Juvenile and Adult Court: A Consideration of Selection Bias. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1, 79–101.

Redding, Richard E. (1999). Juvenile offenders in criminal court and adult prison: Legal, psychological, and behavioural outcomes. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Winter 1999, 1–20.

Steiner, Benjamin and Emily Wright. (2006). Assessing the Relative Effects of State Direct File Waiver Laws on Violent Crime: Deterrence or Irrelevance? Journal of Criminal Law &Criminology, 96(4), 1451–1470.

Steiner, Benjamin, Craig Hemmens, and Valerie Bell. (2006). Legislative Waiver Reconsidered: General Deterrent Effects of Statutory Exclusion Laws Enacted Post-1979. Justice Quarterly, 23 (1), 34–59.

Winner, Lawrence, Lonn Lanza-Kaduce, Donna M. Bishop, and Charles E. Frazier. (1997). The transfer of juveniles to criminal court: Re-examining recidivism over the long term. Crime and Delinquency, 43, 548–563.

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11. What are the impacts of harsher correctional environments (including

“boot camp facilities”) on youth crime?


As crime issues and crime control agendas became increasingly part of political campaigns, boot camps were particularly appealing to politicians who wanted to look “tough on crime.” The boot camp model — with military style discipline “that would not be mistaken for lenient, bleeding-heart corrections” — constituted another criminal justice “quick-fix” fad whose language “resonated with the prevailing political climate” (Cullen, Blevins, Trager and Gendreau, 2005; p. 58). In fact, boot camps were seen as able to fulfill — simultaneously — the goals of retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation by instituting “the discipline of military experience [which] would transform the immature and wayward into mature and contributing citizens” (Cullen, Blevins, Trager and Gendreau, 2005; p. 58). Not surprisingly, they became one of the fastest-growing “fixes” to youth crime. For example, only two states operated boot camps in 1984. However, thirty-six states were operating boot camps by 1994. Even Canada jumped on the bandwagon with the introduction of its own boot camp in Ontario during the late 1990s.

The problem with this “miraculous” solution to youth crime is that empirical research has repeatedly found no differences between boot camps and traditional correctional regimes in terms of recidivism rates. For instance, a study carried out in Oklahoma among first-time offenders (primarily for property offences) by Wright and Mays (1998) compared the recidivism rates of youth placed on probation with those in traditional custodial institutions or in boot camps. The results revealed that offenders who were placed in boot camps were more likely to recidivate after release than the offenders placed on probation or in a normal prison. During a 2.5 year period, 17% of the offenders placed on probation and 20% of the offenders in prison reoffended, while 35% of offenders from boot camps reoffended. This finding — that offenders from boot camps are more likely to recidivate than offenders in prison or probation — is also consistent with other evaluations of boot camps. Further, this study showed that, no matter where offenders served their sentence, they became less likely to reoffend as they got older. This finding is consistent with other criminological research which demonstrates that offenders appear to “mature out” of crime. Further, any attitudinal changes among boot camp attendees were found to be only temporary in nature.

Similar findings were reported in a study carried out in California, which used an experimental design (considered to be the highest standard of research). Conducted by Bottcher and Ezell (2005), this study targeted the California Youth Authority’s least-serious male offenders (mostly property offenders). Further, the two boot camps under analysis had almost twice the number of staff as a standard facility and had “lively, lengthy daily schedules of physical training, military drill and ceremony exercises, school classes, group counselling sessions, substance abuse treatment groups...” (p. 314). Youths who dropped out of the boot camp (more than a quarter of those assigned to it) were appropriately maintained as “boot camp” youths in the study. All youths (boot camp and the youths assigned to traditional institutions) were subsequently followed for an average of 7.5 years (range: two to nine years). Arrests for charges other than probation violations were recorded. In total, sixteen different recidivism comparisons were examined, as well as “time to first arrest.” The vast majority of the comparisons showed no difference between the boot camp youths and the controls. Specifically, both immediately (year one) and in the long term, boot camp youths were just as likely to reoffend as were youths sent to ordinary custodial facilities.

Ironically, the exception to the consistent, empirically-based findings of the ineffectiveness of boot camps in reducing youth crime seemed to be Ontario’s first young offender “strict discipline” boot camp for sixteen-to seventeen-year-olds. According to the Ministry of Correctional Services’s press release, the independent evaluation of this institution (T3 Associates Training and Consulting, 2001) suggested that the boot camp was responsible for a drop in recidivism from 50% (for a “comparable sample of youth who were not exposed to the program”) to 33%. The problem is that a careful examination of this same evaluation shows that boot camp “graduates” are not — in fact — significantly less likely to commit new offences than are youths in standard institutions.

Specifically, this study compared boot camp graduates and a “comparison” group on two sets of dimensions: psychological changes between the beginning and the end of their custodial experience and recidivism after they were released. The comparison group was comprised of youths who met the criteria for the boot camp, but did not participate because there was no space at the time. They differed from the boot camp group on several dimensions, though it is difficult to know whether these differences were important. The “comparison” group (n=60) was used as a baseline for comparisons with (a) all boot camp participants (n=59 for the highly advertised comparison) and (b) boot camp completers (n=51). This last group is problematic for the obvious reason: the “non-completers” are clearly a troubled group. They have a high rate of recidivism. Their omission from the boot camp group, with no attempt being made to eliminate “failures” from the comparison group, is a lethal methodological error for two reasons. First, the two groups are no longer comparable, since the “worst” kids have been excluded from the boot camp group but not from the other sub-sample. Second, we are no longer looking at the impact of the institution itself: we are looking only at the impact of the institution on a subset of youths.

For almost all recidivism comparisons, no standard statistics are presented in the report. However, they can be calculated from the data that are available. The main comparison that is highlighted by the government (p. 47 of the report) shows differences that do not even approach normal statistical significance for the contrast of the comparison group and all boot camp participants. Furthermore, when one looks at the “boot camp completers” vs. the comparison group, the difference does not approach statistical significance when the appropriate statistical test is carried out (a “corrected” chi-square test). Even when the somewhat inappropriate “uncorrected” chi-square test is performed on this inappropriate comparison, the difference is not statistically significant. In other words, using traditional, conservative, common-sense statistics, there is no difference on recidivism between boot camp participants and a group whom the evaluators claim to be comparable.

Further, the report is very thorough in its investigation of differences between subsets of boot camp graduates and the comparison group. There are over thirty sets of comparisons drawn between subsets of boot camp and non-boot camp youths (for various periods of time). In none of these comparisons was a proper “statistically significant difference” found between the groups. When the report is quoted as saying that “recidivism rates [for boot camp graduates] were consistently lower than the rates observed for a comparable sample of youth...” (p. 1 of 24 March 2001 Government of Ontario press release), what is omitted from this statement is that the results are not statistically significant. Even the inappropriate comparison emphasized by the government and described in the report as having “approached conventional levels of statistical significance (p. 10)” (p. 43) can only be stated in this way when conventionally conservative “corrections” (related, in part, to the relatively small sample size) are not included in the calculations.

Psychological changes were also examined. The government claims that boot camp graduates “also showed more positive changes in behaviour, self esteem and respect for the law” (p. 1 of press release). The press release omits to report an increase in their scores on a scale measuring the tendency to lie. The “positive results” also have to be examined carefully. Changes in the boot camp participants are assessed on approximately fifty-seven dimensions. They did show changes on approximately twenty-three dimensions. Unfortunately, these improvements could be due to other factors (e.g., re-testing or simple maturation) which would need to be ruled out by comparison groups. However, the comparison group data — instead of being in the report itself — are in an appendix. Nonetheless, the results are summarized by the evaluators: the data suggest that while both groups “made positive gains on the majority of the measures, greater or more significant changes could not be attributed to either group” (p. 29). Moreover, on tests of “academic competence,” “the pattern of results suggested that greater gains were made by comparison offenders than by [boot camp] offenders” (p. 29) on all but two measures.

The report concludes with a note that “[s]ome evaluators and researchers would be highly speculative of the findings that we have qualified as non-significant trends. Based on lack of statistical significance, they might dismiss any positive findings, arguing that without statistical significance there is no evidence to conclude that [the boot camp] has any impact on post-release recidivism. However, we conclude that the pattern of findings, albeit statistically non-significant, was consistently evident across three examinations of the data (2 interim reports and the current final report)” (p. 74). Statistical tests are used for good reason: they help us evaluate whether what we are examining is “real” or, alternatively, likely to be the result of chance variation. To say that the data are consistent across three reports is meaningless. Essentially, what is being said is that, as the data were collected over time, these same data (presumably with some new data added in each subsequent report) showed the same non-significant results. Finding the same thing three times on the basis of largely the same evidence does not make it more “true” than finding it only once. In brief, the findings from Ontario’s boot camp are — in fact — consistent with the numerous other studies which have found no positive effects. Using traditional social science standards of evaluation, a thorough examination of the data showed no significant differences on recidivism between boot camp participants (or boot camp completers) and a comparison group. There was also no evidence of any overall beneficial psychological or academic impact of the boot camp experience over a standard correctional institution.

Such findings should not be surprising. On the one hand, boot camps are based on a model that makes little sense in the context of youth corrections. The “theory” behind the movie-style (US Marine) boot camp for armed forces recruits is to create a group of people who will follow orders from those in command even when those orders put the individual at risk. As scholars have pointed out, one of the concerns about youths who offend is that they follow peers even when following them puts them at risk. Said differently, the irony of the popularity of the “boot camp” approach is that it is exactly wrong for offending youths. Further, while “many [boot camp] staff [are] good role models and clearly [care] about their cadets, the program itself [is] not specifically designed to incorporate any of [the elements of] effective [correctional] treatment” (Bottcher and Ezell, 2005; p. 328). In addition, there is no serious attempt — for political reasons — to build in effective treatment. As Bottcher and Ezell (2005) note about the boot camps that they studied, although “continuously refined in an ad hoc but often creative manner, the [boot camp] was fundamentally a militarized quick fix and its aftercare a hastily designed and unevenly implemented... service.... [The program] did not focus much on individual needs or provide much by way of treatment services” (pp. 328–9).

Within this context, it is not surprising that the one element of the (American) boot camp experience that was, in fact, found to be successful was the use of targeted and often well-implemented aftercare for young people released from these facilities. Kurlychek and Kempinen (2006) examine a post-release “re-entry” program for inmates who had served six-month sentences in a Pennsylvania boot camp. The program involved ninety days of residential aftercare, which included cognitive behaviour therapy, job readiness and job acquisition skills, and substance abuse counselling. In most instances, individual treatment plans were developed and executed. In March 2002, a new policy mandated that all of those released from the boot camp would receive this program. Those who went through the program immediately prior to March 2002 served as a control group (n=383) and were compared with those who had the new treatment immediately after the change in policy (n=337). The two groups did not differ on any major demographic variables (e.g., age, education level, offence, prior arrests). There were some minor differences between the two groups on some attitude measures (taken as they completed their term of incarceration). These differences were controlled statistically in the recidivism analyses. Aftercare services were provided by twenty-three different accredited providers, and program content varied somewhat across providers. Nevertheless, there were no differences in recidivism rates across program providers; hence, results cannot be attributed to special characteristics of one provider.

Recidivism was measured by arrest for a new crime within two years. At the end of a two-year period following release from the boot camp, 33% of the untreated control group had been arrested, in comparison with only 22% of the treatment group. It could be argued that those in the aftercare program were not as much at risk during the program because they were in a rather structured environment for ninety days of the two-year follow-up. The analysis was repeated, therefore, using release from the boot camp as the starting point for the control group and release from the aftercare program for the “aftercare” group. The results were essentially the same. Indeed, it would appear that while the boot camp experience itself has no impact on recidivism rates, structured aftercare — focusing on the needs of offenders on release — clearly affects subsequent offending. Although these (effective) programs differed from one another, “they all were accredited programs, all but one used individual treatment plans and all provided a vast array of services from employment and social skills to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and counselling.”( Kurlychek and Kempinen (2006), p. 380)

Ironically, the other positive element associated with boot camps is rooted in youths’ perceptions of them. In a national evaluation of the perceived conditions of youth confinement in the US, Styve, MacKenzie, Gover and Mitchell (2000) compared twenty-two pairs of juvenile institutions: a boot camp and the state facility into which the youth would have gone had he not been sent to the boot camp. Thirteen different “conditions of confinement” were measured using questionnaires. In at least three-quarters of the pairs of institutions, inmates of boot camps tended to see their institution as having more therapeutic programs, more planned activities, more structure and control, and to be better preparing them for release than traditional juvenile institutions. Boot camp inmates also felt less at risk from other inmates and from the correctional environment generally.

However, not all boot camps were seen as being better than their “unbooted” counterparts. On some dimensions — danger from staff, quality of life, and freedom — there were significant differences across the pairs of institutions, with the boot camp sometimes looking better and sometimes looking worse than the traditional prison. Indeed, it would seem that one of the advantages of having highly structured environments is that juvenile inmates feel safer and feel that someone cares about what happens to them. Similar findings were reported by Bottcher and Ezell (2005). Specifically, they note that in other boot camp settings, youths also felt less fear of being attacked by other youths than in traditional correctional facilities and were generally enthusiastic about the military milieu, the physical training, and the various treatment programs.

Conclusions

As in other areas, quick-fix fads like military-style boot camps for youth have not proven to be effective in reducing recidivism rates. Specifically, boot camp graduates appear to do no better in the community upon release than those released from traditional correctional facilities. In fact, neither recidivism nor participation in constructive activities in the community (e.g., work and school) on release appears to be affected by the boot camp experience. Rather, it seems that any positive impacts of boot camps are related to the nature of the aftercare programs that are often attached to boot camps or simply to the correctional environment that it creates for youth. In other words, lessons can still be learned from the operation of boot camps. Indeed, structured intervention by accredited programs that use individual treatment plans and provide a wide array of services that are able to target particular needs of each offender appear to offer the greatest likelihood of impacting on youth crime. Further, institutions that are perceived by youth to be safe, controlled, structured and active would seem to constitute minimum standards for any incarcerated youth.

References

Bottcher, Jean and Michael E. Ezell. (2005). Examining the Effectiveness of Boot Camps: A Randomized Experiment with a Long-term Follow up. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 42(3), 309–332.

Cullen, Francis T., Kristie R. Blevins, Jennifer S. Trager, and Paul Gendreau. (2005). The Rise and Fall of Boot Camps: A Case Study in Common-Sense Corrections. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 40 (3/4), 53–70.

Kurlychek, Megan and Cynthia Kempinen. (2006). Beyond Boot Camp: The Impact of Aftercare on Offender Re-entry. Criminology and Public Policy, 5(2), 363–388.

Styve, Gaylene J., Doris Layton MacKenzie, Angela R. Gover, and Ojmarrh Mitchell. (2000). Perceived conditions of confinement: A national evaluation of juvenile boot camps and traditional facilities. Law and Human Behaviour, 24, 297–308.

T3 Associates Training and Consulting.(April, 2001). Project Turnaround Outcome Evaluation – Final Report. Report obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services.

Wright, D. and Mays, L. (1998). Correctional boot camps, attitudes, and recidivism: The Oklahoma experience. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 28, 71–87

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12. What are the impacts of “alternatives to incarcerations programs”

on youth crime?


The devastating effects of prison on offenders and their successful reintegration into the community are well documented elsewhere. Indeed, a simple example will suffice. A study by Pager (2003) using an experimental design (considered the gold standard of research methodology) examined the impact of a prison record on subsequent reintegration of ex-offenders. Specifically, Black and White male research assistants pretended to be ordinary job applicants and applied for entry-level jobs with 350 different employers in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. They randomly described themselves as either having a prison record or not. Two different people applied for each position — one of whom either indicated that he had a criminal record when asked (a situation which occurred in 74% of the jobs applications or interviews) or simply listed his parole officer as a reference if information about his criminal history was not requested. In all other ways, the two applicants did not differ.

Of the White applicants, 34% of those without a criminal record were “called back” (to be offered the job or for a formal interview) compared with only 17% with a criminal history. For Black applicants, while 14% of those without a criminal record were called back, a mere 5% of those with a prison record were contacted. In other words, when comparing the White applicant with no criminal record to the Black person with a criminal record, the likelihood of the latter obtaining a job was reduced by approximately 85%. This effect held for those employers who specifically asked about the applicant’s criminal record as well as those who did not explicitly request this information. Similarly, the pattern of findings was the same for applicants with and without personal contact with a decision-maker (i.e., those who were either asked simply to fill out an application or were given an initial interview).

Clearly, beyond the negative effects of prison on the inmate while incarcerated, the presence of a prison record is shown by this research to render the reintegration of ex-inmates into the community as productive citizens more difficult. In addition, it demonstrates that being Black and having a criminal record constitute two enormous — albeit separate — impediments to getting a job. These results are consistent with previous research (Western, 2002), which shows that imprisonment has a permanent effect on wages. More specifically, those who have been incarcerated are likely to have reduced wage income. Further, the effect of imprisonment increases as workers get older. Hence, the rise in wages that ex-offenders experience as they age is smaller than the increases received by non-offenders. Taken together, these findings demonstrate not only that a criminal record renders it more difficult for the ex-inmate to enter the workforce, but that people with criminal records are also more likely — once employed — to be trapped in low-paying jobs. Clearly, a criminal record has costs for both the offender and society.

Within this context, non-custodial sentences emerged as a strategy for avoiding many of the negative effects of imprisonment. Further, criminological research has not found any demonstrable superiority on the part of institutional sentencing in controlling recidivism. In fact, a study by Killias, Aebi and Ribeaud (2000) examined the recidivism rates of offenders assigned to either community service orders or a short period of incarceration (up to fourteen days) in one district in Switzerland. Based on a randomized controlled experiment (the gold standard in evaluation research), the results showed no significant difference on the likelihood of being reconvicted or the average number of convictions within twenty-four months of the prison/CSO experience. However, when “re-arrest” data were examined, it appeared that those who were assigned to do community service were somewhat less likely to be re-arrested than those who served their sentences in prison. Further, the offenders who experienced community service were more likely than those who went to prison to report that they believed that the sanction they received would reduce recidivism and was fair. Those who went to prison were more likely to indicate that they no longer had a “debt” to society and were more likely to believe that the sentencing judge (but not the correctional authorities) had been unfair. Indeed, it would seem that short prison sentences are no better — and may even be worse — than community service.

This finding is consistent with other evaluations (see, for instance, Brownlee, 1998), which have also shown that — all things considered — there is no evidence that “prison works” (pp.173–4). In fact, Brownlee (1998) notes that it is surprising that the recidivism rates for probation are not dramatically higher than prison, as the seriousness of the offence of conviction is a poor indicator of the likelihood that someone will reoffend. A “seriously recidivist” shoplifter is more likely to get probation than is a person who committed a serious, though uncharacteristic, violent offence. Even given this reality, community-based punishments are — in the aggregate — “at least as effective in tackling recidivism as an institutional sentence. Put the other way around, the research evidence certainly does not rule out the use of community sentences on the grounds of public protection, especially when what is being looked for is long term efficacy against recidivism rather than some shorter term incapacitative effect” (p. 179).

However, the fact that a criminal justice program or sanction is run outside rather than inside a prison does not ensure that it will be effective in reducing crime. Indeed, there is enormous variability not only in the types of alternatives to incarceration programs, but also in their effects. More importantly, one cannot assume that “anything” is better than “nothing” in terms of programs (whether they involve prison or non-prison sanctions). For instance, “Scared Straight” and other “juvenile awareness” programs have remained attractive — since their emergence decades ago — to those looking for quick fixes. In these programs, young people are taken for visits of prisons and are “educated” by inmates about the consequences of offending. Like boot camps, the theory is that “tough” treatments work. The idea appears to be that the youth learns that penitentiaries are unpleasant places and, by extension, that crime does not pay.

The problem is that they have repeatedly been found to be ineffective in reducing youth offending. Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino and Buehler (2003) examined the nine highest-quality evaluations of these programs. Carried out in eight different states, these studies involved approximately 1,000 juveniles who were randomly assigned to either a Scared Straight-type program or a control group. Various official measures such as arrests, juvenile court intakes or charge measures were used to assess group outcomes. Taken as a whole, these studies “do not yield evidence for a positive effect for Scared Straight and other juvenile awareness programs on subsequent delinquency” (p. 52). In fact, when one looks across all of the studies, most of the comparisons between the experimental and control groups on measures of subsequent offending — though not always individually statistically significant — showed that the Scared Straight youths committed more crime. Only one of the nine studies demonstrated positive impacts of the program. Indeed, “[t]he intervention increases the odds of offending by about 1.7:1 overall (i.e., 1.7 treatment participants offend for every control youth who offends)” (p. 55). Clearly, “[d]oing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the program” (p. 58).

Similar findings were reported by McCord (2002) in her examination of the long-term effects of intensive social interventions in the lives of youth in “congested urban areas” of Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts between 1939 and 1945. Each youth was matched with another similar young person, and one of these individuals was randomly assigned to a control group in which normal social services in the community were provided. In contrast, the other youth was given intensive interventions including guidance, after-school activities, social support, tutoring, summer camp, assistance in finding a job, and medical and psychiatric attention. In the follow-up study conducted twenty years later, it was found that almost equal numbers of youths in both groups showed unexpected improvement. Similarly, the overall involvement of the two groups in the criminal justice system was nearly identical.

However, when these individuals were re-examined in a follow-up study between 1975 and 1981 (the youths were middle-aged at this time), disturbing differences emerged. Those in the treatment group were more likely to have been convicted of serious crimes, to have died early, to have serious mental illness problems and to be alcoholics than those in the control group. In fact, the deleterious effects of treatment appeared to occur most often with those youths who had cooperated most with the youth study staff. Indeed, the more frequently that they received treatment, the worse off they were. Indeed, one cannot automatically assume that social interventions in the lives of youth — no matter how benevolent they seem — will necessarily have beneficial effects or, at worst, no effects at all. In fact, similar adverse effects of treatment have been found for a number of criminal justice programs.

Further, it is important to consider not only the “main” or principal effects of non-custodial programs, but also collateral impacts, which can also be problematic. Home detention provides an illustrative example. Indeed, despite the dramatic increase in its popularity in Canada as well as elsewhere, this alternative to incarceration strategy has also been found to have serious problems. In a careful examination of this strategy, Bagaric (2000) notes that costs will not necessarily be reduced by the use of home detention. For example, a study in New Zealand suggested that the real costs of this sentencing option may not differ dramatically from those associated with imprisonment. As well, the impact of home detention will also vary dramatically with the nature of the “home.” The single mother with three children living in a one-bedroom apartment will clearly experience home detention quite differently from the white collar offender who is restricted to a luxurious mansion.

With the introduction of home detention into a sentencing structure, obvious concerns also arise regarding the possibility of net-widening — that is, that potential offenders will be drawn largely from those who would not otherwise have been incarcerated rather than from the prison population.

Finally, the effects of home detention on other members of the family need to be taken into account as well. On the one hand, these “innocent” cohabitants may be arguably seen as being punished alongside the offender, as they are being forced to reside with someone who is “detained” in their household. On the other hand, some jurisdictions (e.g., the State of Victoria, Australia) have given these additional members of the household a veto on whether the offender can be ordered into home detention. This practice raises delicate issues of genuine “consent” — particularly if the alternative for the family is to have their main source of support imprisoned. Of equal concern is the question of the appropriateness of partially turning over the sentencing function to members of the household who, in effect, can veto the imposition of a particular sanction.

Clearly, the fact that a program is non-custodial in nature does not automatically mean that it is effective or even neutral (versus harmful). Rather, it simply underlines the necessity of continual evaluation. Specifically, each strategy must be considered on its own merits, as one can never assume that “good intentions” will necessarily produce “good results.” Certainly, in light of the possibility that certain programs can, in fact, have negative effects on people’s lives, a careful assessment of each intervention is imperative before it can ever be presumed to be safe, let alone helpful.

Despite the sheer diversity of “alternatives to incarceration” approaches, which renders generalizations difficult, a number of general statements can be made to increase a program’s likelihood of being effective. In a study of the effectiveness of a number of “intermediate sanctions” in reducing recidivism, Altschuler (1998) attempted to understand how best to design effective programs. First, he found that aftercare programs were generally not well implemented. For example, offenders usually only receive general support as opposed to support that targets specific problems and risk factors (e.g., dealing with drug abuse, unemployment, etc.) In a similar vein, the primary focus of many of these programs is on control and surveillance. Addressing specific problems (e.g., drug dependence) is not seen as particularly important. Programs that focus mainly on control and surveillance of the offender are not as effective as programs that incorporate treatment and rehabilitation.

The same problems emerged when examining alternatives to custody. Generally, many of the programs have been poorly conceptualized and implemented. Further, there are no clear goals for what the program should achieve and the specific type of offender that is supposed to benefit most from the program is not identified. Finally, Altschuler also noted that while the “prison” phase of boot camps has no effect on recidivism, there is evidence that those facilities that devoted time to treatment programming (i.e., education, substance abuse, etc.) showed the most promise. However, this custodial phase needed to be followed by intensive supervision and aftercare support. Once released into the community, offenders benefited from quality support services such as education, employment and counselling. Altschuler concluded that programs that have the main focus of control and surveillance do not appear to be effective in terms of lowering recidivism rates. To be effective, quality treatment that targets specific problems needs to be part of the program. Moreover, the specific offender who is to benefit from a particular program needs to be identified. Further, clear goals of the program should also be outlined. Finally, the proper — and sufficient — implementation of the program is crucial.

Similar criteria for success were identified by Gottfredson, Cross and Soule (2007) with regard to effective after-school programs for youth. Thirty-five after-school programs in Maryland were examined, and a number of factors appeared to predict program effectiveness. First, more highly structured programs with a published curriculum were found to be more effective in reducing substance abuse, and possibly delinquency more generally. Second, the presence of a high portion of staff with undergraduate degrees was also associated with lower levels of substance abuse and lower levels of general delinquency. Third, a higher proportion of male staff (the average was about 24%) was associated with reduced delinquency and reduced victimization of the youths as well. Finally, youths attending large programs were more likely to be involved in delinquency and were also more likely to be victims. It is, perhaps, not surprising that “the use of published curricula -an alternative measure of program structure -produced significant reductions in substance use” (p. 310), nor is it surprising that programs with a more educated staff were more likely to be effective. It may be that a higher proportion of male staff running the program was associated with maintaining order. The overall view that one gets is that more “professional” programs (those with structured curricula and educated male staff) were more likely to be effective, in part because these programs had a clear agenda and focused activities rather than simply filling the after-school hours with something that appeared to be good.

The inverse also appears to hold true. As described by Savolainen (2005), the government of Finland — working through its municipalities — launched a national crime prevention program in 1999. Local governments were expected to identify the nature of the crime problems in their communities, propose solutions and raise money to fund those solutions. The national program would, in turn, match the funds raised at the local level. A wide range of different programs were implemented under the overall program, including programs addressing risk behaviours (e.g., drinking and drug use) amongst youth, experiments in community policing, and programs to address learning disabilities. Generally, the “social-preventive” model tended to dominate the programs in the communities. Participation of the local communities in the national program was voluntary. The result was that communities varied as to how involved they were in the overall program. Some only submitted a plan for community safety. Others applied for funding, but did not receive matching funds from the national government. Some municipalities received national funding for only one program, whereas others received multiple matching grants. As such, communities could be described as having different levels of involvement in the overall program.

Looking at the prevalence of property crime victimizations as a function of the intensity of the involvement in the national crime prevention program, the “findings support the conclusion that there is no relationship between program participation and the decline of crime at the local level” (p. 184). While there may well have been specific programs that had an impact in some locations, the national funding program as a whole appeared to have no overall impact. It was suggested that part of the reason for this failure may have been the “radically decentralized nature of the [national crime prevention program]” (p. 188). Adequate program design and attention to what is known about crime prevention is not likely to have occurred in all communities. Furthermore, adequate evaluations were impossible, in part because of the breadth and number of different programs that were implemented. In addition, the programs were typically implemented in a manner that made it impossible for them to be evaluated. A similar study of a national funding program focused on youth crime, published in Denmark in 1990 (cited by Savolainen, 2005), came up with the same results: “Trends in youth crime between municipalities with different levels of participation” (p. 177) in the program showed no differences in crime rates. Similarly, a study by Maguire (2004) of the Crime Reduction Program (1999–2002) in England and Wales noted many of the same factors as having contributed to the failure of this initiative.

In fact, the fulfillment of these criteria may also help to explain some of the apparent contradictions in the criminological literature. For instance, studies on the effectiveness of intensive supervision programs have produced mixed results. On the one hand, research on an Intensive Surveillance and Supervision program in New Jersey by Paparozzi and Gendreau (2005) demonstrated that the recidivism of parolees can be reduced by providing intensive supervision. Conversely, a study by Lane, Turner, Fain and Sehgal (2005) in California found no differences in the recidivism rates of youth who received either ordinary or intensive probation supervision. In the former case, the positive findings may be rooted — at least to some extent — in the appropriate (targeted) rehabilitative services that the intensive parolees received. In contrast, it was noted by the researchers of the latter study that, although the intensive intervention program was designed for relatively high-risk youths (and a high proportion of the youths in the program were, in fact, apprehended for subsequent offences), it is possible that these were not high enough risk youths to benefit from the high-intensity intervention (p. 43).

While the fulfillment of these general criteria undoubtedly increases the likelihood of effective non-custodial programs, a “one-size-fits-all” model would still be inappropriate. Above and beyond general or overall effects of these “alternatives to incarceration” strategies, one must also be conscious of subgroup differences that may alter their effectiveness or appropriateness. For instance, a study by Wood and May (2003) examined the ratings of various alternatives to imprisonment by probationers in Indiana. Specifically, respondents were asked to indicate the number of months of each of ten alternative sanctions that they would be willing to endure to avoid imprisonment of four, eight and twelve months. This research found that more Blacks than Whites indicated that they would choose the prison sentence over any length of the alternative sanction for each of ten alternatives when contrasted with each of three different lengths of imprisonment (thirty comparisons in all).

In fact, when given a choice between prison and alternatives such as day reporting, regular probation or electronic monitoring, Blacks were two to six times more likely than Whites to choose the custodial sentence. For those willing to choose a non-prison sanction over imprisonment, Blacks were more likely than Whites to indicate that the alternative had to be very short for it to be an attractive substitute for custody. In fact, Black adults on probation rated alternatives to imprisonment as being more punitive than did White probationers. Further, it appears that Blacks — in comparison with Whites — are more likely to prefer to avoid noncustodial options. Clearly, this study suggests that alternatives to imprisonment may not be seen as equally desirable by all groups in society. Particularly within the context of the overrepresentation of certain disadvantaged groups in prisons (e.g., Blacks in the US and Canada; Aboriginal people in Canada), and — by extension — the suggestion that additional effort should be expended to find alternative sanctions for these offenders, attempts to impose the least onerous sentence may not be the same for different subgroups in society.

Similarly, a study by Staff and Uggen (2003) examines the traditional notion that “getting a job” is an all-purpose cure for adult — and, by extension, adolescent — problems. In fact, the relationship is more complex than originally thought. Using data from a longitudinal study in Minnesota, these researchers found that the effect of working on deviance in adolescence depends on the nature of the job. For example, looking at arrests in grade twelve, those youths who thought that their work reduced their grades in school were more likely to report being arrested than were those youths who reported that they had a great deal of autonomy in the workplace. Alcohol use in grade twelve was associated with longer work hours, a belief that the job did not provide useful skills, more autonomy in the workplace, a belief that the work was interfering with grades and the belief that the work enhanced one’s reputation with peers. Misbehaviour in school was most common among youths who were involved in long hours of work, who saw work as interfering with their grades and whose work provided a great deal of autonomy in the workplace.

Clearly, it is not simply the number of hours that is important in understanding the impact of adolescent work on deviance. Rather, certain characteristics of the work environment are important in understanding whether it will increase, decrease or not affect adolescent deviance. Although long hours of work (e.g., more than twenty hours per week) generally appears to increase deviance in high school students, long hours of work that helped the students’ grades appears to decrease use of alcohol in grade twelve. Indeed, in order to reduce delinquency, “‘good jobs’ in adolescence must support rather than displace academic roles and offer genuine opportunities to learn something useful. Such jobs should also provide extensive controls, with circumscribed levels of autonomy, wages, and status among peers” (p. 283).

A subsequent study conducted by Apel, Bushway, Brame, Haviland, Nagin and Paternoster (2007) on this relationship between work and deviance further reminds us of the inappropriateness of a “one-size-fits-all” model of intervention with youth. Using a representative sample of American youths, these researchers found that the effect of intensive work (averaging more than twenty hours a week) beginning at age sixteen on subsequent criminal and substance abuse behaviour also depends on the youth’s developmental history. Without imposing any controls for pre-existing differences between those youth who start working substantial numbers of hours after age sixteen with others who do not take on paid employment at this time, overall rates of offending and substance use were found to be higher for those who were working. However, when the effect of different patterns of offending were controlled for — that is, when those who started work at sixteen years old were, in effect, compared with those youths who had similar offending backgrounds but did not start work at age sixteen — there were no overall effects of working on crime or substance use. Further, when looking at the group of youths whose offending started early and continued to increase until their sixteenth birthdays, taking on work at age sixteen appeared to reduce their rates of offending. “These results suggest that the effect of intensive work during the school year may not be uniform, but it is dependent on the prior developmental history of the worker. That is, the effect of work on subsequent behaviour depends on the youth’s developmental history” (pp. 84–5).

Indeed, one must also be aware of other factors that condition or qualify the effectiveness of “alternatives to incarceration” programs. Within this context, it may be equally important to note that a substantial number of non-custodial programs for youth focus their intervention on the adolescents themselves. While attempts to change individual characteristics (e.g., job skills, attitudes, education, addictions, self-esteem) are undoubtedly central to the effectiveness of interventions, such a sole focus misses the complexities of crime causation. For instance, a study by Kubrin and Stewart (2006) examined 5,000 offenders who were receiving community supervision in the Portland, Oregon area. Using arrests within a twelve-month period as the measure of recidivism, it was found that the usual set of individual characteristics — e.g., being male, Black, or Native American, being released from prison (as opposed to simply serving time on probation), being a property or drug offender, and having larger numbers of prior arrests — increased the likelihood of reoffending.

However, this study also found that above and beyond characteristics of the individual offenders, there was also a neighbourhood effect. That is, offenders who return to disadvantaged neighbourhoods are more likely to reoffend than are those who return to less-disadvantaged neighbourhoods, even when the characteristics of the offenders are held constant. Particularly given “the challenges of prisoner re-entry, [especially] in a ‘get tough on crime’ era, former prisoners are even more reliant than ever on community services and personal networks not just to comply with the terms of their supervision but also to curb recidivism” (p. 189). As such, investments in poor communities can serve to reduce reoffending by those returning to these neighbourhoods. Indeed, consideration of the wider contexts in which offenders (youth or adult) live would also seem to be a necessary dimension of effective interventions.

Similar conclusions may be drawn from a study by Osgood and Anderson (2004) of 4,000 grade eight students from thirty-six schools in ten US cities. Not surprisingly, the amount of time that the youth spent in unstructured, unsupervised activities was related to self-reported delinquency. In fact, the time spent in unstructured activities was more important than other individual characteristics of the youth (e.g., sex, race, parents’ education). However, it was also found that above and beyond this individual-level effect, there was also a school effect. Specifically, students attending schools in which youths generally had a great deal of unstructured, unsupervised time were more likely to report high levels of delinquency above and beyond the youth’s own reports of time spent in unstructured activity. Said differently, attending a school in which many youths spend a lot of time “hanging out” with their friends away from adults is likely to increase the level of delinquency above and beyond the time that the individual youths spend in unstructured activities. In effect, the results show that the local culture (in this case the youth’s school) also has an impact on a youth, independent of his or her own circumstances. This finding would suggest that interventions at the school level would also be important in tackling youth crime.

Indeed, effective interventions — whether inside or outside of prison — need to recognize the multi-dimensional nature of crime causation and provide a concerted front against recidivism. From a policy perspective, governments or communities that are serious about reducing youth crime need to ensure a multi-pronged approach that recognizes these complexities. Indeed, Visher and Travis (2003) provide an illustrative example of the multi-level strategies that are necessary in order to increase the likelihood of success of offenders transitioning from prison to the community. Specifically, these scholars argue that a sole focus on individual characteristics of the offenders and treatment while in prison is not sufficient to ensure successful reintegration. Rather, those ex-offenders who had stable environments (e.g., conventional ties to the community, jobs skills) were more able to rejoin the work force and obtain assistance from family and friends.

Similarly, the ability to re-establish family roles and one’s identity as a responsible citizen also seems to be an important factor in the reintegration process. However, one of the preconditions for success on this dimension appears to be the willingness of family, peers and the community to accept the ex-offender. Not surprisingly, “strong ties between prisoners and their families or close friends appear to have a positive impact on post-release success” (p. 99). As such, some jurisdictions have invested in programs that work directly with the family members of inmates and provide special services to them. Further, the first month after release seems to be particularly crucial in the reintegration of the offender, in that such factors as emotional support and housing assistance during this period are related to desistance from offending. As such, government policies may equally be important, in that they determine eligibility for not only social assistance in the early days of re-entry into the community, but also public housing and various treatment (e.g., drug) programs.

Conclusions

As Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino and Buehler (2003) remind us, crime fighters are constantly looking for “quick, short-term and inexpensive cures to solve difficult social problems” (p. 43) such as crime. In fact, this phenomenon has been referred to as the “Panacea Phenomenon” (p. 43). Unfortunately, a review of the criminological literature will quickly show that “alternatives to incarceration” programs are not “quick fixes.” In fact, effective interventions — whether custodial or non-custodial in nature — reflect the complexities of the crimes that they are trying to reduce. Perhaps the most important lesson from a review of the literature is that when considering the impact of a program, the worst-case scenario is typically thought to be that an intervention has no effect on young people. As such, many intuitively sensible programs run for years without being evaluated. The problem is that they can harm as well as help. Indeed, programs that sound good do not ensure that they will be “good” in practice. Said differently, we cannot automatically assume that interventions will have beneficial effects or at worst will have no effects. As such, social interventions into the lives of youths need to be assessed carefully and monitored regularly before they can be presumed to be safe, let alone helpful.

Second, effective interventions with youth require the fulfillment of a number of criteria. Specifically, programs need to target known problems facing youth and the specific type of offender who is to benefit from a particular program needs to be identified. In addition, the program needs to be properly and sufficiently implemented as well as professionally operated. Similarly, it needs to have structure — with a clear agenda, adequate program design and focused activities. Further, a “one-size-fits-all” model should be seen as nothing less than inappropriate and misguided given the complexities of crime causation and the multiple interactions that occur between various types of offenders, offences, individual and community-level factors, etc. As such, the political challenge — it would seem — is not only to fund and continuously evaluate “effective programs,” as well as have the courage to stop funding programs simply because they “look good.” Rather, it is also to provide the overarching framework to conceptualize crime prevention/reduction on a much broader scale in which individual programs can contribute in a concerted, multi-dimensional effort.

References

Altschuler, D.M. (1998). Intermediate sanctions and community treatment for serious violent juveniles. In R. Loeber and D. Farrington (Eds.), Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk factors and Successful Interventions. (pp. 367–385). California: Sage Publications.

Apel, Robert, Shawn Bushway, Robert Brame, Amelia M. Haviland, Daniel S. Nagin, and Ray Paternoster. (2007). Unpacking the Relationship between Adolescent Employment and Antisocial Behaviour: A Matched Samples Comparison. Criminology, 45 (1), 67–97.

Bagaric, Mirko. (2000). Home Truths about Home Detention. The Journal of Criminal Law, 66(5), 425–443.

Brownlee, Ian. (1998). Community punishment: A critical introduction. London and New York: Longman.

Duff, R.A. (2003). Probation, Punishment and Restorative Justice: Should Al Truism be Engaged in Punishment? The Howard Journal, 42(1), 181–197.

Gottfredson, Denise C., Amanda Cross, and David A. Soulé. (2007). Distinguishing Characteristics of Effective and Ineffective After-School Programs to Prevent Delinquency and Victimization. Criminology and Public Policy, 6 (2) 289–318.

Killias, Martin, Marcelo Aebi and Denis Ribeaud. (2000). Does community service rehabilitate better than short-term imprisonment?: Results of a controlled experiment. The Howard Journal, 39(1), 40–57.

Kubrin, Charis E. and Eric A. Stewart. (2006). Predicting Who Reoffends: The Neglected Role of Neighbourhood Context in Recidivism Studies. Criminology, 44(1), 165–197.

Lane, Jodi, Susan Turner, Terry Fain, and Amber Sehgal. (2005). Evaluating an Experimental Intensive Juvenile Probation Program: Supervision and Official Outcomes. Crime and Delinquency, 51(1), 26–52.

Maguire, Mike. (2004). The Crime Reduction Programme in England and Wales. Reflections on the Vision and the Reality. Criminal Justice, 4, 213–237.

McCord, Joan. (2002). Counterproductive Juvenile Justice. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 35, 230–237.

McCord, Joan. (1978). A Thirty-Year Follow-Up of Treatment Effects. American Psychologist, 33, 284–289.

Osgood, D. Wayne and Amy L. Anderson. (2004). Unstructured Socializing and Rates of Delinquency. Criminology, 42(3), 519–549.

Pager, Devah. (2003). The Mark of a Criminal Record. American Journal of Sociology, 108, 937–975.

Paparozzi, Mario A. and Paul Gendreau. (2005). An Intensive Supervision Program that Worked: Service Delivery, Professional Orientation, and Organizational Supportiveness. The Prison Journal, 85 (4), 445–466.

Petrosino, Anthony; Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino, and John Buehler. (September 2003). Scared Straight and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency: A Systematic Review of the Randomized Experimental Evidence. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 589, 41–62.

Sampson, Robert J. and John H. Laub. (2003). Life-Course Desisters? Trajectories of Crime Among Delinquent Boys Followed to Age 70. Criminology, 41, 555–592.

Savolainen, Jukka. (2005). Think Nationally, Act Locally: The Municipal-Level Effects of the National Crime Prevention Program in Finland. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 11, 175–191.

Staff, Jeremy and Christopher Uggen. (2003). The Fruits of Good Work: Early Work Experiences and Adolescent Deviance. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40 (3), 263–290.

Visher, Christy A. and Jeremy Travis. (2003). Transitions from Prison to Community: Understanding Individual Pathways. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 89–113.

Western, Bruce. (2002) The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality. American Sociological Review, 67, 526–546.

Wood, Peter B. and David C. May. (2003). Racial Differences in Perceptions of the Severity of Sanctions: A Comparison of Prison with Alternatives. Justice Quarterly, 20(3), 605–631.

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13. How are “communities” (broadly defined) important in understanding

the nature and extent of (youth) crime?


In the past decade or so, there has been renewed interest in the impact of characteristics of communities on crime. Popular understanding of crime tends to focus on the impact of individual or family characteristics on crime (e.g., the impact of personality factors such as psychopathy, impulsiveness, presence of learning disorders, being brought up in a family headed by a single mother) or on the impact of the criminal justice system (most commonly, the harshness of sentencing) on deterring crime.

The work on communities suggests that there are impacts on crime of the community that people find themselves in, above and beyond the characteristics of the individuals who live in those communities. The underlying theory is easily understood: people commit crimes in a social and physical context. If the community has characteristics that appear not to be supportive of crime, then crime will not be committed. Some of the early research on this phenomenon — the work on the physical design of communities — did not typically get thought of as “community” research, in that the focus was on physical characteristics of communities and building that were conducive to crime.

As described in detail in Section 3 of this report, the redevelopment and clean-up of the New York City Port Authority Bus Terminal in the 1990s illustrates how a non-criminal justice approach to “cleaning up” a community can affect crime (Felson et al., 1996). In effect, in that “crime prevention” program, crime was designed and managed away.

We are not suggesting that communities can always “design away” all of their crime problems. We are suggesting, however, that some communities (including schools) may be designed in such a manner that they either encourage or discourage disorder. The point of this example is simply that “disorder” does not occur in a vacuum. Part of the success of approaches such as this one may be that disruptive or violent crime simply was “out of place” in the redesigned space.

If crime is a social phenomenon, it is not surprising that community culture would be an important determinant of crime. One rather intriguing set of findings comes from looking at the way in which communities treat their poor. Cities can be ordered along a continuum in terms of how generous they are to those in need of help. It turns out that cities in which community values have been encouraged, and people are willing to make sacrifices for their fellow citizens, tend to be safer. This was operationalized in one study (Camlin and Cochran, 1997) by looking at contributions to the United Way in 354 cities. Controlling for all of the usual predictors of crime (e.g., proportion of single-person households, poverty measures, etc.) cities in which people are more generous in their donations to the United Way (operationalized by the amount given to the United Way per million dollars of total income in the city) were more likely to have low property and violent crime rates. Altruistic motives within a community, it would appear, can have an impact on crime.

Of course, communities can show generosity in other ways. Social assistance programs are one way in which communities take care of those who find themselves without resources. Social assistance programs are seen, typically, as dealing largely with acute problems within families or long-term problems (e.g., for people with disabilities) for those who cannot be self-sufficient. But the impact of these programs can be larger (and perhaps more permanent): they may provide opportunities for those most needy in the community to participate fully in the community. A youth from a poor family who lacks what is seen as proper clothing may avoid school or may not be able to dress appropriately for certain job interviews. A person without funds may not be able to afford public transportation to get to a job interview or some other necessary appointment. A number of studies (e.g., De Fronzo and Hannon, 1998; Hannon and De Fronzo, 1998) carried out in the late 1990s in the United States demonstrated quite clearly that cities with more generous welfare systems (measured as the amount of public assistance per person under the federally established poverty line) had lower homicide, other violence and property crime. With respect to homicide, these authors noted that “The results emphasize the role of material deprivation and suggest that the state can do more than just punish homicidal violence, it can also prevent it” (De Fronzo and Hannon, 1998; p. 42–3).

Welfare is, of course, the “end of the line” in terms of the manner in which the poorest members of a community survive. Strong economies generally, measured in one American study as the gross state product (the total production and income generated by a state in a year), are also important. This measure — the overall economic strength of the community — is only slightly correlated with unemployment rates, though it did show a substantial relationship with rates of property crime, but not with violent crime other than the acquisitive crime of robbery (Arvanites and Defina, 2006).

But related characteristics of the community are important: communities (or provinces, in the case of a study of homicide rates in Canada and the US) with high rates of economic inequality are likely to have high homicide rates. Economic inequality in one study (Daly, Wilson and Vasdev, 2001) was defined as the distribution of after-tax income and after social transfers (such as social assistance and employment insurance payments). Economic inequality affects homicide rates independent of average income. Economic inequality, a phenomenon that is, to some extent under the control of public policy and a growing feature of our lives as Canadians, is associated with high homicide rates.

The relevance of the research on the relationship between communities and crime is, we hope, obvious: the nature of a community is, to some extent, under public policy control. We can increase or decrease economic inequality though economic policies, just as we can decide to be generous or stingy in the manner in which we devise social assistance policies. Taxes on the wealthiest members of society can be increased or decreased. Each of these policies is almost certainly devised for reasons other than crime, but the impact on crime is hard to deny.

Even factors that contribute to youth violence, such as parenting style, are, to some extent, a product of other policies that relate, more generally, to the manner in which we develop policies for communities. As one prominent youth violence researcher (Steinberg, 2000) noted in the context of a discussion of the relationship of parenting style to crime by youths: “By far, the most insidious cause of negative parenting is poverty. Economic stress... increases the risk for negative parenting, which in turn increases the risk for youthful violence” (Steinberg, 2000; p. 36). “Parents under stress, because of deteriorating housing, inadequate childcare [and]... terrible schools... cannot parent as effectively as those who live under more benign conditions” (Steinberg, 2000; p. 36).

Interventions designed to improve the state of the family can have direct beneficial impacts on families and also reduce levels of violence of children growing up in these households. Hence, public health approaches, which would help reduce the stresses experienced by all families, are much more likely to have a substantial impact on youth violence than programs that target individual violent children. “Any attempt to reduce youth violence... must include a systematic effort to improve the home environments of... children and adolescents and, in particular, to engage... parents in the business of parenting.... We can do this by improving prenatal care, expanding parent education, and promoting family friendly policies that reduce poverty, prevent and treat mental health and substance abuse problems, and enhance parental effectiveness” (Steinberg, 2000; p. 38).

It is not surprising, then, that nations that spend a high proportion of their gross domestic product on health care and public education and have relatively low income inequality tend also to have lower homicide rates (Pratt and Godsey, 2002; Messner et al., 2002). High rates of violent crime (e.g., homicide) do not just happen: they are the result, in part, of policies that relate to the nature of our communities.

Such help can come about in various ways. In one review of twenty-eight separate studies, it was concluded that “interventions with high-risk families can change the parenting behaviour which many theories identify as the first stop in a chain of events that can lead to anti-social behaviour” and that “early childhood interventions can have a positive impact on the three most important risk factors for juvenile delinquency: disruptive behaviour, cognitive skills, and parenting. Furthermore, experiments with long-term follow-ups which have targeted at least two of these risk factors in childhood have shown a significant impact on criminal behaviour. From these results, it can be concluded that early and intensive preventive interventions can have the desirable impact which appears to be so difficult to achieve with disruptive elementary school children and juvenile delinquents” (Tremblay and Japel, 2003; p. 237).

Hence, there is some reason to believe that public policy can have an impact even on youths who have not been raised in what might be considered to an optimal fashion. Hay et al. (2006) demonstrated that “the effects of family problems [on delinquency were] greater at high values of community poverty and perceived community weakness” (p. 343). The effects were strongest when looking at the family environment as a whole, rather than as individual parts, indicating that it is the accumulation of family problems, combined with the nature of the community, that is most important.

In other words, children who grow up in problematic families — families with parenting styles conducive to the development of offending — appear to be especially likely to engage in crime when the community in which they live is also disadvantaged (i.e., it is poor and has high unemployment, or is seen simply as not a good place to raise children). Said differently, “a given cause [of crime] may be more likely to increase crime when it occurs in the presence of other causes” (Hay et al., 2006; p. 348). Improvement in communities — changes that turn these communities into places where parents would want to bring up their children or policies that address the disadvantaged nature of certain communities — will have a disproportionately positive impact on exactly those children most likely to engage in crime — those from families whose child-rearing approaches are less than optimal.

It seems that one of the most important aspects of “healthy neighbourhoods” is that people are willing to intervene to prevent disorder. In what might be called “healthy” neighbourhoods, people can be counted on to intervene if there is a problem (e.g., children misbehaving). Neighbourhoods are less violent when individual residents feel that it is their responsibility to ensure that the neighbourhood is a peaceful and helpful place (Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls, 1997). Of course, urban neighbourhoods are not always stable: one study of urban neighbourhoods in the Netherlands found that urban neighbourhoods that are in the process of being gentrified are likely to have high levels of crime, in part because of the social instability that results from the influx of higher-income people (Wilsem, Wittebrood and De Graff, 2006).

Finally, neighbourhoods can be important factors in reintegrating people into society. One study demonstrated that for a group at high risk to reoffend after release from prison — Black males — the community to which they returned was an important determinant of whether or not they reoffended. For this particular group of offenders, it turned out that communities that were characterized as having high levels of racial inequality (measured in terms of the relative incomes, jobless rates, and poverty rates of Blacks and Whites) were associated with high levels of recidivism for those offenders who returned to them.

Conclusion

Rather than focusing solely on characteristics of individuals, or criminal justice policies, those who are interested — perhaps especially in cities — in doing something about crime might consider what can be done to create communities that are associated with low crime rates. In general, those communities that are low in crime are those with low levels of inequality (financial and racial) and, in various ways, are supportive of its poorest citizens. Supportive communities can, to some extent, help individuals who are at risk to reoffend overcome those deficits. From a policy perspective, the work on communities is particularly important because many of the characteristics of healthy, low-crime neighbourhoods are under direct policy control.

References

Arvanites, Thomas M. and Robert H. Defina. (2006). Business Cycles and Street Crime. Criminology, 44 (1), 139–164.

Chamlin, Mitchell B. and John K. Cochran. (1997). Social altruism and crime. Criminology, 35(2), 203–227.

Daly, Martin, Margo Wilson and Shawn Vasdev. (2001). Income Inequality and Homicide Rates in Canada and the United States. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 219–236.

De Fronzo, James and Lance Hannon. (1998). Welfare assistance levels and homicide rates. Homicide Studies, 2 (1), 31–45.

Felson, M., M. E. Belanger, G. M. Bichler, C. D. Bruzinski, G. S. Campbell, C. I. Fried, et al. (1996). Redesigning Hell: Preventing crime and disorder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In Ronald V. Clarke, (Ed.), Preventing Mass Transit Crime (Vol. 6, pp. 5–92). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

Hannon, Lance and James DeFronzo. (1998). Welfare and property crime. Justice Quarterly, 15 (2), 273–287.

Hay, Carter, Edward N. Fortson, Dunsten R. Hollist, Israd Altheimer, and Lonnie M. Schaible. (2006). The Impact of Community Disadvantage on the Relationship between the Family and Juvenile Crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43 (4), 326–356.

Messner, Steven F., Raffolovich, L.E. and Peter Shrock. (2002). Reassessing the Cross-National Relationship between Income Inequality and Homicide Rates: Implications of Data Quality Control in the Measurement of Income Distribution. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 18, 377–395.

Pratt, Travis C. and Timothy W. Godsey. (2002). Social Support and Homicide: A Cross-National Test of an Emerging Criminological Theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 589–601.

Sampson, Robert J., Stephen W. Raudenbush and Felton Earls. (1997). Neighbourhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277, 918–924.

Steinberg, Laurence. (2000). Youth violence: Do parents and families make a difference? National Institute of Justice Journal, April 2000, 243, 31–38.

Tremblay, Richard E. and Christa Japel. (2003). Prevention During Pregnancy, Infancy, and the Preschool Years. In Farrington, David P. and Jeremy W. Coid. Early Prevention of Adult Antisocial Behaviour. Cambridge University Press.

Wilsem, Johan Van, Karin Wittebrood, and Nan Dirk De Graff. (2006). Socioeconomic Dynamics of Neighbourhoods and the Risk of Crime Victimization: A Multilevel Study of Improving, Declining, and Stable Areas of the Netherlands. Social Problems, 53 (2), 226–247.

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14. Is fair treatment by criminal justice agents (e.g., the police) relevant in terms

of understanding why certain people (or groups of people) are likely

to commit offences?


We would like to start this section with an anecdote. One afternoon, one of AND’s graduate students, who is carrying out a study for JBS, happened to mention that she was in youth court that morning in connection with the study she was carrying out. A youth, on first appearance in court for a very minor offence, was asked whether he had a lawyer. Duty counsel — not the regular knowledgeable duty counsel — was there in court, but not doing anything visible to assist this youth. The youth answered that he had been talking to one of his friends who had been in court for a similar offence and he did not think he needed a lawyer. The justice of the peace and the Crown made fun of his remark. And, to make it worse, the youth before the court was (literally) laughed at by the justice of the peace and by the Crown. The duty counsel was silent.

It is fair to say that few people would suggest that one should ignore actions that undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. In the research literature, there is a growing body of findings on the importance of “procedural justice.” In the context of examining what the impact is of the justice system, it is equally important to consider the perceptions of justice. How do people form judgements about the legitimacy of the criminal justice system?

The data suggest, quite consistently, that the justice system is judged largely on whether it is perceived as being fair in the manner in which it uses its authority. Drawing from a number of different surveys, Tyler (2001) suggests that procedural fairness is more important than specific outcomes. “People often assume that the outcomes received when dealing with specific police officers and judges shape reactions to those encounters. In contrast... research consistently suggests that people actually react to their personal experiences primarily by judging the procedures used by the authorities” (Tyler, p. 215). The manner in which people are treated, as well as whether they feel that decisions are made fairly appear to be of crucial importance. “People are willing to accept the decisions of police officers, judges, mediators, and other third party authorities when they think that those authorities are acting in ways they view as fair” (p. 216). Hence, the public’s views of criminal justice institutions are linked more to perceived justice than to specific outcomes or utilitarian concerns. In the context of race in Canada, such findings are especially important, since, as shown by Wortley (1996) Black residents of Canada are more likely than White residents to perceive that the criminal justice system is biased on racial grounds, and contact with the police or the courts increases the perception of bias for Black residents.

The problem seems to be that negative experiences with the police (and perhaps other parts of the justice system) are much more important in understanding negative views of the police (and perhaps other parts of the system) than are positive experiences (Skogan, 2006). What is important, then, in convincing citizens that they are being treated fairly? Clearly, not treating them in a manner that does not show them basic respect would be a good start. But acts as simple as giving citizens an opportunity to explain to police their situation and to communicate their views, or receiving fair and polite treatment from the police, have a direct impact — on all demographic groups — on how the police are perceived. “Unlike many of the outcomes of policing, including safer streets and healthier communities, these are factors that recruitment, training, and supervision by police departments can assuredly affect... Process based reactions benefit the police, because they cannot always provide desirable outcomes, but it is almost always possible to behave in ways that people experience as being fair” (Skogan, 2005; p. 318).

The difficulty for the police is that “behaviour” as simple as the language that they use is important in determining how citizens will react to them. In one study, ordinary citizens read about a police encounter with a citizen. These encounters were described in various ways. The researchers concluded that offensive language directed at the citizen “may be part of everyday speech [but] it carries a very different meaning when voiced by police officers” (Seron, Pereira and Kovath, 2004; p. 702) in an encounter with a citizen. Along with abuse of authority and use of unnecessary force, language turns out to be very important in shaping citizens’ views of the police. At the same time, however, non-cooperative behaviour on the part of the citizen does lessen, somewhat, the rated seriousness of police misbehaviour. The mitigating impact, however, is small compared with effects of police misbehaviour. Though the public may, under some circumstances, tolerate police misconduct, “the public’s tolerance for [police] misconduct in an encounter with a civilian does not extend to unnecessary use of force” (p. 703). Police may be described by some as simply being “ordinary citizens,” but it seems that ordinary citizens expect something special from those whom it has authorized to use force upon them.

Another fact that undermines the perceived legitimacy of the police is the belief that racial profiling is being practised. However, these same data suggest that “the police can maintain their legitimacy by exercising their authority fairly” (Tyler and Wakslak, 2004; p. 273). The data do not support the view that the public thinks that profiling is the result of prejudice: only 12% of Whites and 33% of non-Whites thought that “when the police do stop minorities more frequently than Whites, they are doing it out of prejudice” (p. 275). However, for both White and Black respondents, if a police officer profiles, that officer’s behaviour is seen as less legitimate. “When people indicate that they have experienced fairness from the police and/or when they indicate that the police are generally fair in dealing with their community, they are less likely to infer that profiling takes place” (p. 276). “Three aspects of procedural fairness — quality of decision-making, quality of treatment, and inferences about trustworthiness — were found to significantly affect the inferences people make about their interactions with the police” (p. 277).

We should be concerned with police conduct (as well as the conduct of other criminal justice professionals) for a number of reasons, among them being the findings that suggest that police misconduct in highly disadvantaged neighbourhoods can lead to increases in violent crime. Kane (2005) examined crime and police data from seventy-four local police precincts in New York City for the twenty-two-year period from 1975 through 1996. An index of structural disadvantage was created by combining data on the proportion of female-headed households with children, the percent of Black residents, the proportion of households receiving public assistance, the unemployment rate and the proportion of residents with low educational achievement. Police misconduct was operationalized as the number of officers compulsorily separated from the department due to misconduct, including the number of officers allowed to resign under “questionable circumstances” (e.g., while under suspension or after having been charged). The dependent measure was the violent crime rate.

The results are quite straightforward. Precincts were divided into low, high and extreme (structural) disadvantage. Within high and extreme disadvantage precincts, the level of police misconduct predicted the violent crime rate. The effect of police misconduct was higher in the extremely disadvantaged communities. There was no impact of police misconduct on violent crime rates in precincts characterized by low structural disadvantage.

The results of this study suggest that police misconduct can lead to increases in crime in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The findings are consistent with the view that formal institutions, as well as informal institutions, can be important determinants of the crime rate in certain neighbourhoods. “In [the poorest] communities, residents may feel the most marginalized and socially dislocated and they may respond the most adversely to (real or apparent) violations of procedural justice norms by the police, who represent the most visible agents of official social control... These findings suggest the importance of police departments meeting procedural justice expectations, specifically in extremely disadvantaged communities” (p. 492).

There are other findings, at a more individual level, suggesting that when the police intervene in cases of domestic violence, repeat violence is higher for those men who perceived that they had been treated unfairly, even within the group of those who had been arrested (Paternoster, Brame, Bachman and Sherman, 1997).

Conclusion

It is hard to argue against the proposition that there is social value in having people hold their criminal justice system in high regard. Those who have contact with the criminal justice system as suspects or as accused people would appear to evaluate the system by the manner in which they are treated more than the actual outcome. Said differently, if people are treated fairly, they see the system as being fair regardless of the outcome. A few inappropriate negative words may be enough to lead to a negative evaluation. In addition, one of the reasons that we all should have concern about fair treatment is that, for certain groups of people, it has been shown that when people have respect for their criminal justice system, they are more likely to be law-abiding citizens.

References

Kane, Robert J. (2005). Compromised Police Legitimacy as a Predictor of Violent Crime in Structurally Disadvantaged Communities. Criminology, 43 (2), 469–498.

Paternoster, Raymond, Robert Brame, Ronet Bachman and Lawrence W. Sherman. (1997). Do fair procedures matter? The effect of procedural justice on spouse assault. Law and Society Review, 31(1), 163–204.

Seron, Carrroll, Joseph Pereira, and Jean Kovath. (2004). Judging Police Misconduct: “Street-Level” versus Professional Policing. Law and Society Review, 38, 665–710.

Skogan, Wesley. (2005). Citizen Satisfaction with Police Encounters. Police Quarterly, 8 (3), 298–321.

Skogan, Wesley G. (2006). Asymmetry in the Impact of Encounters with Police. Policing &Society, 16 (2), 99–126.

Tyler, Tom R. (2001). Public Trust and Confidence in Legal Authorities: What do Majority and Minority Group Members want from the Law and Legal Institutions? Behavioural Sciences and the Law, 19, 215–235.

Tyler, Tom R. and Cheryl J. Wakslak. (2004). Profiling and Police Legitimacy: Procedural Justice, Attributions of Motive, and Acceptance of Police Authority. Criminology, 42, 253–281.

Wortley, Scot. (1996). Justice for all? Race and perceptions of bias in the Ontario criminal justice system --a Toronto study. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 439–467.

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15. Why does the public want harsh criminal justice laws and policies?


Every public opinion poll carried out over the past thirty years in Canada, of which we are aware, has shown that most Canadians think that sentences are too lenient. Specifically, approximately 60–80% of Canadians have told pollsters that they want the courts to hand down harsher sentences (Roberts, Crutcher and Verbrugge, 2007). Those (relatively few) polls that ask the same question with respect to youth court give similar answers. It would seem sensible — from our perspective — to attempt to understand these findings. The published research literature that we have reviewed would suggest three principal explanations.

First, these findings reflect the methodologies generally employed in these types of opinion polls. Specifically, questions assume that the respondent is knowledgeable about the topic and, by extension, his/her answers are informed. Unfortunately, criminological research would not appear to support this assumption. For instance, Roberts, Crutcher and Vergrugge (2007) report that respondents to a nationally representative survey were given a detailed definition of “mandatory minimum sentence” and then were asked to name which offences, other than murder, had mandatory minimums. Forty-three percent could not name any of the thirty-one offences that carry mandatory minimums, and only 19% mentioned impaired driving offences. Only 6% mentioned any of the firearms offences that currently have these penalties. Nevertheless, 58% of the respondents in the national poll indicated that they thought mandatory minimum sentences were a “good idea” — a finding that echoes similar research in the US and Australia.

Similarly, the questions are typically asked in such a way that thoughtful answers are not possible. Specifically, the use of general questions masks more thoughtful and nuanced attitudes which emerge from more specific questions about particular cases. For instance, respondents are generally not asked to consider the actual or opportunity costs of harsher sanctions or the fact that many sentences (in particular, mandatory minimum sentences) violate the principle of proportionality in sentencing. As Doob (2000) notes, a survey of Ontario public attitudes on adult and youth crime issues demonstrated that by reminding Canadians that an offender would — if imprisoned — be released after a few months, prison became a less attractive sentence. Further, when Canadians are told the cost of incarceration, the preferred sanction shifts somewhat away from imprisonment.

Corroborating this limitation of public opinion polls, Roberts (2003) makes reference to a study on the public’s views on mandatory sentencing laws that found that part of the popular support for three-strikes sentencing laws is derived from people who only think about this legislation in broad, abstract terms. For instance, 88% of respondents supported the notion of harshly punishing third-time felony offenders. In contrast, only 17% of these same people indicated support for concrete sentences presented to them that would be imposed as a result of three-strikes laws.

Clearly, it would appear that people may not be thinking of actual cases when indicating support for harsh mandatory sentences. In other words, “[t]he mandatory sentence appeals to the public in principle, but once confronted with actual cases, people quickly [abandon] their position and express a preference for less punitive punishment” (p. 501). This phenomenon may be explained — in part — by the fact that consideration of mandatory sentences for individual cases calls attention to violations of proportionality — a principle that the public has been shown to strongly support.

Further, respondents are rarely given a choice between harsher sanctions and other, more lenient alternatives. For instance, Roberts (2003) notes in his study of Canadian opinions regarding mandatory minimum sanctions that public opinion polls do not generally give the respondents a choice between mandatory sentences and the obvious alternative (i.e., allowing judges to determine sanctions). In fact, Roberts, Crutcher and Verbugge (2007) reported that respondents to a nationally representative survey in Canada were asked whether they “agree or disagree that there should be some flexibility for a judge to impose less than the mandatory minimum sentence under special circumstances” (p. 96). The results show “strong support for the concept of judicial discretion” (p. 96): 74% agreed with the idea (30% strongly agreed and 44% somewhat agreed).

Similarly, 72% agreed with the idea that a court should be allowed to impose a lesser sentence if the judge had to provide a written justification for a decision in which he or she goes below the mandatory minimum sentence. Further, 68% agreed with the idea that judges should be able to sentence below the mandatory minimum term “if Parliament had outlined clear guidelines for the exercise of discretion....” (p. 97). Indeed, it would seem that the Canadian public wants Parliament to give some guidance on sentencing. If told that there are only two choices — no guidance on minimum sentences or mandatory minimums — they will choose the latter. On the other hand, if the public is given a middle-ground option of what is, in effect, a presumptive minimum sentence — an option similar to those available in other countries — Canadians clearly prefer a sentencing structure that blends guidance and discretion.

Second, criminological findings suggest that the public’s views of sentencing are more nuanced and contradictory than they are usually thought to be. As such, it is necessary to “relativize” — in a certain sense — the public’s desire for harsher criminal justice laws and policies. Using data from a standard survey, focal group discussions, and discussions from a large day-long meeting of ordinary citizens in Scotland to try to understand their views about sentencing and punishment, Hutton (2005) found that “[p]unitive attitudes exist alongside more liberal views” (p. 246). For example, focus groups favoured “more extensive use of constructive community based [sentences] instead of short prison sentences for less serious offenders” especially when costs were made salient. These results are, in fact, quite similar to Canadian findings (Doob, 2000).

In the American context, Beckett and Sasson (2004) also reach similar conclusions. Despite the emphasis that American politicians have placed on “the severity and pervasiveness of ‘street crime’ and [by] framing the problem in terms of immoral individuals rather than criminogenic... social conditions, [which has] ... effectively redefined the poor – especially the minority poor – as dangerous and undeserving” (p. 8), these scholars argue that the public does not completely accept this explanation for crime, nor is the public content with imprisonment as a solution to crime. In fact, popular attitudes and beliefs about crime in the US (as in Canada) are ambivalent and contradictory: “Even when the get-tough mood was at its peak, most Americans were still eager to see a greater emphasis placed on crime prevention and were willing to support a variety of alternatives to incarceration” (p. 9).

This same contradictory nature of public opinions is reflected in the Dutch context. Using a nationally representative sample of Dutch residents surveyed in early 2005, Mascini and Houtman (2006) demonstrate that from the perspective of ordinary people, support for repressive approaches to crime and criminals does not automatically mean a rejection of rehabilitation. Despite the tendency of many criminologists and policy-makers to “conceive of public support for repression and rehabilitation as two diametrically opposed options” (p. 832), these scholars suggest that such a view is without empirical foundation. Specifically, they found that “rehabilitation is equally popular among the constituencies of conservative political parties as among those of progressive ones” (p. 832). As such, it would appear that support for rehabilitative approaches to crime or approaches that improve offenders’ life chances is more evenly distributed across the population than previously thought.

Third, this more nuanced and contradictory picture of the public’s desire for harsher responses to crime and criminals may also reflect a much more complex set of factors creating this sentiment than we typically envision. For instance, Garland (2000) has argued that tough criminal justice policies in recent decades in the US and the UK are the result of changes in the way in which crime is experienced, particularly by the “liberal elite.” Indeed, this group has shifted from being the strongest supporters of “welfarist and correctionalist objectives” in the 1950s to being strong supporters of the new approaches rooted in enhanced control and expressive punishment. Historically, the middle class has been insulated from the problems of crime. In the 1960s, however, “crime became a prominent fact of life” for the middle class (p. 359). Work and family patterns have changed, such that “crime has become one of the threats that the contemporary middle class household must take seriously” (p. 362). A crime control deficit was identified and was perceived as a threat to those who previously were not affected directly by crime. The mass media, and TV in particular, have institutionalized the experience of crime by providing us with “regular, everyday occasions in which to play out the emotions of fear, anger, resentment and fascination that crime provokes” (p. 363).

As a result of these changes, daily routines have changed, especially for those who can afford to change them, in the face of a society that is perceived to have changed. Consequently, we have a distinct cluster of beliefs around crime, which include high crime rates, highly politicized and emotive representations of crime, and the perception of state inadequacy. Crime has become part of daily consciousness for the middle class who previously lived lives that were insulated from crime. Support for “understanding” the offender is replaced with condemnation of offenders. Reintegration of offenders is perceived as less realistic or morally compelling (p. 368).

On a more micro level, Sims (2003) has argued that the level of an individual’s punitiveness toward offenders is rooted — in large part — on that which he/she perceives to be the causes of crime. Based on a survey of Americans conducted in 1996, this scholar found that the standard “explanations” for a desire for harsher sanctions (i.e., fear of crime, various demographic measures) do not predict punitiveness above and beyond people’s theories of crime causation. Those who believed that crime is caused by: 1) inadequate punishments and citizens’ perceptions that they can “get away with” crime (classical theory); 2) such factors as inadequate ties with non-criminal friends and family (social process theories) or 3) membership in a group that tends to support or encourage crime (sub-cultural theory), were also found to be more punitive in nature. In contrast, those who believed that crime is caused by: 1) social/economic factors (structural positivism), or 2) contact with the criminal justice system (labelling theory), were found to be less punitive.

Support for harsh criminal justice policies and opposition to preventive crime policies within the American White community has also been found to be associated with symbolic racism. Green, Staerkle and Sears (2006) argue that in contrast with overt racist behaviour, symbolic racism “stems from a blend of anti-Black affect and traditional values” (p. 438) in which Whites attribute high levels of violation of social norms to Blacks (e.g., on such dimensions as work ethic, respect for authority, self-reliance), and in which Whites view Blacks as getting too many special privileges. Using data from White respondents to surveys carried out in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, these scholars found that above and beyond the effects of a person’s view of crime causation, political ideology, or the amount of local news watched, high ratings on “symbolic racism” predicted one’s support for punitive policies. This effect was particularly strong for those whose income was lowest.

Similar findings were found by Chiricos, Welch and Gertz (2004). Based on a national sample of Americans, which focused largely on White respondents, these scholars found that those who hold the most punitive attitudes about crime are also most likely to see crime as being disproportionately committed by Blacks. This effect held above and beyond the effects of age, education, gender, concern about crime, respondent’s estimate of the proportion of crime that is violent, fear of crime, racial prejudice and whether the respondent lives in the southern US. However, while each of these other factors also predicts punitive attitudes, the overall effect — that those White people who link race to crime believe that the criminal justice system should be more harsh — holds only for certain types of people. Specifically, it is only those from less punitive groups (e.g., from northern states rather than southern states, those not prejudiced rather than more prejudiced) who show the effect. For those already relatively punitive — those more concerned about crime, those who think that a high proportion of crime involves violence, those high in racial prejudice, or from the southern part of the US — there was no added effect of believing that crime was disproportionately caused by Blacks.

Indeed, it would seem that explanations for punitiveness are not only rooted in crime-related beliefs and attitudes. Rather, they may also be a reflection of broader-based views of one’s community or society generally. Indeed, Garland (2000) notes that “[t]he new strategies [in response to crime] -expressivity, punitiveness, victim-centredness, public protection, exclusion, enhanced control, loss-prevention, public-private partnership, responsibilization -are grounded not only in a new collective experience from which they draw their meaning and their strength” (p. 369) but also in a “reactionary current of culture and politics that characterizes the present in terms of moral breakdown, incivility, and the decline of the family....” (p. 369) While these patterns differ across countries, they have similar origins and appear to persist even when governments change.

Similarly, Hutton (2005) comments that the difficulty for those interested in sensible criminal justice policy is what might be called a “narrative of insecurity,” where people believe that crime is a growing problem (especially among young people) and have lost faith in the institutions of society — judges, courts and prisons — that they have been repeatedly told can control crime. “This lack of confidence may be, at least in part, a reflection of the loss of faith in authority and expert knowledge more generally and not simply a response to perceived failures of criminal justice institutions in particular” (p. 254). Indeed, talk about crime and punishment by participants in his study would sometimes reflect “anxieties and insecurities about living in the modern world” (p. 252).

Reiterating — to some extent — this same theme, Tyler and Boeckmann (1997) argue that the desire for tougher laws in the US relates more to factors such as the public’s belief in the decline of morality and increases in the diversity of the population than it does to perceptions of fear and risk. Using a small scale (but reasonably representative) survey in Northern California, crime-related concerns were shown to have — at best — only a moderate relationship with punitive responses. In contrast, authoritarianism and dogmatism, as well as concerns about social conditions (especially the view that traditional family values have disappeared) were strong predictors of support for three-strikes legislation, general punitive policies, and a willingness to abandon procedural protections.

Conclusions

When trying to determine the meaning of public opinion polls that consistently show that Canadians think that sentences are too lenient, it would seem important to consider a number of factors. First, the findings may not, in fact, be an accurate representation of the views of the respondents. Indeed, the methodologies used in these types of surveys tend to produce superficial, incomplete, uniformed and, in some cases, misrepresented information. Second, a desire for harsh punishment does not necessarily signify that respondents do not also support more rehabilitative approaches. In fact, endorsement of these two criminal justice strategies may coexist within individuals. In other words, there would appear to be openness to alternative approaches, even within more conservative groups. As Turner, Cullen, Sundt and Applegate (1997) remind us, it is not surprising — given the results of most public opinion polls — that “virtually every elected official has jumped aboard the ‘get tough’ bandwagon and is wary of supporting policies that appear to treat offenders leniently” (p. 7). Recognition (and divulgation) of the limitations of this type of poll may be particularly important in curbing the current political and media support of increased punitiveness.

Third, the impact of people’s views of crime causation on punitive attitudes toward crime and criminals would suggest that politicians (as well as others who speak publicly about crime policy) may affect the level of punitiveness in a society not only as a result of their statements about punishments, but by the way in which they conceptualize the causes of crime. Finally, punitiveness would appear to be linked not only to one’s views about crime and to fear, but also to broader social values such as judgments about the cohesiveness of society and views of the family. Indeed, perceptions that their communities (or country more generally) have deteriorated morally may create a need to reassert social values and to re-establish the obligation to obey the law. As such, broader social interventions that address these wider problems may constitute a more effective (albeit a more long-term) approach to crime reduction.

References

Beckett, Katherine and Theodore Sasson. (2004). The Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment in America (Second edition). Sage Publications. (Chapters 1, 8, 9).

Chiricos, Ted, Kelly Welch, and Marc Gertz. (2004). Racial Typification of Crime and Support for Punitive Measures. Criminology, 42, 359–389.

Doob, Anthony N. (2000). Transforming the Punishment Environment: Understanding Public Views of What Should be Accomplished at Sentencing. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 42, 323–340.

Garland, David. (2000). The culture of high crime societies: Some preconditions of recent ‘law and order’ policies. British Journal of Criminology, 40, 347–375.

Green, Eva G.T., Christian Staerklé and David O. Sears. (2006). Symbolic Racism and Whites’ Attitudes Towards Punitive and Preventive Crime Policies. Law and Human Behaviour, 30, 435–454.

Hutton, Neil. (2005). Beyond Populist Punitiveness? Punishment and Society, 7(3), 243–258.

Mascini, Peter and Dick Houtman. (2006). Rehabilitation and Repression: Reassessing their Ideological Embeddedness. British Journal of Criminology, 46, 822–836.

Roberts, Julian V., Nicole Crutcher, and Paul Verbrugge. (2007). Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 49, 75–107.

Roberts, Julian V. (2003). Public Opinion and Mandatory Sentencing. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 30, 483–508.

Sims, Barbara. (2003). The Impact of Causal Attribution on Correctional Ideology: A National Study. Criminal Justice Review, 28, 1–25.

Tyler, Tom R. and Robert J. Boeckmann. (1997). Three strikes and you are out, but why? The psychology of public support for punishing rule breakers. Law and Society Review, 31, 237–265.

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16. Is there likely to be public support for criminal justice policies that support

prevention and rehabilitation approaches (rather than simply punitive approaches)?


Ironically, it would appear that support for preventive and/or rehabilitative approaches may reside — at least to some extent — in the growing perception of the failure of harsher sentences. For instance, Males, Macallair, Rios and Vargas (2000) examined the effectiveness of California’s harsh drug enforcement policies, which resulted in a drug imprisonment rate of approximately 132 per 100,000 of the population in 1999 — roughly 2.5 times the US national average — , and found no evidence of a beneficial impact. Specifically, “[t]he absence of differential effects between counties with strict drug enforcement policies and counties with more lenient drug enforcement policies does not support the deterrent and incapacitation arguments of drug enforcement advocates” (p. 6).

In fact, there were some suggestions of negative impacts of harsh policies, in that “[c]ounties that made fewer drug arrests, and concentrated their enforcement efforts on felony manufacture or sale rather than simple drug-possession offences were significantly more likely to experience declines in violent crime.... Counties that rarely imprisoned low-level drug offences showed the largest reduction in violent and property crime” (pp. 10–11). Minor drug arrests appear to have “no relationship to, and no impact on, either crime or drug abuse” (p. 14). Notably, Californians voted by a 61%–39% margin in 2000 to require drug treatment instead of jail for those arrested for drug possession or use. Indeed, it would appear that they have learned that they are not getting “value for money” from the billions of dollars being spent to imprison small drug-users. In fact, California voters were not alone in demanding reform of harsh drug laws: there were drug policy issues on ballots in seven states in the recent election, and in five of them, harsh drug laws were voted out.

Combined with the long-term drop in crime (especially violent crime) that has taken place over the past ten to fifteen years, as well as the budget crises at the state level, this gradual recognition in the US of the enormous costs of harsh sentences, with little criminal justice benefits, has — in fact — led to a decline in support for prisons as a one-(jumbo)-size-fits-all solution. As King and Mauer (2002) noted already in 2002, this decline in the attractiveness of prisons as political institutions is reflected in the “roll-back” of pro-prison policies in a number of state legislatures across the US. To name simply a few, certain mandatory minimum sentences have already been eliminated or reduced. For example, Louisiana has recently imposed the three-strikes requirement that all three offences be violent, sex or drug crimes punishable by at least ten years in prison, rather than just any three felonies. Mississippi has allowed certain non-violent offenders to become eligible for parole earlier in their sentences. North Dakota has eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences. Idaho had planned on building one new prison every two years for the “foreseeable future” (p. 7), but, instead, expanded its drug treatment programs. Montana now diverts certain drinking drivers to treatment rather than prison. Texas presently releases chronically ill inmates from the prison system. In total, eleven states have plans to reduce correctional budgets. Ten states have considered delaying prison construction and/or closing facilities. For example, Missouri has, as the result of a state budget cut, delayed the opening of an already built facility which cost $168 million to construct.

Similar findings were reported by King (2007). In the three years ending in 2006, at least twenty-two American states brought in more moderate criminal justice policies. For instance, at least thirteen states have moved from the almost automatic incarceration of drug offenders toward treatment programs. For example, Texas has new legislation that allows judges to sentence certain low-level offenders to community correctional treatment facilities. The state of Washington now permits judges to sentence defendants to a community-based residential drug treatment program. Prior to the change in the law, such offenders had to serve half of their sentences in a normal correctional facility before being assigned to a specific drug treatment facility. In a number of states (e.g., Michigan), access to drug courts has been expanded. In addition, non-prison sentencing provisions are being permitted. For instance, Texas prosecutors were given the power, in certain cases, to charge people with misdemeanours rather than felonies, thus avoiding sentences of incarceration.

Further, changes in community supervision have been adopted to reduce the number of prison admissions resulting from technical violations of probation and parole. For example, Arizona and California permit the authority that supervises these offenders to employ alternative approaches that allow them to impose new conditions of supervision and monitoring (e.g., electronic monitoring) in the community rather than placing these offenders in custody. Connecticut has mandated that parole hearings be held for certain prisoners and that release into community-based facilities be available for certain classes of prisoners. Louisiana capped (at ninety days) the length of time a person who committed a technical violation of probation or parole could be incarcerated.

Finally, sentencing reform has also been introduced that softens sanctions. For instance, changes in the “Rockefeller Drug Laws” in New York have doubled the quantity of drugs necessary to trigger certain penalties. In addition, certain groups of prisoners were made eligible for release earlier in their sentences. Programs encouraging reintegration into society were supported by requiring New York judges to consider “what kind of sentence will best help to promote the defendant’s reintegration into society,” thus recognizing explicitly that such a sentence could contribute to public safety. Oregon now requires pre-sentence reports indicating, among other things, how a sentence (community or prison) will help reduce future offending.

These changes are also reflected in (and/or reflect) recent surveys of public attitudes. In one American survey of public attitudes, Peter D. Hart Research Associates (2002) reported a decline in support for “tough on crime” strategies between 1994 and 2001. Even Republicans were found to be more likely to be in favour of addressing the causes of crime than simply adopting a tough approach to crime itself. A similar decline was found for mandatory sentences. Prevention was also reported to be the current top priority for dealing with crime, and a majority of Americans thought that America’s approach to crime was on the wrong track. In particular, the war on drugs was seen — at the time of the survey — as more of a failure than a success by 70% of Americans. People viewed prisons simply as warehouses, with 58% seeing attempts at rehabilitation as having been very unsuccessful or somewhat unsuccessful. Indeed, “[t]here is widespread agreement that the [American] nation’s existing approach to criminal justice is off-target” (p. 6).

Specifically, most respondents (76%) wanted mandatory treatment rather than prison time for drug possession, and 71% also desired treatment instead of imprisonment for selling small amounts of drugs. Alternatives to prison were also favoured for youthful offenders (85% in favour) and non-violent offenders (75% in favour). Other similar programs (e.g., intermittent custody) that reduce prison sentences for non-violent offenders were also favoured by the majority of the American public. In addition, most Americans (56%) — even Republicans (51%) — wanted to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Further, the majority of Americans were shown to favour job-related rehabilitation programs such as mandatory prison labour (94%), required classes (91%) and job training for released prisoners (88%). Finally, most Americans (77%) agreed that the expansion of after-school programs and other crime prevention strategies would lead to long-term savings by reducing the need for prisons. An equal proportion of the American public believed that treatment programs for drug offenders would save money. Indeed, it would seem that Americans are looking for effective ways of addressing the real problems of crime, with a clear shift in recent public opinion surveys from punitiveness to effectiveness.

Corroborating these findings, but with a larger, nationally representative sample of US residents, Cohen, Rust and Steen (2006) report overwhelming support for increased spending on preventing youth crime, as well as for drug treatment for non-violent offenders, and for the police, but little support for spending money on building more prisons. However, it also appears “that those who currently worry about crime are more concerned about immediate responses to crime at the expense of long-term youth crime prevention” (p. 327) and indicated that they would spend more money on prisons and on drug treatment for non-violent offenders and on the police, and less money on prevention programs to keep youth out of trouble. Interestingly, those who had reported having been victims of crime “tended to give less money to prisons and police and more to prevention (though these [effects] are significant only for certain groups of victims)” (p. 330). Similarly, Black Americans were more likely than White and Latino Americans to want to allocate funds for programs to keep youths out of trouble, and were less likely than members of these groups to want to allocate funds for prisons.

Clearly, “despite the overall punitiveness of the public toward criminals, there is also significant support for both rehabilitation of offenders and early intervention programs designed to prevent high risk youth from later engaging in criminal activity” (p. 333). Though the public would spend considerably more of any allocation of funds on the police than they would on the building of more prisons, even the police would not receive as high a proportion of any special “crime prevention” funds as would prevention programs.

With specific reference to the youth justice system, findings only appear to differ in the degree of support for preventive or rehabilitative approaches. Schiraldi and Soler (1998) examined the degree of support expressed by a representative sample of US adults for various harsh provisions of a Senate bill that would — among other things — allow youth to be imprisoned along with adults, make juvenile records available to colleges that the youth might apply to later in life, provide funds for prison construction, and give federal prosecutors sole discretion to decide whether those youth charged with offences would be tried as adults or as youth. They found that the majority of the American public (67%) disagreed with the proposal that would allow youth to be housed in adult jails on arrest. This finding was similar to that obtained in a survey of 548 American police chiefs by Johnson et al. (1997), in which 83% of them agreed with the view that the focus for youth should be rehabilitation and the avoidance of placing youth with adult criminals.

Additional data from the study by Schiraldi and Soler (1998) showed that 70% of the American public also disagreed with the proposal to allow the sharing of juvenile records with colleges to which the youth might apply later in life. A similar proportion of respondents (72%) disagreed with the proposal to expel youth from school for using tobacco, while 74% agreed with the suggestion that the bill should earmark money for prevention. Finally, 56% disagreed with the proposal to give prosecutors total discretion on whether to try youth as adults or as youth. Indeed, although the public may make demands for tougher laws to deal with violent and repeat juvenile offenders in the abstract, they seem to be more pragmatic than tough when it comes down to particular ways in which this goal might be accomplished. Canadian findings are similar in nature (see, for example, Doob, Sprott, Marinos and Varma, 1998). Specifically, “tough” standards for the youth justice system do not appear to be endorsed by the majority of Americans or Canadians.

Similar support — particularly for early intervention programs for youth at risk of developing into offenders — has been found even in conservative parts of the US. In a survey of Tennessee residents who generally identified themselves as moderate or conservative and in favour of capital punishment, Cullen, Wright, Brown, Moon, Blankenship and Applegate (1998) reported that roughly three-quarters of respondents favoured “spending tax dollars on programs that try to prevent crime by identifying youths early in life and rehabilitating them...” rather than “spending tax dollars to build more prisons so that more criminals can be locked up for longer periods of time.” When faced with specific early intervention programs, more than three-quarters of respondents favoured each of the following: expanding preschool programs, giving special services to troubled kids, education programs to help parents of troubled kids deal with them effectively, school programs to identify troublesome youth and provide services, after-school recreational programs, drug education programs, programs to keep delinquent kids in school, and rehabilitation programs for youths and the parents of those convicted of offences.

This support is particularly encouraging when one recalls — as these scholars note — that empirical research has demonstrated that “[t]he origins of serious delinquency and adult crime can often be traced to childhood...”(p. 189) and that researchers can predict — at an aggregate level — who will become delinquent, though obviously such predictions are not perfect. Further, early invention has other justifications: “Because of the link between offending and numerous other social problems, any measure that succeeds in reducing crime will have benefits that go far beyond this. Any measure that reduces crime will probably also reduce alcohol abuse, drunk driving, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, family violence, truancy, school failure, unemployment, marital disharmony and divorce...”(David Farrington, quoted on p. 189).

Despite this consistent support for more rehabilitative and/or preventive approaches to crime and criminals, the published literature would also suggest that the public’s attitudes are more complex than these findings might — at least at first blush — indicate. In a study carried out in Ohio — a state that does not have the reputation of being liberal in criminal justice matters — Applegate, Cullen and Fisher (1997) examined the relative weight that should be given to rehabilitation in prison (in contrast with “punishment” and “protecting” society). As previous research has suggested, they found that people valued rehabilitation more for juveniles than for adults, and seemed generally supportive of rehabilitative efforts in prison and in the community. In fact, respondents generally also supported the expansion of rehabilitative programs.

However, this study also found that while respondents were more likely to list “rehabilitation” than other factors as what they thought should be the “main emphasis” in most prisons, protection and punishment were each listed as very important (or important) goals of imprisonment by roughly 95% of those surveyed. In fact, rehabilitation was listed as being important or very important by fewer people (approximately 83%). Indeed, it would seem that respondents are, in effect, saying that one must punish and protect — goals that come naturally from being in prison — but that rehabilitation is also very important and, as such, needs to be the “main emphasis” of prisons. Said differently, although “the public desires punishment and... people want to be protected from predatory criminals, it appears... that the public still is receptive to treating offenders; the appeal of the rehabilitative ideal remains widespread” (p. 253).

This same combination of punitive and rehabilitative goals is reflected in a study of Tennessee residents (who were primarily White and politically conservative) carried out by Moon, Sundt, Cullen and Wright (2000). These scholars found that respondents overwhelmingly favoured a rehabilitative approach over a simple punishment or “public protection” model of juvenile corrections. When asked what the main emphasis in juvenile prisons should be, 63% said it should be rehabilitation, compared with 19% who favoured punishment and 11% who favoured “protecting society from future crime [the youth] might commit.” At the same time, most respondents (92%) indicated that they agreed with the statement that “young offenders deserve to be punished because they have harmed society” (p. 48). In other words, people prefer to have a justice system which favours prevention and which combines rehabilitation with holding young offenders accountable for their actions. This finding is similar to that found in some national US polls, which have suggested that “the public continues to support the correctional treatment of juveniles... [but] is less willing to support rehabilitation when this option is portrayed as a lenient response to crime or when it is suggested that an emphasis on rehabilitation will lessen the punishment given to youths” (p. 43).

Indeed, it would seem that public support is linked — more broadly — to responses that have meaningful consequences for offenders. As Roberts, Crutcher and Verbrugge (2007) noted in their survey of Canadians’ views of mandatory minimum sentences, respondents did not appear to be as enthralled with deterrence-based sentencing as some might expect. However, when asked to rate the importance that they would give to various sentencing purposes, Canadians’ most popular choice was “making offenders acknowledge and take responsibility for crime.” It is equally notable that general deterrence ranked a distant fifth in Canadian citizens’ priority of sentencing purposes.

This “requirement” or goal of “meaningful consequences” would also seem to shed light on the wider variation in people’s preference for — and acceptance of — different community sanctions. In a survey conducted in Cincinnati by Turner, Cullen, Sundt and Applegate (1997), the data suggest that while community-based alternatives are supported (even in a population that typically says that sentences are too lenient) even for relatively serious cases, “the public is reluctant to tolerate community based sanctions that do not include close monitoring of offenders” (p. 17). In fact, “regular probation” — in which the only real consequence was that the offender had to meet with the probation officer once a month for two years — was seldom seen as preferred or acceptable.

Similar findings are reported in the Canadian context. Doob (2000) examined public attitudes on adult and youth crime issues for a sample of Ontario residents. For both adults and youth, non-punitive approaches (increasing the availability of social programs, addressing unemployment, increased use of non-prison sanctions) were seen as being better strategies for controlling crime than making sentences harsher. In fact, in addressing both youth and adult crime, most Canadians would prefer to invest in prevention or non-prison sanctions rather than pay the cost of a harsher sentencing structure (more prisons).

However, harsh sentences (typically involving prison) are still attractive to people — at least at first blush — precisely because they seem to promise something — incapacitation and punishment, at a minimum. In contrast, community sanctions (e.g., community service orders) are viewed by many Canadians with much greater skepticism. Specifically, over 60% of Canadians think that half or fewer community service orders for adults or youth are actually carried out. Indeed, Canadians appear to want a “response” to wrongdoing by adults and youth. It need not involve imprisonment. However, the sanction must be seen as having meaningful consequences.

In fact, it would seem that less punitive responses to crime and criminals — to be acceptable and desirable to the general public — cannot simply rely on “rational” or “technical” arguments rooted in such observations as the cost reduction reaped from non-custodial sentences, or the failure of harsher approaches to reduce crime, or the beneficial collateral social effects of early intervention. Rather, Freiberg (2000) argues that any crime policy must deal with “the affective as well as the effective, with both instrumental and sentimental aspects of penal policy” (p. 266). Indeed, “the urge to punish the criminal is deep-seated and probably universal” (p. 268). People want order and are antagonistic to those who break it. Thus, it is not surprising that those who appeal to these emotions are likely to be successful, as their approaches resonate with public wishes.

As a result, “[t]he discourse is pitched less at the instrumental level than at the symbolic and emotional” (p. 271). It is suggested that people appear to want harsh sentences, for example, for four reasons: security, desert (what is right or proper), the welfare of others, and a desire for change in the hope of creating a better society. Although people can be forgiving of deviance, “they could suffer from compassion fatigue” (p. 271), whereby they are overwhelmed by apparent social problems and “fall back on simpler solutions, on the myths about the effectiveness of severe punishment” (p. 271). As such, crime prevention (or other rational approaches) — to be effective — must go beyond “technical perfection” (p. 272) and “develop philosophies and programs which could compete with law and order at both the symbolic and the practical levels” (p. 272). Unfortunately, crime prevention strategies have a tough row to hoe, particularly because they lack “drama and focus” (p. 272). A necessary condition appears to be that an approach must “stress the ideas of integration, solidarity and cooperation” (p. 273).

Using a similar argument, Cullen, Wright and Chamlin (1999) propose the promotion of “social support” as a sensible alternative approach to “getting tough,” precisely because “the idea that social support protects against crime appeals to people’s common sense and thus has intuitive legitimacy” (p. 190). Specifically, conservative narratives are attractive because they “have drama (‘Superpredators are now roaming free...’), they stir our emotions [by referring to victims], they acquit us of blame (‘Society doesn’t commit crime, offenders do’), they pinpoint who the real culprit is (‘Liberal courts...’), and they give simple solutions that promise to have large results (‘Lock up the predators....’)” (p. 196). Social support may combat this attractiveness, because it is a matter of common sense and “many citizens want more than a society of atomized individuals...” (p. 197). Further, early intervention programs and community support programs (e.g., Big Brothers/Sisters) have been shown to be effective. As such, rehabilitative programs can be described in support terms, but also in terms of being a means of making society safer.

Conclusions

It would seem that the time is ripe for more rehabilitative or preventive approaches to crime and criminals. On the one hand, crime rates have been falling for more than a decade and budgetary cuts are becoming more widespread. In addition, more repressive strategies are being shown as ineffective and are consequently being reduced or reversed in many places. On the other hand, the general public would appear to be supportive of more moderate approaches — particularly for youth. Further, preventive programs have been shown to be effective not only in reducing criminal activity, but also in bringing wider social benefits.

The challenge — it would seem — resides in creating responses that are both effective and affective — that is, that can offer a combination of meaningful and sensible consequences. In this light, community-based sanctions need to developed, applied and promoted in such a way as to ensure not only (cost-effective) control/safety, but also the sense that offenders are being held responsible for their crimes. Indeed, “[s]uccessful penal reform must take account of the emotions people feel in the face of wrongdoing” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 275).

More broadly, “[t]he key to countering the myths of law and order must lie in the ability of programs to help overcome the sense of helplessness and insecurity that crime engenders. They must overcome the ‘compassion fatigue’, the feeling that ‘it is all too much’, the sense that there are no definitive answers to complex social problems” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 274). While the criminal justice system needs to recognize its inherent limitations in “fixing society,” certain approaches (e.g., restorative justice models) appear to have been able to capture the public imagination, in part because they “appeal to the creation of social bonds... Their appeal can... best be explained as expressions of social values, sensibility and morality rather than whether these techniques ‘work’ or not in reducing disputes or levels of crime” (Freiberg, 2000; p. 273). Similar approaches (e.g., early intervention programs) — with the same focus on integration, solidarity and cooperation that de-legitimizes crass utilitarian individualism — may have an intuitive appeal by being more consistent with our visions of what a good society entails.

References

Applegate, Brandon K., Francis T. Cullen and Bonnie S. Fisher. (1997). Public support for correctional treatment: The continuing appeal of the rehabilitative ideal. The Prison Journal, Volume 77 (3), 237–258.

Cohen, Mark A., Roland T. Rust, and Sara Steen. (2006). Prevention, Crime Control or Cash? Public Preferences Towards Criminal Justice Spending Priorities. Justice Quarterly, 23 (3), 317–335.

Cullen, Francis T., J. P. Wright, S. Brown, M. M. Moon, Michael Blankenship, and B. K. Applegate. (1998). Public support for early intervention programs: Implications for a progressive policy agenda. Crime and Delinquency, 44, 187–204.

Cullen, Francis T., John Paul Wright, and Mitchell B. Chamlin. (1999). Social support and social reform: A progressive crime control agenda. Crime and Delinquency, 45 (2), 188–207.

Doob, Anthony N. (2000). Transforming the Punishment Environment: Understanding Public Views of What Should be Accomplished at Sentencing. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 42, 323–340.

Freiberg, Arie. (2000). Affective versus Effective Justice: Instrumentalism and Emotionalism in Criminal Justice. Punishment and Society, 65, 547–559.

Johnson, W. Wesley, Katherine Bennett, and Timothy Flanagan. (1997) Getting tough with prisoners: Results from the National Corrections Executive Survey, 1995. Crime and Delinquency, 43 (1), 2–41.

King, Ryan S. and Marc Mauer. (2002). State Sentencing and Corrections Policy in an Era of Fiscal Restraint. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project. Volume 4, Number 6, Item 4. March 2002. Online: <http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin/Documents/publications/inc_statesentencingpolicy.pdf>.

King, Ryan S. (2007). Changing Direction: State Sentencing Reforms, 2004–2006. Online: <http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin/Documents/publications/sentencingreformforweb.pdf>.

Males, Mike, Daniel Macallair, Cheryl Rios, and Deborah Vargas. (2000). Drug Use and Justice: An Examination of California Drug Policy and Enforcement. Online: <http://www.cjcj.org/pubs/cadrug/cadrug.html>.

Moon, Melissa M., Jody L. Sundt, Francis T. Cullen, and John Paul Wright. (2000). Is child saving dead? Public support for juvenile rehabilitation. Crime and Delinquency, 46 (1), 38–60.

Peter D. Hart Research Associates. (2002). Changing Public Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System. The Open Society Institute.

Roberts, Julian V., Nicole Crutcher and Paul Verbrugge. (2007). Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 49, 75–107.

Schiraldi, Vincent and Mark Soler. (1998). The Will of the People? The Public’s Opinion of the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Act of 1997. Crime and Delinquency, 44 (4), 590–601.

Turner, Michael G., Francis T. Cullen, Jody L. Sundt, and Brandon K. Applegate. (1997). Public tolerance for community-based sanctions. The Prison Journal, 77, 6–26.

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Conclusion

Readers of this report might conclude — after reading more than 100 pages of text — that the nature of the criminal justice system has relatively little to do with level of crime in society. Similarly, readers might suggest that implicitly — in the sections that deal with the effectiveness of the police, for example — we were critical of those who work in the criminal justice system since they do not appear to be very effective in reducing crime. If a reader were to think that we endorsed either of these positions, however, such a reader would be wrong. We think that it is inappropriate to blame the police or the courts for crime in our society.

The criminal justice system in Canada serves a number of crucial functions in our society. Most obviously, it is the social institution that responds to crime. As we point out in our discussion of police effectiveness and in our discussion of deterrence in Topic 9, the mere presence of the criminal system (and legal prohibitions contained in the Criminal Code), as well as the overall penalty structure of the Criminal Code, serves to give notice to members of society of the kinds of behaviour that are unacceptable.

When, for example, Canada decided to criminalize driving after ingesting large amounts of alcohol in the 1960s — what, in some jurisdictions, is referred to as the “drinking driving per se” laws — our national government made a statement to all of us that even if a person did not exhibit dangerous behaviour (i.e., impaired driving) as a result of drinking, we would criminalize those behaviours that put people at risk. Anyone who remembers the years prior to that time (or watches certain movies made prior to that time) knows that driving while impaired by alcohol was sometimes described in humourous terms (e.g., “the car must have driven itself home last night”). No longer is this the case: people understand that it is morally wrong to put oneself and others at risk by driving with high levels of blood alcohol. The criminalization of certain behaviours — and using criminal punishments for those who engage in these behaviours — is an important statement about what constitutes our most serious types of misbehaviour.

Criminalizing certain behaviours is one process. Punishing these same behaviours is something else. The suggestion is often made that since the criminal justice system can most obviously be described as a punishment system, and if the criminal justice system as a whole can act as a deterrent, then surely “more” punishment is better in reducing crime. Many parts of this report have demonstrated quite conclusively that this notion is incorrect: our society will not be safer if we increase the level of punishment of ordinary criminal offences that are currently subject to criminal sanctions.

As we have already stated, we do not blame the police or the courts for crime. We do not suggest that “if only” there were more or harsher police or courts, crime would disappear. To a large extent, those who make such suggestions often seem confused about the dominant role of different parts of the criminal justice system.

People are less likely to commit offences if they think that they are going to be apprehended. However, within this context, one must also consider the magnitude of changes in level of police presence that would be necessary for ordinary citizens even to notice that there are more police on the streets. In addition, the police are not simply “deterrence” objects: their role in apprehending and collecting information for the prosecution of criminal matters is crucial. Just as it is unfair to blame the police for crime, it is unfair to blame judges (because of sentencing practices or bail decisions) for crime. The same could be said for Canada’s youth and adult correctional systems. The popular slogan is that people are sent to prison (or are given community sanctions) as punishment rather than for punishment.

Part of the confusion about the role of the justice system in Canada can be seen as coming directly from the Criminal Code. Section 718.1 of the Criminal Code states that sentences must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. Unfortunately, section 718 states that legitimate objectives of sentencing include factors such as general deterrence. As is quite clear by now, variation in sentence severity (within ranges that are plausible in Western countries) will have no impact on levels of crime. Interestingly, the equivalent sentencing sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act can be seen as clarifying the role of the (youth) justice system. Sentencing judges are required to attempt to hand down rehabilitative sentences, within the limits determined by proportionality. But the purpose of sentencing is more simple: it is to hold the youth accountable for the offence. Long-term protection of the public is seen as a natural consequence of handing down sanctions to youths that are meaningful and that promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Youth sentences are required to be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence. The choice of sanctions — based, for example, on rehabilitative potential — must be made within the framework of proportionality. In an important sense, then, we would suggest that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is more realistic about the ability of harsh sentences to stop crime than is the Criminal Code. Unlike the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act does not suggest that sentences should be crafted so as to contribute to a “peaceful and safe society” (s. 718).

What, then, do we do about crime? If one were concerned about preventing lung cancer, one would not turn automatically to surgeons or oncologists. One might consider carefully what can be done — to our communities and with individuals “at risk” — to reduce the likelihood of being afflicted with this deadly form of disease. At the same time, we would respond to the problem with appropriate treatments. In medicine, we are beginning to understand the importance of prevention. Perhaps in time, we will understand crime prevention.

We know that crime generally, and youth crime in particular, is not equally distributed across our communities. We also know enough about the structural factors in our community that are responsible for higher rates of crime in some parts of our communities than others. Our suggestion is that both our crime prevention efforts and our methods of responding to crime need attention, but in responding to concerns about these aspects of our institutions, we should keep in mind what we are doing.

Finally, we believe that it is important to realize that even though we are not optimistic about the criminal justice system’s ability to play a central role in the prevention of crime, this does not mean that any community program will fare any better. Community programs can be effective. They can also be ineffective. Indeed, in some countries, it has been shown that national crime prevention programs have had no impact on crime. More disturbing are the “crime prevention” programs that have been shown to increase crime in society.

Few people would advocate the use of public money for medical treatment that had not been demonstrated to be effective. Fewer still would subject themselves to untested, intrusive medical treatments. We need to experiment with different approaches to crime prevention just as we have to experiment with medical treatments. But experimentation without careful monitoring and evaluation can lead to wasted resources at best, and harm at worst. In other words, although we have been focusing largely on the criminal justice system, we cannot assume that any “non-criminal justice” program that has “crime prevention” as its goal should be supported.


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1 We have largely treated each question as an independent topic. Hence the discussion of each question is more or less independent of all other questions. This was done purposefully to make it easier for readers to access any topic without having to read the entire report.

Contents

Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews


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