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Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

Volume 5


Crime prevention through community development is not a specific crime prevention program. It would be more accurate to classify it as a crime prevention philosophy or orientation. The crime-prevention-through-community-development (CPCD) philosophy maintains that, in order to address crime and promote social justice, the root causes of crime must be addressed. Community development, it is argued, can do this by changing negative influences within the social, economic, educational and environmental domains (see Bursik and Grasmick, 1993). As described by Acosta and Chavis (2007: 651), “Community development occurs when community residents establish their own organizations to support long-term community problem solving, with the goals of improving the quality of life for all residents, reducing social inequalities such as poverty and racism, upholding democratic values, encouraging residents to reach their potential, and creating a sense of community in which people work together to accomplish goals.”

Compared with individual programs, the community development philosophy provides a much more comprehensive and sustainable model for crime prevention. One comprehensive community development model is known as the weed and seed strategy. Weeding refers the identification and removal of criminals from specific neighbourhoods. Seeding refers to intensive community-development strategies designed to reduce poverty and inequality, improve housing, increase employment and educational opportunities, reduce racism, and increase levels of youth engagement. Weeding and seeding are typically accomplished through four interconnected strategies (Acosta and Chavis, 2007):

  1. Law enforcement weeds out violent offenders by coordinating and integrating efforts in high-crime neighbourhoods. The establishment of special anti-violence units or guns and gangs task forces can be used to accomplish these goals.
  2. Community policing is used next to repair the damage done by aggressive policing tactics. Community policing efforts are also used to increase community involvement in crime prevention and increase community confidence in the criminal justice system.
  3. Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation strategies are developed and implemented to address the risk and protective factors associated with neighbourhood crime and violence.
  4. Neighbourhood revitalization and restoration efforts are fully supported and implemented. Economic development initiatives are used to strengthen community institutions and revitalize physical, educational, economic, social and recreational conditions within specific communities.

However, according to the evaluation literature, weed and seed initiatives have only been somewhat successful. The problem is that, in North America, governments tend to heavily fund the “weed” part of the equation without adequately funding the “seed” component (see the extensive discussion of this issue in Waller, 2006). In many cases, the bulk of available resources are allocated to policing and corrections activities, while very little funding is provided to community development initiatives. For example, a recent analysis revealed that over two-thirds of the financial resources extended for gang reduction in Los Angeles was allocated to police suppression efforts. Less than a third was allocated to community crime prevention or community development (see Justice Policy Institute, 2007). Under such circumstances, individual criminals and gang members are often arrested and convicted, only to be replaced by the next generation of offenders who have experienced the same levels of economic and social marginalization as their predecessors have.

It should also be noted that, unless they are accompanied by strong community policing and community development initiatives, aggressive policing tactics can have a negative impact on community conditions, contribute to the alienation and frustration of minority youth, and ultimately contribute to violent crime. Research indicates, for example, that heavy-handed suppression efforts can increase gang cohesion and aggravate police-community tensions (see Justice Policy Institute, 2007; Decker, 2007; Skogan, 2006; Klein and Maxson, 2006).

It is understandable, however, why tough-on-crime, police suppression techniques remain popular. First of all, although research suggests that harsh punishment does not deter crime, it does provide retribution and a sense that justice has been done. When a violent crime takes place, the majority of people in Canadian society want to see the offender brought to justice. Police suppression efforts can provide this form of immediate gratification. During the moral panic that often accompanies high-profile violent incidents, the general public often demands immediate action. The police are typically the only organization that can satisfy this need. The investment of millions of dollars into a special guns and gang unit, for example, might soon result in a number of high-profile arrests that can be effectively communicated through the news media. By contrast, most effective crime prevention efforts, including community development initiatives, take decades before they can demonstrate positive results.


The discussion provided in the chapters above have highlighted a number of proven and promising programs that can help reduce youth crime and violence. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to identify a single, perfect program that will prevent violence and criminality for all youth. One size does not fit all. It is clear, therefore, that an individualized case management strategy may be the most promising way of dealing with individuals. It is also clear that youth may require more than one type of program in order to avoid violence and other negative life outcomes. There is a popular African proverb that states, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Consistent with this theme, evaluation research suggests that it may take a community of effective programs to prevent youth crime and violence.

But how can the administration of so many programs be properly managed? How can we ensure that the correct constellation of prevention programs reach the right children and youth? Many scholars have come to believe that we must create a centralized governance body, perhaps a crime prevention department or ministry, in order to effectively manage the implementation and administration of these programs (see Waller, 2006; Welsh and Farrington, 2007).

In conclusion, when considering the prevention of youth violence, the following principles should be taken into account:

Of course it is equally important to highlight programs that have been proven to be only marginally effective or ineffective at reducing youth violence by high-quality evaluation research. A list of such approaches, identified by our literature review, is provided below. It should be noted that although these programs are of questionable benefit when it comes to the reduction of youth violence, they may have other benefits.


Acosta, J. and D. Chavis. (2007). Build the capacity of communities to address crime. Criminology and Public Policy, 6(4), 651–662.

Bursik, R. and H. Grasmick. (1993). Neighbourhoods and Crime: The Dimensions of Effective Community Control. New York: Lexington Books.

Decker, S. (2007). Expand the use of police gang units. Criminology and Public Policy, 6 (4), 729–734.

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

Klein, M. and C. Maxson. (2006). Street Gang Patterns and Policies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Skogan, W. (2006). Asymmetry in the impact of encounters with police. Policing and Society 16 (2), 99–126.

Waller, Irving. (2006). Less Law, More Order. Westport, CT: Praeger.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews