Reviewing The War On Crime Prevention Criminology Essay

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For a number of decades, the world has been engaged in a "war on crime" (Rosenbaum, Lurigio and Davis, 1998). During this time, a considerable segment of criminological literature has emphasised the importance of moving away from a dependence on traditional criminal justice mechanisms in combating crime (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997) and focusing attentions on expanding crime prevention policies (Sutton, Cherney & White, 2008). Despite such efforts, Western governments continue to retain an unwavering focus on fortifying and professionalising the criminal justice system (Rosenbaum et al., 1998)

Crime prevention as the solution to crime is generally deemed ineffective and unattractive within political and mass media discourse (Crawford, 1998). It is rare for politicians addressing issues of crime and crime solutions to raise the concept of prevention (Sutton et al., 2008). Instead, tremendous prominence is afforded to quick fix criminal justice policies (Lane & Henry, 2004). This dependence has been further exacerbated by public pressure on politicians to take more punitive measures to appease media fuelled anxieties regarding crime (Rosenbaum et al., 1998). In addition, the dearth of knowledge surrounding crime prevention, forces politicians either to discount prevention entirely (Rosenbaum et al., 1998) or introduce strategies based on flimsy evidence (Crawford, 1998).

Such complexities are not unique to Australia, but typify issues and dilemmas faced by nations worldwide (Crawford, 1998). Consequently, crime prevention and criminal justice are "ripe" for re-examination and reform (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997, pp. 13). Fortunately, contemporary criminologists are ideally placed to facilitate this essential international transformation (Rosenbaum et al., 1998); advocating that crime prevention, appropriately applied, is cost effective and can reduce crime (Sutton et al., 2008).

In recent years, the world has witnessed an increase in literature dedicated to promoting a global shift towards "upstream" initiatives that address the underlying causes of crime, rather than relying on the "downstream" reactive nature of the criminal justice system (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997). Nevertheless, though many politicians pay lip service to crime prevention, Western government continue to struggle with successfully articulating and maintaining coherent crime prevention initiatives (Cherney & Sutton, 2007). According to research carried out by Homel's (2005), prevention failure is often equated to an unwarranted emphasises placed on inflexible "top down" approaches to prevention design and an inadequacy of dialogue between central and local stakeholders.

Presently, the most common form of prevention design, amongst bureaucrats, is unearthing "what works" (Sutton & Cherney, 2002; Cherney & Sutton, 2007). According to this model, governments attempt to assemble a knowledge base about the effectiveness of varying crime prevention strategies, via comprehensive evaluations, to resolve divergences over the appropriate investment of scarce resources (Lane & Henry, 2004; Homel, 2009).

The "what works" technique has, however, been highly criticized as being too "top down" and "prescriptive" (Liddle & Gelsthorpe; Homel, 2005; Australian Institute of Criminology- AIC, 2006). Specifically, this regulatory "recipe book" approach to policy design promotes governments utilising resources to identify and replicate successful strategies for conventional implementation, whilst demonstrating no regard for local contexts (Liddle & Gelsthorpe, 1994; AIC, 2006). Although collecting and distributing expert data on successful initiatives is a fundamental role of the central government, unaided expert knowledge does not promote program traction and creditability amongst individuals and grassroots organisations responsible for implementation (Cherney & Sutton, 2007). Many policy markers place unwarranted emphasis on specialist expertise and perceive it to be habitually superior to grassroots assessments (Homel, 2009). However, as highlighted by Liddle and Gelsthorpe (1994), "off the shelf" expert driven policy designs which have no corresponding knowledge about the local context are bound to fail.

Historically, crime prevention program design has been based on locally disconnected expert knowledge, with programs being delivered by the state via strict hierarchical top-down decision making and communication channels (Goris & Walters, 1999; Homel, 2005). In the current climate, however, this top down approach is increasingly inadequate as communities and individuals now insist on integrated, community specific services, as well as a voice in crime prevention design (Goris & Walters, 1999; Brown & Keast, 2003). Ultimately, the present day context requires policies to be conceived via dynamic dialogue between central and local partners (Cherney & Sutton, 2007).

According to numerous criminological experts, including O'Malley & Sutton (1997), Crawford (1998) and Rosenbaum et al. (1998), inadequate program evaluation is the principal factor in the failure of many prevention initiatives. Accordingly, existing knowledge surrounding the effectiveness of prevention initiatives remains increasingly deficient due to a dearth in satisfactory funding of large scaled evaluations of optimistic schemes (Crawford, 1998; Rosenbaum et al., 1998). As highlighted by Crawford (1998), comprehensive methodological analysis within the realm of prevention is merely an expectation rather than a standard practice, with evaluations often an after thought in policy formation.

Evaluation ignorance is a by-product of society's fixation with cost effectiveness (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997). In the current climate of budget restraints and cost cutting, contemporary politicians do not wish to partake in expensive long term meta- evaluation of initiatives, rather they only seek to analyse programs in terms of short term monetary values (Sutton et al., 2008). Quantifying crime prevention into cost benefits is progressively attractive in the political realm and has been adopted by administrations of varying political hues due to its ability to reassure taxpayers that they are getting value for their money (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997).

Nevertheless, the employment of cost benefit analyses is highly problematic, with complications arising within the criteria that eliminates or includes programs from policy deliberation. A number of academics have suggested that cost benefit evaluations demand prevention initiatives produce observable outcomes within quixotically short periods (Crawford, 1998). Governments seek short term crime prevention techniques not so much because they effectively reduce crime, but because they are cheap, produce swift measurable outcomes and also create the illusion of rapid governmental action (Grabosky, 1996). Framed in this light, governments tend to favour situational methods of prevention (Rosenbaum et al., 1998). Whilst a comprehensive analysis of situational prevention pitfalls is not within the scope of this paper, it is critical to highlight that whilst such schemes are glorified by politicians as cost effective, situational initiatives actually carry a "large price tag" in society (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997). Long term use of such techniques tends to absorb considerable amounts of time, energy and expenditure, without offering a warranted reduction in crime (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997; Lane & Henry, 2004).

The wide gap in the literature in relation to comprehensive prevention initiative evaluations has left society with insignificant expertise about which forms of interventions are successful and within which contexts (Crawford, 1998; Sutton et al., 2008). The challenge before Australia, and the world, therefore, is to engage in detailed evaluation of crime prevention schemes to uncover effective solutions (Rosenbaum et al., 1998) rather than continentally embarking on wasteful and misconceived adventures (Crawford, 1998).

The current knowledge base concerning effective methods of crime prevention design and evaluation is progressively deficient (Rosenbaum et al., 1998). In the absence of sound research, how then can we account for the increased attractiveness of contemporary community crime prevention initiatives (Sutton et al., 2008)? According to O'Malley and Palmer (1996), the shift towards community prevention policies is not unique to Australia, but reflective of a change in discourse amongst governments, of varying political hues, all around the world. Underlying this movement rests the current dominating political rationality of neo liberalism (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997; Crawford, 1998), which accentuates the importance of responsibilising and authorising communities, individuals and organisations (Grabosky, 1996; Stenson & Sullivan, 2001).

Despite the community crime prevention idiom eliciting images of shared values and social cohesion, in reality, academics, such as O'Malley (1994) and O'Malley and Palmer (1996), assert that the rhetoric is merely a guise in which central authorities endeavour to liberate themselves from the burden of social control responsibilities. Distinctively, contemporary community prevention initiatives are nothing more than a vessel in which governments can recoil their protective responsibilities and coerce individuals and communities to become accountable for their own security and wellbeing (Sutton et al., 2008). Moreover, Crawford (1998) has stated that transferring the burden of prevention also relocates the weight of blame for unsuccessful schemes. Accordingly, the state is no longer answerable for the failings of prevention initiatives or the inability to stem rising crime rates, the problem is one for the individual (Crawford, 1998).

Additionally, the rendering of communities responsible for their own safety works to exacerbate societal inequality and social injustices, not resolve them (O'Malley & Palmer, 1996). Neo liberalism has created an enduring "marketisation of crime control", allowing security and safety measures to become a commodity for individual purchase, ownership and upgrade (Crawford, 1998, pp. 245). However, in the modern crime climate, in which transgressions are disproportionately recorded in areas of low economic and socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods (Grabosky, 1996; Sutton et al., 2008), certain communities, ethnic groups and individuals are not all equally proficient to safeguard themselves (Crawford, 1998). Many of those who require increased protection are powerless to withstand the pressures of the competing "crime control" market (Stenson & Sullivan, 2001).

Consequently, community safety mechanisms within a neo liberal society that encourage consumer consumption and competition, rather than sustaining self regulating communities, actually erode factors of informal social control networks and social cohesion that aid in preventing crime (O'Malley & Palmer, 1996).

The characteristic response by western governments toward issues of crime and deviance is to "throw" sizeable sums of money at criminal justice solutions (Rosenbaum et al., 1998), which, over the last decade, now command the lions share of public attention, rapid budget growth and increased personnel (Sutton et al., 2008). Criminal justice, or law and order policies, have become "ensnarled in the political maelstrom" (Gest, 2001, pp. 251), especially during the lead up to an election (Sarre, 2006). More law and order, rather than better crime prevention policies, shape the foundation of politician's "bids when staging auctions for the support of swinging voter" (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997, pp. 8). Such policies tend to be taken hostage by governments because they signify a "tough on crime" stance that offers to provide safer streets and communities (Gilling, 1997; Weatherburn, 2004). Politicians observed as neglecting punitive responses toward crime are denounced as being "soft on crime"; a fact that jeopardises electoral chances (Gest, 2001). Fashioned in this manner, it is not surprising that the drum beat of bureaucratic power struggles usually obscures any genuine debate about the most effective and logical direction to solving crime (O' Malley & Sutton, 1997).

The need for "tough on crime" policies if further exacerbated by media fuelled fear and malevolence, which has lead to a societal hunger for retribution (Sarre, 2006). The mass media play a vital role in structuring and reflecting (Dowler, 2003; Carli, 2008) the public's intimate fears and sensibilities about security and crime (Stenson & Sullivan, 2001). A universal premise, however, is that the media are inclined to hyper-sensationalise crime, unduly accentuating and distorting reality (American Society of Criminology- ASC, 2010). Ultimately, this melodramatic portrayal of deviance has resulted in the fanning of public apprehensions about the threat of crime, and thus bolstering public pressure for more putative crime control solutions (Stenson & Sullivan, 2001; Dowler, 2003).

Western Governments unwavering support for criminal justice policies has led to the proliferation of criminal sanctions, upsurge of police numbers and generated substantial prison populations (Rosenbaum et al., 1998). Nevertheless, whilst the cost of managing a multibillion dollar criminal justice system has become a substantial burden to the taxpayer, there is little research to support the underlying premise that law and order policies actually help to decrease crime and disorder (Stenson & Sullivan, 2001). Moreover, there is a danger that money which may well have been spent on more promising alternatives of crime prevention are being diverted into appeasing the growing costs and preoccupation with law and order (Crawford, 1998; Rosenbaum et al., 1998).

As highlighted by Crawford (1998), there is a considerable amount of pressure for crime prevention success stories amongst the mass media, public and politicians. Distinctively, if crime prevention initiatives demonstrate a capacity to generate positive evaluative research in reducing crime, political bodies and public support will follow (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997). However, given the scarcity of prevention knowledge, criminologists have failed to stimulate the imaginations of governments around the world. Thus, society has witnessed either ignorance of prevention, or the implementation of programs based on fragile data (Crawford, 1998). For society to begin winning the "war" on crime, greater emphasis needs to be placed on more rigorous empirical research into the suitability, efficiency and value of particular strategies (Gest, 2001). Scrupulous evaluation can assist in isolating ineffective strategies and identify whether their failure can be attributed to theory, implementation or evaluation, thus providing crucial knowledge to prevent the constant reinvention of the wheel (Crawford, 1998).

As mention earlier, politicians tend to focus primarily on cost benefit analysis as a means of evaluating prevention schemes (O'Malley & Sutton, 1997). However, as social criminologists argue, such evaluations are particularly unaccommodating toward the long term and disperse impacts of social crime prevention initiatives, which aim to tackle the inherent "root causes" of crime (Rosenbaum et al., 1998). A key exemplar of a social prevention initiative is the 1962 Perry Preschool Program which began in Michigan. The Perry study, renowned as one of the finest longitudinal enquiries in the western world, assessed the consequences of early childhood intervention within children living in poor low socioeconomic communities (Schweinhart, Montie, Xiang, Barnett, Belfield, & Nores, 2005). The study's conclusions supported the hypothesis that suffiencent education and schooling promotes economically dependant and responsible children in the future, thus decreasing the risk of partaking in criminal behaviours (Welsh & Farrington, 2000, Lawrence et al. 2005). According to a longitudinal cost analysis of the program, the impact of the study translated into substantial savings for both the participants and society at large (Lawrence et al. 2005). Welsh and Farrington (2000) documented overall, the financial profit for the initiative equated to approximated $88,433 per participant, with the greatest savings linked to the justice system ($12,796) and crime victims ($57,585). Ultimately, the total saving ratio for the study denotes that for every dollar spent on the program, $7.16 was returned to the public (Welsh & Farrington, 2000).

With figures such as this, it must be asserted that the social prevention model, on which the Perry Study is based, deserves far more attention in political debates on crime control due to its capacity to produce apparent savings and reductions in crime (Rosenbaum et al., 1998; Lane & Henry, 2004). For this movement to transpire, however, politicians need to exceed the clinch of assessing initiatives based on short term cost benefits, and acknowledge that prevention is a long term initiative which can not be reduced to a quick fix solution (Crawford, 1998).

Within the last four decades, several academics and criminologists have reacted in anticipation to repeat political proclamations that governments have "rediscovered" crime prevention and are prepared to commit resources to the development and implementation of programmes and strategies (Sutton et al., 2008). However, as highlighted by Sutton & Cherney (2002), there is little substantiation within criminological research to demonstrate that this "rediscovery" has paved the way for governments around the world to renounce support for punitive criminal justice based solutions (Cherney & Sutton, 2007). Criminal justice or law and order policies continue to dominate policy discourse due to its perceived ability garner votes from the media induced retributive demands of the public (Weatherburn, 2004; Carli, 2008).

Ultimately, subsequent decades will undoubtedly continue to depict western nations grappling to combat crime and deviance (Gilling, 1997), unless governments begin to embrace criminological research which highlights the benefits and effectiveness of properly applied crime prevention scheme (Cherney & Sutton, 2007). Investment in crime prevention provides a critical channel for the reduction of crime and enhancement in the quality of life within communities, whilst concurrently demonstrating an ability to decrease the widespread, economic and social, cost of the criminal justice systems (Crawford, 1998). To avoid the dystopian scenarios that result from crime prevention ignorance or ineffective application, as outlined in this paper, governments need to rise to the challenge of asking normative questions about "what works" and seek to uncover long term solutions, rather than brushing aside issues of safety and security (Stenson & Sullivan, 2001). It remains to be seen, however, weather western governments will have the courage to address such issues (Crawford, 1998).