Youth Crime Prevention
Youth and Crime: The Need for a Prevention Strategy
There is considerable debate over the issue of whether the level or the seriousness of offences committed by youth has increased in recent years. Those who feel it has point to statistical evidence of increased youth involvement in certain types of crimes.
This position is also often supported by our personal experience of victimization, and our collective exposure to media reports of dramatic incidents involving young offenders. Others, however, argue that some of the apparent increase in official rates is a result of lower tolerance on the part of the public, and of an increasing tendency to use the formal justice system rather than community based or interpersonal solutions in response to offending by young people.
In any case, there seems little doubt that there are increasing levels of concern among the public about the problem of youth crime and an increased understanding that most adult offenders start committing offences as youth and, thus, intervention must occur early to be beneficial.
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3 The focus is on youth because research shows that early onset of delinquent and aggressive behaviour is the single best predictor of prolonged involvement with the criminal justice system.5 Thus, the intent of prevention focusing on youth is to reduce the occurrence and/or delay the onset of the initiation of delinquent behaviour. In other words, if a comprehensive crime prevention strategy for youth is developed and implemented, it would have the short-term effect of lowering the number of youth processed by the criminal justice system, thus saving both time and money, and the long-term effect of actually lowering the rates of crime and victimization, thus making the role of police less reactive.
The term "crime prevention," in the broadest sense, encompasses any activity that has the effect of reducing crime.6 It includes a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from the social development approach to the prevention of opportunity through to deterrence. These include diversion of offenders prior to charging and dealing with offenders after sentence.7 A comprehensive strategy for crime prevention would include a complete range of activities covering all levels of intervention and elements of the crime event.
8 The problem of youth crime is complex and requires the involvement of the families, communities, schools, and often other agencies, to develop and implement prevention initiatives.
Focus on the Causes of Criminal Behaviour
In dealing with youth and children it is very important to understand the causes of criminal behaviour. Risk factors, such as early onset of delinquent behaviour, family violence, lack of support and supervision, substance abuse, etc., should become the focus for prevention programs. The social development approach is particularly well-suited for dealing with the causes of delinquency.
Consideration of Victims’ Needs
A lack of support for victims can result in continued victimization, causing further suffering for the victim. The provision of victim support services to deal with the effects of the crime are essential for responding effectively. The interests of other victims and potential victims need to be recognized and addressed as well.
The use of alternatives to the traditional court system allows more involvement of victims in the process. If the victims wish to be involved in mediation or victim/offender reconciliation this should be actively encouraged.
Tertiary prevention involves the full range of responses that occur after a crime has been committed. The vast majority of the activities of the criminal justice system are tertiary interventions. The objective is to rehabilitate or incapacitate the offender (deter recidivism), deter others who might consider similar behaviour, and repair some of the damage done to the victim. At present, most of the activity in this area concentrates on detecting, convicting, and sanctioning offenders.
The major limitation of the public health model described above is the fact that it is grounded in the principles of pure science and implies that causes of crime are as identifiable as the causes of disease. Unfortunately, social science is not as exact a discipline as health science. It is based on associations and probabilities as opposed to certain specific causes. Further, there is often inadequate and sometimes conflicting evidence regarding the validity of specific causes.3 This raises the possibility of mislabeling a specific individual as a potential criminal because of his or her history and social circumstances or, on the other hand, mislabeling someone as unlikely to commit crime because of their positive social environment when in fact they are involved in crime.
4.1.2 Where -- The Focus of Prevention
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
A prevention initiative must identify one or more specific targets upon which a proposed
program can have an impact. The design of an initiative must consider the full range of target options. This requires a focus on all the aspects of a criminal event, which include an offender(s), a victim(s), and a situation(s) which brings these people together.4
The focus on the offender turns our attention to the issue of the motivation of a criminal act (e.g., Why is the individual tempted?; Are there social factors that place the individual at greater risk?), and to the ability of that same individual to exercise sufficient self-control over criminal motives. The thrust of offender-based strategies is to reduce the social conditions believed to contribute to criminal activity, reduce the levels of criminal motivation, or increase the capacity of individuals to exercise self-control.
The focus on the situation shifts the attention to the opportunity to commit a criminal act, and to the levels of external control on individuals or groups. The main thrust here is on attempts to make 46 offending more difficult or less rewarding, or to increase the probability that an offender will be identified and caught.
The focus on the victim raises the issue of the relative vulnerability of certain individuals or
groups to criminal victimization. The thrust of intervention in this area is on improving the ability of potential victims to manage risk more effectively, and on providing the necessary support and assistance necessary to allow people to reduce their exposure to risk.
A Conceptual Framework for Crime Prevention
The discussion of the possible levels and targets of a prevention initiative can be combined into a typology of prevention options.5 The typology presented in Table 4.1 allows us to identify the range of elements and components that should be considered in the development of a comprehensive prevention strategy.
Community Crime Prevention
The objective of this strategy is to supplement the work and resources of the police by
improving the capacity of a community to supervise and control potential offenders. The emphasis is on increasing informal social control, usually through programs such as Neighbourhood Watch, which recruit members of the community on a volunteer basis as the "eyes and ears" of the justice system.
Tertiary PreventionThe assumption is that this will provide more information to the police and the courts, thus allowing them to improve their rate of arrests and convictions. The theory is that this will deter offenders and thus improve community safety. Unfortunately, the research on this type of programs is not always supportive or encouraging: there is little indication that crime rates are reduced, and it appears that these programs are extremely difficult to set up in the communities that need them the most.6
Traditionally, the criminal justice system has intervened largely at the tertiary level, that is, after an offence has been reported. The overwhelming focus of attention has been on the identification, arrest, prosecution and conviction of offenders. The shift to a focus on prevention of recidivism and the integration of the offender provides a context for the discussion of the general strategy of diversion as an option for dealing with the needs and concerns of victims, offenders, and communities in a more effective and cost efficient manner. A discussion of strategic options for the design and implementation of diversion programs can be found in Chapter 6.0 of this manual.
In the area of policing, the problem is to identify and implement policing strategies that
maximize the ability to reduce recidivism and ideally, to deter others from getting involved in offending. Traditionally, the role of the police has been to deliver prosecutable cases to the Crown prosecutor for processing -- the assumption being that successful prosecutions and sentences would have the best effect on both recidivism and general deterrence.
However, the recognition of the broad range of risk factors associated with the development of persistent offending offers an alternative to this approach. The lesson from the research on persistent offenders is that success is most likely in situations where the full range of problems faced by the individual are addressed by early intervention. In practical terms, this means designing intervention strategies that reflect the knowledge we have of risk factors.
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Thinking errors involves young people (under the age of 18 years old) attempting to alter the truth and to ignore taking accountability for their actions and repercussions. There are many common thinking errors that young offenders may use.
- Blaming: a young individual\person who justifies their negative behaviour as being due to someone else initiating the incident they have committed.
E.g. it was not my fault, she started it.
- Assuming: a young individual\person may assume they know what another person is thinking or feeling and will often act before verifying the details.
E.g. he looked at me funny as if he wanted to fight so before he hit me I hit him.
- Minimising: the young individual\person will try to make what he or she did seem less bad.
E.g. I didn’t crash the car that badly, it can still start.
- Telling lies: a young individual\person tries to lie about what he or she have done.
E.g. I didn’t steal that lady’s handbag, she dropped it and I picked it up.
- Coming up with excuses’: a young person constantly making up excuses for their action.
E.g. but I really didn’t see her there I thought it was my toy gun not a real gun that was loaded.
Thinking errors are created through faulty understanding of facts. Everyone engages in thinking errors at some point in time and it doesn’t automatically render into a life of criminality but many young people engage in criminal behaviour, and will use thinking errors to validate their wrong doings or actions.