Strategies: Psyching Out Crime

(Psychology today January/February 1999)

When it comes to preventing crime, our justice system hasn't wanted for innovative ideas.   What it has lacked is proof that any of these initiatives have been truly effective.  Until now.  A report commissioned by the National Institute of Justice (U.S.) takes a hard look at what stops crime and what doesn't.  "This study is an attempt to make scientific evidence, not political philosophy, the primary basis for saying what works to prevent crime," says Lawrence Sherman, Ph.D., professor of criminology at the University of Maryland and lead author of the report.   The strategies that are most effective have a psychological bent - and they begin early.  Some of the findings:
What works

* Nurses' visits to the homes of high-risk infants
* Head Start-type programs, especially those that include weekly visits by teachers to students' homes
* Establishing anti-bullying programs in schools
* Family therapy and parent training about delinquent and at-risk preadolescents
* Life-skills classes taught in elementary and high schools
* Training or coaching in thinking skills for high risk youth
* Rehabilitation programs that are focused on offender risk factors, such as illiteracy

What Doesn't

* Arrests of juveniles for minor offenses
* "Scared Straight" programs, which take juvenile offenders on a tour of maximum security prisons to show them the severity of prison conditions
* Military-style correctional boot camps
* Shock probation, shock parole and split sentences, in which offenders are incarcerated for a short period at the beginning of the sentence and then supervised in the community
* Detention at home with electronic monitoring
* Increased arrests or raids on drug markets
* Intensive supervision on parole or probation
* Gun buy-back programs