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Author: Carolyn Smith
The criminal justice system is evolving with time. Gone are the days when it simply focused on long prison sentences as the only way to deal with crime. Public opinion is changing and so should the criminal justice system. There is more emphasis on attacking underlying causes and not just surface issues. More and more experts agree that crime prevention is the way to go in this situation. They assert that prison sentences, especially for non-violent offenders, only deal with the problem temporarily. They also believe that crime prevention should be the centrepiece of the criminal justice system. (Pfeiffer, p 55, 2003)
Crime prevention should be the focus of the criminal justice system because it has overwhelming public support
A Research conducted by the Heart Research Associates Inc. on the perception of the public on crime prevention found that majority of the people believed in a more pro-active rather than reactive approach. This research was conducted in the year 2002. But ten years ago, when the public was asked about what they thought about crime prevention, 42% said the criminal justice system should focus on punitive action while 48% supported crime prevention. These statistics have changed drastically with time. In 2002, when a similar research was conducted by the same research company, it was found that 65% of the public believe in dealing with root causes while 32% wanted more severe measures to take precedence in the criminal justice system. The survey also indicated the following preferences.
Source; Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc (2002): Changing Public Attitudes toward
the Criminal Justice System; Journal for Open Society Institute
Crime prevention deals with root causes
It should be noted that most of the time, there are cases in which people break the law because they have no where else to turn to. Such people normally come from deteriorating neighbourhoods. They feel that there is not much that can be done about their situation and they opt to choose crime as their only means for survival. Most of these criminals normally have very low educational backgrounds. Consequently, their options in the formal employment sector are quite limited. They need to earn a source of livelihood and still have to meet their daily needs. However, the public only offers them temporary jobs that do not pay as much. Some individuals may feel the need to deal with this lack of necessities through crime. Overly, the underlying problem is education, if the government was to invest in education of such criminals then there would be no need to commit crimes and all the other issues will fall into place. (Maguire, p 207-265, 2000)
Most criminals commit their crimes because their neighbourhoods make it easy for them to do so. In most Cities, there are certain localities that have been ignored by the governing authorities of the day to such an extent that their buildings and other infrastructural facilities are simply deplorable. It is therefore easier for criminals to break into such systems and take what they would want without to much struggle. If some investments had been made into those neighbourhoods, then there would be better facilities and better security for its residents thus discouraging crime.
Certain criminals do not have a sense of moral values. Their environment has served a fertile ground for moral deterioration. They see no benefit in caring about what other people around them may feel as a result of their actions. Consequently, most of these criminals end up committing their crimes because they do not know what is expected from them from society. Crime prevention as a strategy for crime prevention could deal with this by targeting youth offenders. Most of them could be placed in community prevention centres where they could get taught a number of societal norms. (Kenney, p23, 1998)
Many of the neighbourhoods that some of these youth come from are usually associated with low levels of family support. Some offenders may be tempted to commit crimes because they feel that they have nothing to loose. They do not feel loved and cared for and consequently have low self esteem. According to them, crime is a way of letting out some of their pent up anger and frustrations. It should be possible to prevent crimes of this nature if youth were targeted. The reason why it is useful to target the youth is because they are not yet that far gone; they are still at a point when they can be moulded and transformed. At their age, they have not hardened already. Such youth can be taught fundamental truths in and their psychological problems can be addressed adequately in community centres.
Since the issue of employment contributes to many criminal cases, crime prevention strategies can deal with that issue and eliminate the need to commit crimes due to that reason. This can be achieved through the process of instilling potential offenders with job skills. Consequently, such people will have no need to resort to crime as a means of earning a living since they have other alternatives available
Failure in past approaches
Crime prevention should take precedence within the criminal justice system because the punitive approach has failed. Most psychologists argue that when criminals are simply arrested and taken into prisons for a certain period of time, they may not feel the need to reform. They actually claim that this serves to reinforce certain criminal activities. This is because they get to interact with fellow criminal and even learn more tricks to the trade and by the time they leave their prison cells, they are worse off than when they came in. What this means is that the criminal justice system is just going around in circles; criminals commit crimes, stay in prison, then go back to where they started from. When criminals go back to their neighbourhood, the very reason why they committed their crimes in the first place still exists. They will still be faced with family problems, lack of employment and other social evils. These circumstances will propel them into crime and they will end up going back to prison. This is the reason why drug related cases still continue. Psychologists believe that criminals perform criminal behaviour because of these social pressures and they need to be addressed if the criminal justice system hopes to be effective in the future. The ultimate solution would therefore be crime prevention. (Austin, p 34, 2001)
Crime prevention would be quite favourable in drug related cases instead of punitive actions. For example, those caught should be placed in mandatory drug treatment centres. They could also be subjected to community service instead of locking them up in prison cells. There was some sort of disparity in the way the criminal justice system has been handling perpetrators. A person who has committed a burglary and another who has been caught using drugs are given more or less the same treatment through prison sentencing. This is not a fair or effective way of going about the crime problem.
It should also be noted that there may be certain individuals who lack the ability to move on with their lives because the way the criminal justice system has been in the past is that it condemns and segregates offenders. For expel, when one has been convicted to serve a prison term and they complete their term, they are not allowed to drive a car even if they have a driving licence. Besides this, they are not allowed to own houses or get certain jobs. What this does is that it frustrates them the more. Such individuals have no room to have fresh start because most of them lack public goodwill. What this does is that it encourages them to continue with a life of crime because they feel that society is already biased towards them. One can therefore conclude that the criminal justice system has not been very effective in the process of dealing with future crime incidences. Crime prevention is the only alternative to this endless cycle of crime. (Oxford Handbook of Criminology, p13, 2003)
Nipping crime at the bud
Many experts have argued that crime prevention will be more successful since most hard core criminals started out as youthful vandals who were shown the right direction. Some people have argued that the countries that have implemented crime prevention strategies have been very effective in crime stoppage. A case in point is the battle against alcohol and drug abuse in Sweden. The campaign was started by psychologist and criminologist Nils Bejerot. He believed that the drug control system used in Sweden before his reforms was quite inadequate. He asserted that if the new carriers of the drug taking habit were dealt with before hand, then there would be chances of preventing them from becoming ambassadors for the drug taking problem. He conducted an experiment in the year 1965 at Stockholm.
This psychiatrist suggested that those who had been caught by police using small amounts of drugs should be placed in treatment program that is mandatory in nature. This would go a long way in ensuring that all the future cases of drug dealing were taken care of. In line with the program, local authorities should conduct follow ups to ensure that those particular candidates stay committed to the prevention program. This has gone a long way in eliminating drug abuse cases in Sweden. Statistics testify to the effectiveness of this strategy. In Sweden only one in 1,400 may be imprisoned for possession of illegal drugs. This is such an achievement given the fact that other countries like the United States arrest about one in very 136 people for the possession of illegal drugs. It was also found that due to crime prevention in Sweden, there are much fewer chances of getting students with drugs in comparison to the seventies. Statistics have also shown that in Sweden there are less chances of drug abuse than in the entire continent of Europe. This also applies to cases of drug abuse recently and five years ago. Their crime prevention strategy has received more enforcement from the criminal justice system over the past years ago and this corresponds to less cases. Sweden does not apply its drug policy to new offenders only, it also has a follow up program for convicted offenders.
Accidents that occur due to alcohol abuse or drunk driving are quite common in countries that have not implemented certain crime prevention strategies. Local authorities should go out of their way to ensure that crimes resulting from alcohol intake are eliminated. This can be achieved by introduction of breath-testers. Drivers who exceed allowable limits should be prevented from driving by placing them into rehabilitation centres. Such a proactive approach will ensure that there will be limited cases in the future. (Cox & Wade, p 105, 1998)
Gang violence can also be prevented through the use of the overall community. The police can work hand in hand with local residents to monitor the activities of these gangs and these collaborative efforts will help police during the prevention of such kinds of offences.
There should be more emphasis on the youth in order to ensure that future crimes are not committed. Crime prevention efforts need to be directed to the youth because they account for about twenty percent of all the cases reported to the police. It was also found that those who happened to be caught once were less likely to get caught again. However, there are cases of persistent offenders that would be arrested more than once. A research conducted among these repeat offenders found that there were certain characteristics common to most of these offenders. They are as follows;
The research also identified the fact that these behavioural traits could be prevented by a strategy called early intervention. Most of these youth had potential o become worse but with the right approach more could be done to ensure that this did not continue again. Crime prevention among the youth can be made in such a way that there are coordinated efforts towards dealing with youth offenders. First of all, there can be creation of bodies to coordinate work done towards these efforts. On top of this, there should be greater involvement of other stakeholders. The police should cooperate with the departments of children and youth affairs.
Early intervention needs to be conducted in cases where families seem particularly vulnerable to future crimes. Such families are normally characterised by the traits that were listed above. These are efforts that can be conducted by the policing unit in conjunction with other local authorities. However, there may be instances when some youth are at higher risks than others. Those at higher risks need to be placed under closer and more severe programs.
Prevention of crime needs to be done through the involvement of families too. In case youth offenders have been caught, their family members need to be consulted on what they feel could be the best methods to use when tackling their child. This can be achieved through the conduction of conferences that involve law enforcement officers, social workers and the parents. This will help in unveiling some of the underlying problems and will also help in the customisation of solutions to suite specific cases. (Sherman, p 54, 1997)
Crime prevention should take the greatest precedence in the criminal justice system because it has overwhelming public support. A survey asking people what the law enforcement authorities need to prioritise indicated that there was a need to place more emphasis on crime prevention rather than other strategies. The second reason why crime prevention should take up priority in the criminal justice system is the fact that most crimes are committed as a result of certain social problems. Crime prevention identifies those problems and deals with them thereby eliminating future cases of crime. It should also be noted that past systems have not been effective in the criminal justice system. They have only enforced criminal behaviour; crime prevention is a better approach because it tackles the problem from the inside out. Lastly, countries that have prioritised crime prevention have shown statistically, that this is an effective method; their crime rates have reduced. With all this backing, crime prevention should be made top priority.
Austin, J. (2001): Sentencing Guidelines: A State Perspective; Ph.D., Executive Vice-President, journal for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency, Vol. 3, No. 8, p 34
Cox, S. & Wade, J. (1998): The Criminal Justice Network: An Introduction; New York: McGraw-Hill, p 105
Kenney, D. (1998): Crime in the Schools: A Problem-Solving Approach. Police Executive
Research Forum Journal, Vol. 8, No. 13, pp. 23
Maguire, E. (2000): Have Changes in Policing Reduced Violent Crime? Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000. pp. 207-265
Oxford Handbook of Criminology (2003); Oxford University Press, p 13
Pfeiffer, C. (2003): Trends in Juvenile Violence in European Countries; McMillan Publishers, p. 55
Sherman, L. et al (1997): Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising; Routledge Publishers, p 54
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