Preventing Crime: What Works Research Proposal

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¶ … Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising" by Lawrence W. Sherman, Denise C. Gottfredson, Doris L. MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn D. Bushway

According to Sherman, one of the major problems with modern crime prevention programs is that many of them simply do not work. However, society continues to put resources into these programs, largely because they have not been appropriately evaluated, making it possible to determine which ones are successful and which ones are unsuccessful. Not only is this lack of effective evaluation a waste of resources, it also creates the potential for a public backlash against crime prevention programs, because it increases the likelihood that public funds will be used on ineffective programs. While Sherman believes that there is not enough evidence available to conclusively determine the effectiveness of the various programs, he does find that there is sufficient evidence to determine which programs are successful, which are clearly unsuccessful, and which programs seem to be promising. Concentrating funding efforts on programs that have been prove to work, as well as on additional research into the effectiveness of promising strategies, is a necessary step in the implementation of an effective crime-prevention regime.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Research Proposal on Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Assignment

The article began by explaining that there is a problem with how crime prevention programs are evaluated. By 1996, federal law mandated an independent, scientific review of state and local crime prevention programs, geared at measuring the reduction in juvenile delinquency and gang related crime, reductions in risk factors for criminal behavior, and increases in protective factors shown to reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior. (Sherman, 1998, p.75). The University of Maryland's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice performed the review, which looked at any program that resulted in less crime than without the practice. Furthermore, the review examined programs that claimed to reduce crime or drug abuse rates. The review classified programs into seven settings: community, family, school, labor markets, places, police, and post-arrest criminal justice agencies. The focus of the review was whether or not there was scientific evidence favoring the types of programs that are eligible for funding, by examining whether they could accomplish their goals.

Sherman acknowledged that a scientific approach to evaluating these programs had strengths and weaknesses. The major weakness was that scientific knowledge could not necessarily be generalized from one population to another, making the results of each study provisional. (Sherman, 1998, p.76). Furthermore, no causal-relationship can ever be conclusively proved in science, merely disproved. However, the scientific method has a major strength, which is that scientific evaluation can provide consistent and objective ways to determine cause and effect. (Sherman, 1998, p.76). There are widely agreed-upon rules for determining the statistics involved in scientific studies, which help researchers determine the validity and reliability of those studies.

To determine whether or not a program was effective, the review examined whether the programs had a demonstrated impact on reducing crime and delinquency. First, the reviewers identified and reviewed reports evaluating the effectiveness of crime prevention programs, by examining impact reports rather than process evaluation reports. Furthermore, the review concentrated on the impact the programs had on crime reduction and did not consider other social issues. The reviewers limited their search mainly to published reports and reports available through the National Institute of Justice, acknowledging that there was a large body of literature about crime prevention that was not included in the report. To rank the effectiveness of the program, the reviewers developed and used the Maryland Scale of Scientific Methods. This scale permitted them to rank studies from 1 to 5 on overall internal validity. The researchers defined the Maryland Scale of Scientific Methods' five levels as follows: level one measured correlation between a program and a single measurement of crime in a point in time; level two reflected an observation of temporal sequence between the program and the crime or risk outcome observed, or, in the alternative, the presence of a control group lacking demonstrated comparability; level three involved a comparison between two comparable groups, one exposed to the program and one unexposed; level four involved comparisons between multiple comparable units with and without the program; level five involved randomization of program subjects, and an analysis of the study with control groups. (Sherman, 1998, p.78) They also used an overall rating system, which considered: control of other variables in the study, measurement error, and statistical issues such as study size. The reviewers recognized four main threats to validity: causal direction; history or other external factors that could have impacted the outcome; chance factors; and selection bias. (Sherman, 1998, p.78).

Based on the above scale, the researchers divided the studied programs into four categories: what works, what doesn't work, what's promising, and what's unknown. The what works category consisted of programs that had "at least two level 3 evaluations with statistical significance tests and the preponderance of all available evidence showing effectiveness." (Sherman, 1998, p. 79). The what doesn't work category consisted of programs that had "at least two level 3 evaluations with statistical significance tests showing ineffectiveness and the preponderance of all available evidence supporting the same conclusion." (Sherman, 1998, p.79). The what's promising category reflected programs that did not have a substantial amount of available evidence, but that had "at least one level 3 evaluation and the preponderance of the remaining evidence." (Sherman, 1998, p. 79). The unknown category was reserved for any program not fitting into the three other categories.

The program found a number of programs that work, though it found no community programs that fit into that category. In families, it found that home visits for infants reduced child abuse and injury to those infants. Preschool and home visits for preschool-aged children also reduced the likelihood those children would be arrested while a juvenile and into early adulthood. Family therapy and parent training were both found to be successful in reducing risk factors for delinquency. In schools, the review found that using school teams or similar strategies could reduce crime and delinquency. Moreover, clarifying expectations and behavioral norms reduces crime, delinquency, and substance abuse. Life skill training can reduce delinquency and substance abuse. Coaching in thinking skills can help high-risk students reduce substance abuse. In labor markets, ex-offender training helps reduce recidivism. In places, nuisance abatement proceedings can help reduce drug dealing and crime. By police, increased patrol of high crime areas can reduce crime in those areas. Monitoring of repeat offenders can reduce the number of crimes recidivist repeat between incarcerations. Arresting domestic abusers reduces domestic violence in some communities. In the post-arrest scenario, incarceration does prevent additional crimes, at least during the time of incarceration and with civilian victims. However, rehabilitation programs that use treatments appropriate to the risk posed by the offender can reduce recidivism rates. Finally, drug treatment during incarceration can reduce the risk of incarceration. (Sherman, 1998, p.80).

While the reviewers found that many programs were effective, they also discovered that many programs are ineffective. In communities, both gun buyback programs and community mobilization of residents in high-crime areas have failed to reduce crime. In families, they discovered that follow-up visits by police officers do not reduce domestic violence, and that arrests of unemployed offenders actually increase the rate of domestic violence in those scenarios. Raids or arrests in high-drug-traffic areas only have a very temporary positive impact on the crime rate in those areas, if they have one at all. Storefront police offices do not prevent crime in the surrounding areas, nor do police newsletters discussing local crime reduce local victimization rates. There are some post-arrest programs that are ineffective as well, including: military-style boot camps, scared straight programs for juvenile offenders, shock probation or parole programs, electronic monitoring of home detainees, intensive supervision while on parole or probation, rehabilitation programs using non-specific counseling, and rural residential programs for juvenile offenders. (Sherman, 1998, p.81-82).

There were several programs that were promising. In communities, gang offender monitoring, community-based mentoring, and community based afterschool recreation programs all showed promise. In families, battered women's shelters reduced the short-term rate of repeat victimization. In schools, grouping students into smaller units for specific programs, training or coaching in thinking skills, using school teams to sustain innovation, and improved classroom management and instructional techniques all showed promise for reducing delinquency or substance abuse. In labor markets, job corps, prison-based vocational educational programs, dispersing inner-city public-housing residents to suburban public housing, and the establishment of enterprise zones all showed promise. In places, adding additional clerks to previously targeted convenience stores, redesigning the layout of retail stores, improved training of bar and tavern staff, the use of metal detectors in schools and airports, the use of sky marshals on airplanes, street closures, target hardening, and site-and-crime specific target analysis seemed to suggest a reduction in crime rates. By the police, proactive arrests of people carrying concealed, proactive breath tests for drunk drivers, community policing, policing with greater respect for offenders, field interrogations of suspicious persons, mailing arrest warrants to domestic violence offenders who… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Preventing Crime: What Works."  March 29, 2009.  Accessed October 26, 2020.