Crime Prevention in America Juvenile crime in the United States is ballooning out of control along with adult crimes, and politicians and law enforcement officials don?t seem to be able to do anything about it. Despite tougher sentencing laws, longer probation terms, and all other efforts of lawmakers, the crime and recidivism rates in our country can?t seem to be reduced or even kept stable. The failure of these recent measures along with new research and studies by county juvenile delinquency programs point to the only real cure to the U.S.?s crime problem: prevention programs. The rising crime rates in the United States are of much worry to most of the U.S.?s citizens, and seems to be gaining a sense of urgency. Crime ranks highest in nationwide polls as Americans? biggest concern (Daltry 22). For good reason- twice as many people have been victims of crimes in the 1990s as in the 1970s (Betts 36). Four times as many people under the age of eighteen were arrested for homicide with a handgun in 1993 than in 1983 (Schiraldi 11A). These problems don?t have a quick fix solution, or even an answer that everyone can agree on. A study by the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy has found no deterrent effects of the ?Three Strikes and You?re Out? law recently put into effect by politicians (Feinsilber 1A). It has been agreed however that there is not much hope of rehabilitating criminals once started on a life of crime. Criminologist David Kuzmeski sums up this feeling by saying, ?If society wants to protect itself from violent criminals, the best way it can do it is lock them up until they are over thirty years of age…. I am not aware of any treatment that has been particularly successful.? The problem with his plan is that our country simply doesn?t have the jail space, or money to hold criminals for large periods of time. There is no apparent way to stop career criminals. Over seventy percent of people who commit crimes will commit another crime within five years (Jackson County 1), and counseling criminals works primarily only with children before their criminal lives start (Feinsilber 1A). So the next obvious solution since incarceration and rehabilitation programs have little to no effect is preventing young people from starting committing serious offenses in the first place. Most criminals have the same backgrounds in common. The majority of offenders come from areas of high poverty, have little education, or have had unstable family lives with broken homes or drug use in the family. Boys whose fathers have served time in prison are very likely to end up in prison themselves when older (Howell 37). Over thirty percent of children in the US live in homes with only one parent (Betts 36). These children are at a much higher risk than children with both parents, and often have no male role model. The experts have been able to find the causes of most of the crime in our country, and have been able to pinpoint high risk youngsters. The next step is developing plans to reduce their risks and get them headed toward more positive activities in their lives. So far, the most successful ways of changing troubled youths? lives have been through community action programs that give youngsters positive outlets for their emotions, and hobbies or activities for them to focus their time on which keep them away from harmful situations. A study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has shown that community prevention programs have been proven to reduce risks and enhance protective factors against crime, violence, and substance abuse (Howell 56). Dr. D. A. Andrews has come up with a list of standards to help make these prevention programs successful, and make sure that they deal with the problems in ways that will make changes in juveniles? lives. His Nine Principles for Effective Delinquency Prevention and Intervention are as follows: 1. Address the highest priority problem areas and identify strengths to which children in a particular community are exposed. 2. Focus most strongly on populations exposed to a number of risk factors. 3. Address problem areas and identify strengths early and at developmental stages. 4. Address multiple risk factors in multiple settings such as family, schools, and peer groups. 5. Offer comprehensive interventions across many systems including health and education and deal with many respects of juveniles lives. 6. Must be intensive and involve multiple weekly or daily contacts with at risk juveniles. 7. Build on strengths, rather than deficiencies. 8. Deal with relationships to others rather than solely on individual 9. Provide clear, consistent response to negative behavior (Andrews 1). There are several organizations that have been developed that fit these principles, and have started making a difference to our nation?s future already. One thing that makes these organizations successful is that they are specifically aimed at particular age groups, which helps to concentrate on correcting and reducing certain behaviors, negative influences and risks at each stage. Programs such as Parent-Child Interact Training, Healthy Start, Head Start, and Educare help to get a child off on the right foot from pre-birth into early elementary school. Parent-Child Interact and Healthy Start educate low-income and low-education parents on how to best take care of themselves and their infants so as to gain optimum health and reduce ill-effects from such things as drug abuse, malnutrition, and neglect ( 58). Head Start and Educare are organizations whose goals are to increase a child?s success in education and reading. Head Start exposes younger children to books and reading before entering elementary school (Howell 59). Educare keeps track of children?s progress from preschool through elementary school (Howell 60). Three major controlled studies of early childhood education and home visitation kept track of participants in the Educare programs, through adolescence, and have shown that these intervention methods predict lower rates of violence and crime (Howell 58). Programs focused more on higher elementary ages up through early teen years are: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, United Way, peer mentoring, after school recreation programs, and conflict resolution and violence prevention curriculums (Howell 62), (Daltry 23). These types of programs give youngsters positive male or female role models where they may be lacking them, and structured activities to keep them away from harmful influences and give them ways to focus their energy and frustrations in positive ways. Organizations such as these also give them social skills and teach them ways to deal with anger without resorting to violence, abilities which they often don?t learn at home. The bonds which they can form from such peer mentoring programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Lunch Buddies, etc., may also very well prevent them from joining gangs, or using drugs – some negative ways that many youths seek camaraderie and acceptance. Students consistently involved in these such programs, showed improvements in classroom and social function, and were at greatly reduced risk of becoming involved in gang or criminal activities compared to inner city students with the same risk factors who were not involved in these programs (Daltry 23). Some preventative programs for older youth that have been very successful are those that are funded under the Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects Act of 1985 (Howell 104). Organizations such as the Job Corps, or Supported Work programs provide kids who are underprivileged with opportunities to find work that fits their interests where they otherwise might have turned to crime to earn money. Also, students who took part in these programs had much higher chances of succeeding in school. A study by a group of Washington, D.C. sociology specialists found that Job Corps participants were five times more likely to have earned a high school diploma or GED than comparison youth (Howell 105). Another program of this type, the Summer Youth Employment Program, was found to make a large difference in the number of area youth who were in school and had part time employment, where other youth not involved in the program, of similar backgrounds were not in school, and were often jobless (Howell 106). By increasing the education levels of these young people, and decreasing the levels of poverty by increasing their job skills, the chances of them becoming criminals also were drastically reduced. A more controversial set of prevention programs are those related to guns. There have been many gun restriction laws passed, and tighter gun regulations, pertaining to the time period it takes to obtain a hand gun, or the types of guns that are legal to own. Also, some towns and cities have enacted Gun Buy-Back programs where people are offered cash, food, or clothing incentives in exchange for assault weapons (Howell 110). A town in Connecticut with one of the highest crime rates in the nation put together a program to entice impoverished youths to turn in their guns for gift certificates for food, clothing, or toys. The metal from the guns will be used to craft a ?peace bell? which will ring throughout the city (Ryan 10). In Washington D.C., firearm homicides decreased twenty-five percent immediately following enactment of such restrictive gun legislations, and continued to decrease years afterwards (Howell 111). By taking weapons out of young people?s hands, and off of the streets, many cities were able to make their citizens? lives safer. Programs such as tougher gun restrictions, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America and other mentoring programs, after school recreation programs, and counseling for at risk youth all play major roles in cities throughout the United States. It takes time to see the effects of these programs, but already homicide rates have decreased twenty percent since 1994 (Schiraldi 11A). By no means will these programs completely reduce crime and violence either. There will always be people who don?t become involved in these programs, are too stubborn to change, or come from home lives that are too bad, and already have behaviors that are too hard to correct. There will always be crime and punishment in the United States of America. But if we continue to administer preventive organizations and positive outlets for our at risk youth, our lives will become much safer, and the future of our nation much, much brighter.
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