Should We Fix Them Before They’re Broken?

juvenile holding cellThe current state of criminological research allows us to predict those who are most likely to commit crime. We can not, however, specifically point to a single individual and say s/he will commit a crime…with real certainty. Prediction models are based on risk factors. Individual factors alone do not predict criminality, but when factors start adding up so does the risk of offending. Since these factors are now known, society can make policy choices as to how it chooses to deal with this problem. Some advocate for early intervention, while others advocate not spending money on potential criminal activity, but instead wait for real criminality and then throw the criminals in jail.

risk factorsRisk factors are comprised of characteristics that have been identified with increased criminality. In contrast, protective factors are characteristics that serve to mitigate risk factors. In essence, a protective factor ‘protects’ a person from criminality when they might otherwise resort to crime. As mentioned earlier, risk factors have a multiplicative effect on the likelihood to commit a crime. A 10-year-old boy exposed to 6 or more risk factors is 10 times as likely to commit a violent crime by the age of 18 as one who has been exposed to only one factor.

decision treeThe direction our policy takes should be informed by 3 dimensions of concern: the individual dimension, helping turn around that youth in danger of becoming a criminal; the moral dimension, the value we put on victims and the pain and suffering that will occur if we do not act; and the societal dimension, what our action or inaction says about us as a nation.

So, are you a fix ’em early type of person, or a wait and lock up as soon as possible type? Let me know.

Next post I will identify both risk and protective factors across all the domains that typically affect our youth. We will see how each factor pushes a child away from a pro-social environment and towards a life of criminality.

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