Should we fix ’em…continued

fork in the roadWe would argue that we should fix ’em, especially our youth.

Children as young as 6 can show criminological tendencies, but they have virtually no choice in their immediate environment. Just as problematic is that those factors that can ‘protect’ them have not yet developed.

'I wish you wouldn't carry knives in your trousers - they make such holes in your pockets!'
‘I wish you wouldn’t carry knives in your trousers – they make such holes in your pockets!’

We know, for example, that the ‘family’ domain is among the most important for the proper development of children. If a child is born into a family with abusive or neglectful parents, s/he is starting life without the emotion strength to handle the everyday rigors of childhood traumas. If the parents are antisocial themselves it puts the child in increased danger, and yet they have no choice of their parents, their socioeconomic status, their antisocial attitudes or anything else about how they are raised. Parenting takes skill, and yet this most important responsibility is often left to chance. No one would really argue that a single, teenage mother is not the best environment for a child, yet that is the reality for too many of our nation’s children.

teen in cuffs.jpgAs a child grows their environment widens. They play with the kids in their neighborhood and also begin attending school. At this point the way they were raised in their home begins to be affected by peers and school influences. The best thing that can happen to the child raised in the home previously described is that they find supportive friends and love school. In such a case these would become protective factors from the negatives found in the home. Often though, the negative home environment causes the child to go to school with an attitude, a bad attitude. When this happens school is also a negative experience and the child only forms friendships with other disillusioned children…and the number of criminological factors begin to grow.

family therapyIt is our belief that the first 4 years of school (K-3) are the most important for a child’s future development. If risk factors such as hyperactivity, aggression, antisocial behaviors and beliefs, dishonesty and others can be identified when the child is young there is an increased chance these behaviors can be modified. Of note, it may only be when a child goes to school that their parents’ lack of parenting skills becomes evident. If true changes are to be made with the child we must work closely with the parent(s) to provide them the education and support required so real changes can be made.

palm familyThere are many successful programs already in existence that have proven themselves able to change the lives of both parents and children for the better. Some start before children even start school, others later. What they all have in common is that they help the parents, not just the children. Here is a link to some of those successful programs: http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/12/16/5-effective-parenting-programs-to-reduce-problem-behaviors-in-children/

fork in road with kidsThese programs are not as wide-spread as they might otherwise be because they are cost money. This is why many of our citizens don’t support them, they don’t want to pay the cost. In our view this is short-sighted because we will absolutely pay the cost, either now or later. The problem is that later costs even more, both in money and ruined lives…and what does it say about us?   You’re at the fork in the road, which path should we take?

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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.