Study Criticizes Popular Crime Programs Midnight Basketball Ineffective, Researchers Say

Article excerpt

THE MOST comprehensive study to date of crime prevention shows that some of the most popular programs - including boot camps, midnight basketball, neighborhood watches and drug education classes in schools - have little impact.

In addition, the study questions the effectiveness of the nation's huge prison construction program in the past two decades.

But the study found promising results for some programs, particularly intensified police patrols in high-crime areas, drug treatment in prisons and home visits by nurses, social workers and others for infants in troubled families. The work was ordered by Congress last year and done by a team of University of Maryland criminologists. The study found that it remained difficult to assess federal crime-prevention programs because there is so little rigorous scientific evaluation of them. The research set out to determine the effectiveness of the more than $3 billion the Department of Justice grants each year to help local efforts to m prevent crime. The study focuses heavily on programs to stop juvenile crime. It was presented to Congress last week and was the subject of hearings this week by the House Judiciary Committee. The study is more a summary of existing evaluations of the various crime prevention programs than an analysis of why each one works or fails. It reported that according to new research, boot camps, midnight basketball, neighborhood watches and drug education classes in schools tended to be short-term programs that did not fundamentally change the behavior of troubled youths or improve the conditions in which they live. But infant visitation programs can have lasting effects because problems are dealt with early, the study reported. Similarly, recent research has found that the police can have an impact on crime if they focus their efforts on high-crime areas or work to stop petty crimes, such as vandalism, as a way to head off felonies. `We Really Can't Tell' The lead author of the report is Lawrence W. Sherman, chairman of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland. Sherman said, "The most important finding is that we really can't tell how a majority of funding is affecting crime." That's because, Sherman said, Congress has never insisted on scientific evaluation of crime prevention programs. The reason for this laxity is that members of Congress tend to vote for anti-crime measures, such as prison construction, if they believe the programs are politically popular or if the programs fit the congressman's own views on crime, said a Justice Department official. In addition, the official said, while it is clear from research that violent crime is heavily concentrated in a few areas of large cities, most members of Congress vote to spread the money to fight crime so more districts are included, instead of concentrating the resources where they would have the most impact. …