Targeting Crime Prevention to Reduce Offending: Identifying Communities That Generate Chronic and Costly Offenders

Article excerpt

This study explored whether some communities generate chronic and costly offenders. It draws on methods and findings from criminal careers, and crime and place research. Criminal careers research is focused on the individual and is concerned with the different offending patterns developed over the life course. The research presented in this paper uses the Semi-Parametric Group-based Method (SPGM) to identify offenders on different trajectories, who differ in terms of their age of initiation and pattern of offending over the lifecourse (Kreuter & Muthén 2008). This research has found a small group of chronic offenders who began offending early in life and who account for a large proportion of offences (Allard et al. under review; Cohen, Piquero & Jennings 2010a, 2010b; Piquero 2008).

While chronic offender groups can been retrospectively identified, there is difficulty identifying these groups prospectively. For example, no research has adequately differentiated chronic and low-rate trajectories based on risk and protective factors. As such, there is no established method that is useful for targeting interventions based on this approach. Early/developmental interventions aim to intervene early in a negative pathway by addressing the risk and protective factors operating in people's lives (Homel et al. 1999). Although the approach acknowledges that offending pathways may commence at any age, intervening early in an at-risk child's life is viewed favourably because of the importance of early developmental phases and the cumulative nature of risk and protective factors (Farrington 2002). Despite the difficulties of targeting these interventions, they are typically found to have strongest evidence-base and usually reduce offending by about 15 percent (Aos, Miller & Drake 2006; Farrington & Welsh 2003; Upsey 2009).

Recently, there has been renewed interest in place-based approaches for reducing crime. These approaches are based on findings indicating that the environments in which individuals are immediately situated or contextually embedded exert pervasive influences on behaviour (Kelling 2005; Oberwittler 2004). Crime and offenders are usually found to be concentrated in small geographic locations where the opportunities for offending are high or where there is structural disadvantage (Clarke 1997; Sabol, Coulton & Korbin 2004; Schwartz 2010; Silver & Miller 2004).

Interventions that target place include situational and community crime prevention. Situational crime prevention strategies manipulate the immediate environment in which crime occurs to reduce the opportunities for offending (Clarke 1997). Community crime prevention strategies manipulate the wider contextual environment and processes operating in the community that may be causing or maintaining crime (Oberwittler 2004). Although the evidence base for these approaches is weaker than for developmental interventions, situational crime prevention techniques have been found to reduce targeted crime problems in specific locations (Clarke 1997; Eck 2006). Several forms of community crime prevention are also promising, including mentoring, Vocational Education and Training, community economic development and recreational programs (Burghardt et al. 2001 ; McCord, Widom & Corwell 2001 ; Sherman et al. 1997; Stewart, Allard & Dennison2011).

Given the usefulness of understanding place for targeting situational and communitybased interventions, the current study aimed to determine whether offenders who were on chronic trajectories were randomly distributed geographically. Whether some communities experienced a disproportionate cost burden associated with chronic offending was also examined. If the communities that generated chronic and costly offenders could be identified, individuals in these locations could be targeted for early/developmental interventions. Given the links between offending, crime and victimisation, identified communities could also be targeted for situational and community-based interventions. …

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