Crime-prevention policies that focus on young persons’ quality of life could effectively lower crime rates more effectively than the incapacitation and deterrence of current youth offenders, according to a report published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. .
“It’s time we shifted focus from stopping bad guys to helping kids be good guys,” said William Spelman of the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and an author of the report.
The report statistically tests how age, cohort and period effects have affected crime rates since the 1980’s.
Age effects describe how the likelihood that someone will commit a crime changes as that person gets older, while cohort effects signify how a generation of people born around the same time period engage in criminal activity – based on events everyone in the generation experienced.
Period effects refers to current conditions that would affect all age groups.
The “baby boomer” generation saw high crime rates, rates that dropped significantly with millennials, those born between 1985 and the mid-1990’s.
According to Spelman, analyzing possible factors that led to the drop in crime with millennials, such as their education or home life when they were children, could have a lasting impact on crime rates.
“Crime rises and falls based on the life experiences and decisions of young children,” said an article on the study published by UT News.
According to the report, period effects were only responsible for a six percent to 36 percent decrease in crime from the 1980’s to after 2000.
The other two-thirds of crime reduction was attributed to age and cohort effects.
The report draws the conclusion that if period effects were only responsible for about a third of the crime decrease, that preventive measures such as increased incarceration or punishments for current offenders won’t lead to as dramatic of a drop in crime than policies targeting the younger generation.
According to Spelman, policy decisions focused on current criminals – by pushing for harsher incarceration, increasing the amount of police officers, or building more correctional facilities – is putting preventative action in the wrong direction.
“The criminal justice system and its focus on deterrence, incapacitation, and opportunity reduction can blunt the roughest edges of the problem,” said Spelman.
“But only primary prevention can solve it.”
The “crime prone age group” is said to be 15-to-24-year-olds. Committing crimes often starts when still a teenager and carries on into the crime prone age range.
If more policy action is focused on poverty, education, pollution, healthcare, inequality and social disparities, a juvenile might be less likely to commit a crime in the first place, said Spelman.
According to the report, less juveniles committing crimes means less crime overall, as the older someone gets, the less likely they are to commit a crime.
Spelman’s focus doesn’t call for tough-on-crime policies towards the juvenile population. Instead, he calls for preventative measures like safer schools as well as a better home life, measures that are proven to lessen interactions with crime later in life.
“Panel and time-series studies that predict youth arrest rates can thus identify social and environmental conditions and policy instruments that influence cohort effects and long-term crime prospects,” said Spelman.
Spelman notes that the research is lacking a lot of period effect variables, and studies a relatively small sample size. The research is a “helpful beginning” to more research on the topic, which could solidify policy action, said Spelman.
“These results suggest that we have been digging in the wrong place in our attempts to explain crime rate changes,” said Spelman. “As with most social problems, we’re stuck putting Band-Aids on problems that were created years ago.”
Read more: 2019 Juvenile Arrest Rates Hit 30-Year Low
Emily Riley is a TCR Justice Reporting intern