PREVENTING CRIME: AN OVERVIEW

by Lawrence W. Sherman

Mandate. In 1996 Congress required the Attorney General to provide a "comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness" of over $3 Billion annually in Department of Justice grants to assist State and local law enforcement and communities in preventing crime. Congress required that the research for the evaluation be "independent in nature," and "employ rigorous and scientifically recognized standards and methodologies." It also called for the evaluation to give special emphasis to "factors that relate to juvenile crime and the effect of these programs on youth violence," including "risk factors in the community, schools, and family environments that contribute to juvenile violence." The Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs asked the National Institute of Justice to commission an independent review of the relevant scientific literature, which exceeds 500 program impact evaluations.

Primary Conclusion. This Report found that some prevention programs work, some do not, some are promising, and some have not been tested adequately. Given the evidence of promising and effective programs, the Report finds that the effectiveness of Department of Justice funding depends heavily on whether it is directed to the urban neighborhoods where youth violence is highly concentrated. Substantial reductions in national rates of serious crime can only be achieved by prevention in areas of concentrated poverty, where the majority of all homicides in the nation occur, and where homicide rates are 20 times the national average.

Primary Recommendation. Because the specific methods for preventing crime in areas of concentrated poverty are not well-developed and tested, the Congress can make most effective use of DOJ local assistance funding by providing better guidance about what works. A much larger part of the national crime prevention portfolio must be invested in rigorous testing of innovative programs, in order to identify the active ingredients of locally successful programs that can be recommended for adoption in similar high-crime urban settings nation-wide.

SECONDARY CONCLUSIONS. The Report also reaches several secondary conclusions:

o Institutional Settings. Most crime prevention results from informal and formal practices and programs located in seven institutional settings. These institutions appear to be "interdependent" at the local level, in that events in one of these institution can affect events in others that in turn can affect the local crime rate. These are the seven institutions identified in Chapter Two:

* Communities

* Families

* Schools

* Labor Markets

* Places (specific premises)

* Police

* Criminal Justice

o Effective Crime Prevention in High-Violence Neighborhoods May Require Interventions in Many Local Institutions Simultaneously. The interdependency of these local institutions suggests a great need for rigorous testing of programs that simultaneously invest in communities, families, schools, labor markets, place security, police and criminal justice. Operation Weed and Seed provides the best current example of that approach, but receives a tiny fraction of DOJ funding.

o Crime Prevention Defined. Crime prevention is defined not by intentions or methods, but by results. There is scientific evidence, for example, that both schools and prisons can help prevent crime. Crime prevention programs are neither "hard" nor "soft" by definition; the central question is whether any program or institutional practice results in fewer criminal events than would otherwise occur. Chapter Two presents this analysis.

o The Effectiveness of Federal Funding Programs. The likely impact of federal funding on crime and its risk factors, especially youth violence, can only be assessed using scientifically recognized standards in the context of what is known about each of the seven institutions. Chapter One presents the scientific basis for this conclusion. Each of the chapters on the seven institutional settings concludes with an analysis of the implications of the scientific findings for the likely effectiveness of the Department of Justice Programs.

o What Works in Each Institution. The available evidence does support some conclusions about what works, what doesn't, and what's promising in each of the seven institutional settings for crime prevention. These conclusions are reported at the end of each of Chapters 3-9. In order to reach these conclusions, however, the Report uses a relatively low threshold of the strength of scientific evidence. This threshold is far lower than ideal for informing Congressional decisions about billions of dollars in annual appropriations, and reflect the limitations of the available evidence.

o Stronger Evaluations. The number and strength of available evaluations is insufficient for providing adequate guidance to the national effort to reduce serious crime. This knowledge gap can only be filled by Congressional restructuring of the DOJ programs to provide adequate scientific controls for careful testing of program effectiveness. DOJ officials currently lack the authority and funding for strong evaluations of efforts to reduce serious violence.

o Statutory Evaluation Plan. In order to provide the Department of Justice with the necessary scientific tools for program evaluations, the statutory plan for evaluating crime prevention requires substantial revision. Scientifically recognized standards for program evaluations require strong controls over the allocation of program funding, in close coordination with the collection of relevant data on the content and outcomes of the programs. The current statutory plan does not permit the necessary level of either scientific controls on program operations or coordination with data collection. Funds available for data collection have also been grossly inadequate in relation to scientific standards for measurement of program impact.

Chapter Ten presents a statutory plan for accomplishing the Congressional mandate to evaluate with these elements:

1. Earmark ten percent of all DOJ funding of local assistance for crime prevention (as defined in this Report) for operational program funds to be controlled by a central evaluation office within OJP.

2. Authorize the central evaluation office to distribute the ten percent "evaluated program" funds on the sole criteria of producing rigorous scientific impact evaluations, the results of which can be generalized to other locations nationwide. Allocating these funds for field testing purposes simply adds to the total funding for which any local jurisdiction is eligible. Thus the "evaluated program" funding becomes an additional incentive to cooperate with the scientific evaluation plan on a totally voluntary basis.

3. Set aside an additional ten percent of all DOJ funding of local assistance for crime prevention to support the conduct of scientific evaluations by the central evaluation office. This recommendation makes clear the true expense of using rigorous scientific methods to evaluate program impact. Victimization interviews, offender self-reported offending, systematic observation of high crime locations, observations of citizen-police interaction, and other methods can all cost as much or more than the program being evaluated.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FUNDING FOR LOCAL CRIME PREVENTION

Chapter One describes the basic structure and mechanisms for Department of Justice FY 1996 funding of State and local governments and communities for assistance in crime prevention. The two major categories are $1.4 billion in funding of local police by the Office for Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and $1.8 billion in local crime prevention assistance funding of a wide range of institutions by the Office for Justice Programs (OJP).1 This review examines both the relatively small funding for discretionary grants by DOJ, many of which are determined by Congressional "earmarks" to particular grantees and programs, and formula grants, which are distributed to State or local governments based on statutory criteria such as population size or violent crimes.

These are the principal OJP offices administering both types of grants: the Bureau of Justice Assistance administers the $503 million Local Law Enforcement Block Grants, the $475 million Byrne Formula Grants, and the $32 Million in Byrne Discretionary Grants; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention administers the $70 Million Juvenile Justice Formula Grants, and the $69 Million Competitive Grants; the Violence Against Women Grants Office administers the $130 Million STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grants and $28 Million in Discretionary Grants To Encourage Arrests; Corrections Program Office administers a $405 Million Formula Grants for prison construction and a $27 Million Grants Program for substance abuse treatment of prison inmates; the Drug Courts Program Office funds $15 Million (from LLEBG) to local drug courts. The Executive Office of Weed and Seed administers the $28 Million (from Byrne) Federal component of the Weed and Seed Program in selected high-crime inner-city areas.

SCIENTIFIC STANDARDS FOR PROGRAM EVALUATIONS

The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 defines an "evaluation" as "the administration and conduct of studies and analyses to determine the impact and value of a project or program in accomplishing the statutory objectives of this chapter."2 By this definition, an evaluation cannot be only a description of the implementation process, or "monitoring" or "auditing" the expenditure of the funds. Such studies can be very useful for many purposes, including learning how to implement programs. But they cannot show whether a program has succeeded in causing less crime, and if so by what magnitude. Nor can the results be easily generalized.

The scientific standards for inferring causation have been clearly established and have been used in other Reports to the Congress to evaluate the strength of evidence included in each program evaluation. With some variations in each setting, the authors of the present Report use an adapted version of scoring system employed in the 1995 National Structured Evaluation by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. The system is used to rate available evaluations on a "scientific methods score" of 1 through 5. The scores generally reflect the level of confidence we can place in the evaluation's conclusions about cause and effect. Chapter Two describes the specific procedures followed in the application of this 1-5 rating system, as well as its limitations.

Deciding What Works

The scientific methods scores reflect only the strength of evidence about program effects on crime, and not the strength of the effects themselves. Due to the general weakness of the available evidence, the Report does not employ a standard method of rating programs according to the magnitude of their effect size. It focuses on the prior question of whether there is reasonable certainty that a program has any beneficial effect at all in preventing crime. The limitations of the available evidence for making this classification are discussed in Chapter Two. We note these limitations as we respond to the mandate for this Report and classify major local crime prevention practices in each institutional setting as follows:

What Works. These are programs that we are reasonably certain prevent crime or reduce risk factors for crime in the kinds of social contexts in which they have been evaluated, and for which the findings should be generalizable to similar settings in other places and times. Programs coded as "working" by this definition must have at least two level 3 evaluations with statistical significance tests and the preponderance of all available evidence showing effectiveness.

What Doesn't Work. These are programs that we are reasonably certain fail to prevent crime or reduce risk factors for crime, using the identical scientific criteria used for deciding what works.

What's Promising. These are programs for which the level of certainty from available evidence is too low to support generalizable conclusions, but for which there is some empirical basis for predicting that further research could support such conclusions. Programs are coded as "promising" if they found effective in at least one level 3 evaluation and the preponderance of the evidence.

What's Unknown. Any program not classified in one of the three above categories is defined as having unknown effects.

EFFECTIVENESS OF LOCAL CRIME PREVENTION PRACTICES

The scientific evidence reviewed focuses on the local crime prevention practices that are supported by both federal and local, public and private resources. Conclusions about the scientifically tested effectiveness of these practices are organized by the seven local institutional settings in which these practices operate.

Chapter 3: Community-Based Crime Prevention reviews evaluations of such practices as community organizing and mobilization against crime, gang violence prevention, community-based mentoring, and after-school recreation programs.

Chapter 4: Family-Based Crime Prevention reviews evaluations of such practices as home visitation of families with infants, preschool education programs involving parents, parent training for managing troublesome children, and programs for preventing family violence, including battered women's shelters and criminal justice programs.

Chapter 5: School-Based Prevention reviews evaluations of such practices as DARE, peer-group counseling, gang resistance education, anti-bullying campaigns, law-related education, and programs to improve school discipline and improve social problem-solving skills.

Chapter 6: Labor Markets and Crime Risk Factors reviews evaluations of the crime prevention effects of training and placement programs for unemployed people, including Job Corps, vocational training for prison inmates, diversion from court to employment placements, and transportation of inner-city residents to suburban jobs.

Chapter 7: Preventing Crime At Places reviews the available evidence on the effectiveness of practices to block opportunities for crime at specific locations like stores, apartment buildings and parking lots, including such measures as cameras, lighting, guards and alarms.

Chapter 8: Policing For Crime Prevention reviews evaluations of such police practices as directed patrol in crime hot spots, rapid response time, foot patrol, neighborhood watch, drug raids, and domestic violence crackdowns.

Chapter 9: Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention reviews the evidence on such practices as prisoner rehabilitation, mandatory drug treatment for convicts, boot camps, shock incarceration, intensively supervised parole and probation, home confinement and electronic monitoring.

EFFECTIVENESS OF DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FUNDING PROGRAMS

DOJ funding supports a wide range of practices in all seven institutional settings, although much more so in some than in others. Congress has invested DOJ funding most heavily in police and prisons, with very little support for the other institutions. The empirical and theoretical evidence shows that other settings for crime prevention are also important, especially in the small number of urban neighborhoods with high rates of youth violence. Thus the statutory allocation of investments in the crime prevention "portfolio" is lop-sided, and may be missing out on some major dividends.

The effectiveness of existing DOJ funding mechanisms is assessed at the end of each chapter on local crime prevention practices. The following list of major funding programs provides an index to the Chapters in which specific practices funded by each of them is discussed:

Community Policing: Chapters 8 and 10.

Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program: Chapters 3, 7, 8 and 10.

Byrne Memorial Formula & Discretionary Grants Program: Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10.

Juvenile Justice Formula and Competitive Programs: Chapters 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10.

Operation Weed and Seed: Chapters 3, 4, 8 and 10.

STOP Violence Against Women Grants: Chapters 3, 8, and 10.

Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies: Chapters 3, 8 and 10.

Violent Offender Prison Construction: Chapters 9 and 10.

Drug Courts Competitive Grants: Chapters 9 and 10.

CONCLUSION

The great strength of federal funding of local crime prevention is the innovative strategies it can prompt in cities like New York, Boston, and Kansas City (MO) where substantial reductions have recently occurred in homicide and youth violence. The current limitation of that funding, however, is that it does not allow the nation to learn why some innovations work, exactly what was done, and how they can be successfully adapted in other cities. In short, the current statutory plan does not allow DOJ to provide effective guidance to the nation about what works to prevent crime.

Yet despite the current limitations, DOJ has clearly demonstrated the contribution it can make by increasing such knowledge. The Department has already provided far better guidance to State and local governments on the effectiveness of all local crime prevention efforts than was available even a decade ago. Based on the record to date, only DOJ agencies, and not the State and local governments, have the available resources and expertise to produce the kind of generalizable conclusions Congress asked for in this report. The statutory plan this report recommends would enhance that role, and allow DOJ to accomplish the longstanding Congressional mandate to find generally effective programs to combat serious youth violence. By focusing that effort in the concentrated poverty areas where most serious crime occurs, the Congress may enable DOJ to reverse the epidemic of violent crime that has plagued the nation for three decades.


NOTES

1Total FY 1996 funding for the Office of Justice Programs was $2.7 billion, including $228 Million in collections for the Office for Victims of Crime.

242 U.S.C. Section 3791 (10)


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