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Prevention: Community Programs - The History Of Community Crime Prevention

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The predominant models of community crime prevention have changed considerably throughout history with respect to the customary roles played by community residents, the choices of criminogenic conditions to target, and the manner of interaction between civilian program participants and representatives of public entities. Accounts of the history of community crime prevention describe how these elements are shaped by interrelated developments in the local and national political economy and in inter-group relations (e.g., class and race relations) as well as perceptions of the crime problem and the effectiveness of particular citizen mobilization and crime prevention strategies.

The belief that citizens have a duty to curb deviant behavior—the essence of community crime prevention—is at least as old as recorded history. Formalized community crime prevention, however, appears to have started in England during the eighteenth century when playwright and novelist Henry Fielding mobilized a body of citizen householders for the purpose of addressing the root causes of crime and apprehending criminals.

The idea that law-abiding citizens could prevent crime in their communities through non-punitive means achieved popular resonance in the United States in the 1930s, owing in part to the work of the Chicago School of Sociology. These scholars cogently argued that the causes of crime reside largely in structural forces that operate on neighborhoods and families rather than in genetic dispositions. In part as a result of their work, urban researchers and policy makers showed a greater sensitivity to environmental factors that contributed to poor socialization of urban children such as ethnic heterogeneity, the strains of immigrant life, overcrowding, and a lack of structured activities for youth.

To address the perceived social disorganization and the lack of coordination among existing neighborhood agents of socialization in urban slums, some cities during the 1930s formed community commissions for crime prevention. For instance, citing the work of the Chicago School, the Crime Commission of New York State in 1930 called for the formation of neighborhood councils, that would consist of neighborhood service professionals and elites "whose concern would be the present and future needs of the neighborhood, based on fact-finding, and whose problem it would be to integrate all the forces in the neighborhood that are working for social welfare, into a harmonious program." (p. 16). The centrally coordinated, community-wide integration of programs based on scientific assessments forms the core of modern community crime prevention "partnership" schemes.

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