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Prevention: Community Programs - Problems And Prospects

crime power resources criticized

Inadequate and inconsistent evidence renders premature the frequent conclusion that most forms of community crime prevention programs are ineffective. Knowledge of this fact, however, does not prevent numerous scholars and researchers from proposing factors that impede crime prevention programs from attaining their goals. Most importantly, programs have been criticized for not addressing the structural correlates of crime such as poverty, unemployment, and housing segregation. While crime prevention programs that attempt to seriously challenge the power structure are largely unsuccessful, the prevailing models of community crime prevention that involve community/government agency partnerships have been criticized for actually reinforcing structures of inequality. Neighborhood self-policing initiatives may effectively organize citizens and clean up signs of disorder in very localized areas, but do little to increase the resources of the larger community and sometimes merely relocate the problems to other neighborhoods. Furthermore, crime watch–oriented groups, when they are dominated by homeowners and landlords, often develop an "us versus them" mentality. These groups may reduce crime and disorder at the expense of excluding less privileged members from the organization and helping remove those they define as threats (e.g., gang members and the homeless) from the community—which can manifest and exacerbate race and class tensions.

Both community/police partnership and larger comprehensive partnership approaches have also been criticized for subverting the agendas of community groups. Whether community organizations initiate the partnerships or they are lured into partnerships by the promise of greater resources and services, they may find themselves with little or no power over politically-driven resource allocation and programming decisions and/or saddled with various administrative hassles. This, along with issues over turf, may explain why the program sites of the Comprehensive Communities Program report difficulty in eliciting and maintaining the support of community residents—support that Shaw and others have deemed essential to the effectiveness of interventions. Communities face a trade off between the efficient and research-based delivery of more needed resources into their communities and their power to respond collectively and autonomously to their self-defined needs, based on their own democratic processes.

The immediate future looks bright for federally funded large-scale community crime prevention. For instance, congressional allocations to Title V Community Crime Prevention doubled at the end of the 1990s. Thus many programs that work toward a community crime prevention vision of strong urban communities—through mediating conflicts within them, giving residents a greater voice within the context of collaboration, and providing opportunities for at-risk youth—will continue to balance the popular community defense approaches. At the same time, exclusionary trends in the social and political landscape, including gentrification, increased punitive criminal justice intervention, social welfare retrenchment, and pervasive fear and distrust, have led to calls for investment in alternative programs—fashioned after programs in Australia and elsewhere—that include excluded groups in integrative community actions that reduce fear as well as crime. Thus even in the face of steady declines in crime, the need for community crime prevention programs may continue to grow.

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