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Home > Reviews > The Prevention of Crime

The Prevention of Crime

Author Delbert Elliott and Abigail Fagan

ISBN No 978-1-118-84359-8

Review date 19/06/2019

No of pages 440

Publisher Wiley-Blackwell

Publisher URL

Year of publication 16/03/2017


The Prevention of Crime, by Delbert Elliott, Abigail Fagan. ISBN: 978-1-118-84359-8, 440 pages, published March 2017 by Wiley-Blackwell

Our Review


£ 34.99

The Prevention of Crime by two American academics is a book that is not afraid to say that criminologists have not got all, or even many, of the answers yet; and it's all the more refreshing and authoritative for that, Mark Rowe writes.

Briefly, the textbook sets out 'to describe what works to reduce crime'; what is known to prevent people becoming involved in crime in the first place, generally in their teens; how to reduce offending among those doing crime; and how to change society and sites, what law enforcers do and government, to deter or reduce crime. "Until quite recently, we had no good answers to the basic questions about how to prevent crime," the authors admit.

The book largely draws on studies and examples from the United States, such as the 'Scared Straight' programmes, of taking at-risk youths into prison and seeing cells (and being locked in) and talking to prisoners. It's suggested that not only such efforts to scare young people into staying out of crime do not work, they actually make it more likely for those involved to go into crime; in other words, the programme does more harm than doing nothing. Nor are 'boot camps' much use according to the evidence.

Readers may want to turn towards the back of the book first, to the part about 'crime prevention in practice'. Knowing how to prevent crime, and using that knowledge, the authors admit, are 'two very different problems'. As they point out, in fairness prisons and law enforcement aren't the only parts of government and the private sector to do ineffective things, or to lag behind findings; the same goes for medicine and disease prevention in public health. What does not work, then, is as important as what does; for instance, bringing a prisoner together with a youth may merely create 'deviancy training'.

The authors suggest that gains in crime, and violence, prevention may require a 'culture shift', to alter public perceptions, much like in the anti-smoking campaign, which took very public adverts and setting out of facts. By contrast, however, 'there is a lack of consensus among scientists as to what predicts violence and how to best prevent it'. The authors conclude: "Much progress has been made in the last few decades in this area, with crime prevention moving from a nearly exclusive focus on deterrence- and punishment-based interventions implemented by law enforcement to a more developmentally informed, public health approach that allows for a wider range of prevention activities."

Early on, the book faces the knotty problem of fear of crime - human emotion that might not be rational; most research suggests that fear of crime is not closely related to actual probability of being a victim of crime. Nor is that likely to go away, as the authors point out; thanks to social media, stories such as shootings in schools can go 'viral', and fears can spike after highly publicised cases.

The book does a good job of setting out the cost of crime (a murder costs nearly $9m, when you tot up cost of incarceration of the criminal); and history of crime prevention - until the 1970s, crime prevention was left to court fines and jailing of offenders. Such 'deterrence theory' was then challenged by such theories as 'rational choice', arguing that criminals do illegal things out of self-interest; because the rewards outweigh the costs. As crime rose in the later 20th century, for a time some felt 'nothing worked', neither court and prisons nor 'boot camps' or the like. However, the authors stick to an optimistic idea of progress; that crime prevention is becoming more sophisticated, and scientific, and we're learning more all the time.

The book neatly goes over the theories, such as the 'life course development paradigm' that suggests criminals have a 'career' that starts typically in middle or late teens; hence it's important to do crime prevention with youths, rather than adults.

Table of contents; also see the companion website

Preface vii

Acknowledgments ix

About the Companion Website x

Section I Introduction to Crime Prevention 1

1 The Goals and Logic of Crime Prevention 3

2 A Brief History of Crime Prevention 31

Section II The Foundations of Crime Prevention 67

3 How Theory and Research Inform the Science and Practice of Crime Prevention 69

4 Evaluation Science 105

5 Establishing a Standard for Judging Intervention Effectiveness 139

Section III What Works to Prevent Crime? 165

6 Situational and Legal Crime Prevention Practices, Programs, and Policies 167

7 Contextual Interventions 199

8 Individual ]Level Crime Prevention: Preventing the Onset of Crime 244

9 Individual ]Level Crime Prevention: Reducing the Continuity of Offending 274

Section IV Crime Prevention in Practice 299

10 Selecting and Implementing Effective Crime Prevention Practices, Programs, and Policies 301

11 Implementation Science: Taking Effective Crime Prevention Programs, Practices, and Policies to Scale 328

12 The Future of Crime Prevention 360

Glossary 379.

About the authors

Del Elliott is a Distinguished Professor in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder; and Abigail A Fagan is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Law at the University of Florida.