Monday, November 26, 2007

Less is More when Fighting Crime

From ScienceDaily:
A new study suggests that too much money is wasted on low-risk crime targets. Both crime and prison populations could be reduced dramatically by focusing on the “power few” criminals who commit the most crime, according to Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor of Criminology at Cambridge University, UK.

Using data across a wide range of research, Sherman shows that most crime is committed by a small fraction of all criminals, at a tiny fraction of all locations, against a tiny fraction of all victims, during a few hours a week. By focusing police, probation, parole, rehabilitation, security and prison resources on these “power few” units with the most crime, the study shows how society could stand a far better chance at crime prevention without raising costs.

* * *

The study shows that the key to making the most out of these extreme concentrations of crime would be to test prevention strategies aimed only at these few crime locations, times, situations, victims or offenders. By investing more effort in experiments aimed at finding effective solutions to the predictably serious crime problem caused by the “needles in the haystack,” governments around the world could move much quicker to reducing crime and violence. By investing equal effort in low-risk and high-risk offenders, these strategies now yield unequal results − wasting most of the money on targets unlikely to cause serious harm.

Journal article: Sherman, LW (2007) The Power Few: Experimental Criminology and the Reduction of Harm Journal of Experimental Criminology, Journal of Experimental Criminology. (DOI 10.1007/s11292-007-9044-y)
I wonder how one is supposed to identify the "small fraction of all criminals" and the "tiny fraction of all victims" ahead of time, rather than in hindsight.


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