Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anticipated early death and youth crime

From the blog Changing Lives, Changing Minds I found this sad, research-driven commentary by an associate criminology professor from Georgia State on how expectations among youth affect their behavior, particularly their willingness to commit violence, reporting results from surveys and interviews of inner city youth in Atlanta:

For these young men, a sense of “futurelessness” breeds a lack of concern for the consequences of their actions. Deferring immediate gratification makes little sense without a stable future to look forward to. “Might be dead by 25, so who cares?,” explained one young offender. In fact, our interviewees expressed a pressing need to “get it fast” and to “get it now,” by whatever means necessary.

At worst, the prospect of an early death fosters a basic disregard for human life: “So, [why] am I gonna care for anybody? I’m not. I’m gonna get mine, and if I have to kill your ass to do it, so what?”

It is not difficult to see how these attitudes could lead to a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy. A lack of faith in the future promotes dangerous and risky behavior, including crime and violence. Yet participation in crime only increases the odds that one will meet an untimely death.

Finally, analyzing national survey data, we were able to confirm a statistical relationship between anticipated early death and youth crime, even after controlling for a host of other factors.

I believe these findings have implications for public policy. It seems unlikely that threats of harsher criminal justice penalties will deter these fearless offenders. They assume life is short anyway and willingly accept the risks associated with a criminal lifestyle—even death. In effect, they are “beyond” deterrence.

I noticed a link to this blog recently over at Doc Berman's shop; it's an official organ of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds Through Literature project, which is an alternatives to incarceration program out of New England.


Anonymous said...

This research finding is not new or surprising. It is highly consistent with a large body of research literature loosely a related to social disorganization, developmental criminology, and social learning theories. In short, adverse social, economic and environmental conditions within neighborhoods (usually measured as census tracts) are strongly associated with high crime areas ("hot spots" for street crime) - crimes against property and against people (violence).

The research evidence is very strong - people do make decisions about their behavior (free will) but they are also strongly influenced in those choices by the social, economic and environmental conditions in which they live. To improve public safety we need to do two things at once - remove bad actors (enforcement) and systematically improve social, economic and environmental conditions in those neighborhoods (prevention). There has always been funding for more enforcement but almost never money for prevention.

Isn't it time for a more balanced approach to crime control?

Anonymous said...

11:13 Now that the Texas Youth Commission has been decimated there should be a lot of funding for prevention programs. Any idea where that money that was used for funding enforcement will go?

The majority of offenders grow up in poor neighborhoods, but I don't think the majority of adolescents in poor neighborhoods are offenders. Children raised in the exact same environments make radically different choices.

Incarceration may not be a deterrant, but it is a consequence for criminal behavior. It still needs to be funded.

The legislature cut funding of TYC because of a media firestorm, not because there was less need or a better plan. I hope I'm wrong, but I think there may be a serious backlash down the line. Anyway, we'll see.