Study: Being tough on crime is popular but does not work

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An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study entitled “Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: combatting violence with numbers” has found that policies aimed at being tough on crime tend to be ineffective.
“State investments in harsher penal laws, new prison construction, and the non-strategic expansion of police forces have had limited impact on reducing violence and have failed to discourage new crimes from occurring. Although it may seem politically popular to be tough on crime, one of the biggest problems of this reactive approach is that it does not place value on understanding and taking appropriate steps to tackle the underlying causes of crime and violence,” the authors wrote.
Instead, the study by Heather Sutton and Inder Ruprah, recommended balancing prevention and control, targeting interventions to key individuals and/or areas, using evidence based methods and monitoring key indicators of the justice system as a whole.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to crime is doomed to failure,” the authors wrote, noting that detention must be used strategically to avoid making matters worse.
“An impoverished child jailed for years, with and especially without a trial, with violent adults for a more minor infraction (such as stealing food) is at high risk for serious victimisation while detained and re-entering society as a greater threat than when he was imprisoned. This is not a worthwhile expense for taxpayers or a humane approach to treating youth who have likely been exposed to severe trauma by the time of a first offence,” they explained.
They also called on the media to play a bigger role in changing public perceptions towards supporting prevention, rather than suppression.
On targeting interventions the authors stated that “Crime is not random and it is not everywhere: a small number of high-risk individuals perpetrate the overwhelming majority of crimes in concentrated geographic areas”.
The IDB study said that risk factors can be narrowed and “we can identify high-risk individuals before they perpetrate a crime and offer them resources and interventions that can reduce their risk of offending”.
It noted that this is often not politically easy as “it’s not always well understood that by targeting areas or individuals most at risk, there is a bigger benefit for society overall—including lower-crime areas”.
“Explaining this, and sticking to a truly targeted strategy, requires skilled communication and leadership,” they noted.
The authors also pointed out that too often — both inside and outside of the Caribbean — policymakers fail to make decisions based on the strongest evidence and call for closer collaboration.
Meanwhile, the study quantified the levels of violence in Antigua & Barbuda and the wider region. The authors pointed out that previous studies relied on police data – but said this left a gap as only 53 per cent of crimes are reported to the police.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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