Preventing youth crime: evidence and opportunities
Before 1980 there was little evidence that delinquency could be prevented. Thirty years ago a review of all the delinquency experiments then conducted in the United States identified nine well-controlled trials. None had been effective in preventing youth crime (Berleman 1980). Perhaps the most notable failure was the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, a programme of wrap-around services for ‘high risk’ boys. Its instigators in the 1930s believed that the intervention of a friendly, socialized adult with a vulnerable boy when the child was still young might lead the child to a normal non-delinquent life. Over ten years they employed communitybased counsellors who worked with boys in an economically disadvantaged community. Services were individualized for each boy and his parents. The evaluation of this intervention showed that the programme had no effects on police contacts for delinquency or commitments to state institutions. In fact, a long-term follow-up (McCord 1978) found that youths exposed to the programme were more likely than their control group peers to have developed serious behaviour problems, alcoholism, mental health problems and stress-related diseases over their lives. McCord suggested that one reason for this negative effect was participation in a summer camp component of the programme where delinquent boys had unsupervised opportunities to influence other boys toward delinquent behaviour (McCord 2003).