Changing Lives: Delinquency Prevention as Crime-Control Policy

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One of the most astonishing aspects of juvenile crime is how little is known about the impact of the policies and programs put in place to fight it. The most commonly used strategies and programs for combating juvenile delinquency problems primarily rely on intuition and fads. Fortunately, as a result of the promising new research documented in Changing Lives, these deficiencies in our juvenile justice system might quickly be remedied.

Peter W. Greenwood here demonstrates here that as crimes rates have fallen, researchers have identified more connections between specific risk factors and criminal behavior, while program developers have discovered a wide array of innovative interventions. The result of all this activity, he reveals, has been the revelation of a few prevention models that reduce crime much more cost-effectively than popular approaches such as tougher sentencing, D.A.R.E., boot camps, and "scared straight" programs. Changing Lives expertly presents the most promising of these prevention programs, their histories, the quality of evidence to support their effectiveness, the public policy programs involved in bringing them into wider use, and the potential for investments and developmental research to increase the range and quality of programs.

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Editorial Reviews

Barry Krisberg

“In Changing Lives, Peter Greenwood sifts through a massive and disparate body of literature on delinquency prevention programs to identify those programs that appear to have promise. Greenwood also offers a sophisticated discussion about calculating the economic advantages of various programs. In the course of this study, he never shies away from making candid assessments about why policymakers have continued to support ineffective programs."
Delbert S. Elliott

“Changing Lives offers a clear and penetrating analysis of the current state of delinquency prevention and intervention efforts in this country. The good news is that there are a significant number of delinquency prevention programs that meet a high scientific standard for demonstrated effectiveness; the bad news is that many of the most popular prevention programs and strategies in current use are ineffective. Peter Greenwood makes a compelling case for the claim that implementing more effective delinquency prevention programs is the best strategy for controlling crime. His recommendations for advancing this agenda are well conceived and practical and offer some realistic hope for developing a truly effective crime-control program in this country.”--Delbert S. Elliott, director, Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, University of Colorado at Boulder
Kenneth A. Dodge

“Peter Greenwood is the dean of delinquency prevention policy in America, and this handy volume is likely to become the standard reference book for the field. Greenwood’s mission is to summarize concisely what works and what does not work in the field of delinquency prevention, but in so doing, he also gives tutorial lessons in research methodology, cost-effectiveness analysis, and political analysis of why some programs live on well past their demonstrated failure. Ultimately, he argues persuasively in favor of a culture of accountability, the scientific method, and prevention, all laced with political savvy.--Kenneth A. Dodge, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and director, Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226307206
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2007
  • Series: Adolescent Development and Legal Policy Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter W. Greenwood is the former director of the RAND Corporation’s Criminal Justice Program. He is coauthor of four previous books, including, most recently, Investing in Our Children.

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Read an Excerpt

Changing Lives
Delinquency Prevention as Crime-Control Policy

By Peter W. Greenwood The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2006
The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-30720-6

Chapter One Delinquency Prevention as Crime Control

One of the most robust and consistent findings in criminological research is the connection between juvenile and adult crime. Almost all serious or chronic adult offenders have extensive juvenile records. The seriousness and extent of the juvenile record is one of the strongest risk factors for future criminality. So is arrest at an early age. A very high proportion of incarcerated felons were earlier in their lives placed by a juvenile court in what were meant to be therapeutic programs charged with the responsibility of looking out for their welfare, as well the safety of the community.

Each year more than 150,000 juvenile offenders are ordered into out-of-home placements at costs sometimes exceeding $300 per day. Several times that number are being "supervised" and provided with services in the community by agents of the juvenile court. Over the past decade state and local governments have also expended hundreds of millions of dollars on delinquency-prevention programs that promised to decrease the likelihood of its participants engaging in serious crime.

What have these expenditures bought us? Are we significantly safer than we would have been had they never been made? Is the juvenile-crime-prevention sector focused on improved results and driven by research findings, so that its improved performance is rewarded with increased funding? Or is it part of the local "pork barrel" system that rewards political connections more than merit?

For the past few decades the issue of violent street crime and what to do about it has been a dominant factor in national, state, and local politics. When concerns about the rising tide of violent crime first surfaced in the mid-1980s there were not any scientifically validated strategies or programs for dealing with it. Politicians almost universally fell back on the old tried and true approaches of passing tougher sentencing laws, for both juveniles and adults; building more prisons; and hiring more police. The Federal Crime Bill of 1994 supported all three of these approaches while the funding for prevention that was proposed in early drafts of the bill was completely cut out.

In recent years both the violent and property crime rates have dropped to historic lows. Although many public officials have tried to make the case that their tougher sentencing policies were responsible for the decline, comparisons across states and specifically targeted populations have shown that tougher sentencing was not the primary cause of the decline and accounted for only about one-fourth of the decline (Zimring et al., 2001; Greenwood & Hawken, 2001; Spellman, 2000).

As crime rates fell, researchers made considerable progress in identifying the connections between specific risk factors and criminal behavior. At the same time, program developers were busy developing and testing a wide array of intervention approaches, some more empirically grounded than others. The result at long last has been the demonstrated effectiveness of a small number of prevention models that appear to reduce crime much more cost effectively than any of the other approaches that have been tried-including tougher sentencing. The goal of this book is to describe the most promising of these prevention approaches, how they were developed, the quality of the evidence in support of their claimed effectiveness, the public policy problems involved in bringing them into wider use, and the potential for investments in developmental research to increase the range and quality of effective programs.

In theory, the adoption of any public policy or program for the purpose of reducing crime can be thought of as prevention. In practice, however, most discussions of crime-reduction strategies distinguish prevention from what are thought to be more direct means of crime control such as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and increased security efforts. Delinquency prevention is generally characterized as a collection of theories and intervention techniques that attempt to redirect the life course of youth away from crime and toward more socially accepted behavioral norms.

Delinquency-prevention efforts in the United States date back more than 150 years, since the founding of the first reformatories and the New York House of Refuge in the 1820s. Over the years, new concepts and strategies have regularly emerged in this field and continue to do so today, though often without either a sound theoretical base or strong empirical evidence of their effectiveness. The conceptual bases for delinquency-prevention efforts have shifted over time. Starting with the cultural- and class-based theories of the early nineteenth century, they moved on to the more economically and psychologically based opportunity and control theories in the 1960s and 1970s. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the designs for delinquency-prevention programs sometimes reflect recent findings from social learning and developmental sciences, but they are also heavily influenced by the politically trendy concepts of the day.

Today, there is a growing disjunction between delinquency-prevention practice and the rapidly accumulating knowledge about patterns of delinquent behavior. Rarely have prevention efforts been framed in our understanding of the life-course trajectory of antisocial behavior and of the stages of child and adolescent development that contribute to the onset and persistence of delinquent behavior. The prevention field has also failed to integrate accumulating knowledge about the processes of desistance from antisocial behavior at each stage of development, which might be utilized in prevention programs to hasten the termination of delinquent careers. Instead, current prevention theory and practice reflects a vigorous but undisciplined marketplace of competing ideas, often without sound foundations in either theory or research.

There is general agreement among many policymakers and the wider public that delinquency and crime prevention are important activities, but there is little agreement concerning which agencies of government should direct them, or what these efforts should consist of, or how they should be run. Crime prevention is a field that cries out for rigorous definitions and precision in its terminology, especially at a time when simplistic sound bites and slogans prevail. It is a field in which rigorous evaluation is absolutely essential but rarely applied.

This book seeks to accomplish three tasks. The first is to define the key terms and organizational structures that are needed to support and advance the development and dissemination of effective prevention strategies and programs. The second is to carefully evaluate and organize the evidence for what works. The third is to identify key linkages between the accumulated body of evidence and public policy, both where it is now and where it should be headed in the future.

Prevention Defined

This book is about delinquency prevention-reducing the likelihood that young people will become delinquent or adult criminals. The word prevention is defined as "the act of preventing." To prevent something is "to act in anticipation of the event," "to keep it from happening," "to hinder," "to make impossible," or "to put some obstacle in the way." Prevention activities are undertaken with the aim of reducing the frequency or likelihood of particular undesirable events or situations from happening. Delinquency prevention shares a good deal of common turf with the related goals of crime prevention, violence prevention, and injury prevention.

Delinquency prevention involves reducing individual, long-term proclivities toward crime and violence, and is usually targeted at those youth or families that appear to be at elevated risk for participation in delinquent behavior. In attempting to redirect the life-course trajectory of delinquent youth away from crime, it differs from other crime-prevention strategies that aim to make particular crimes more difficult to successfully complete, through security measures (target hardening), changing the environment (street lighting, road barriers, etc.), or extra police attention. Violence-prevention strategies include both changing lives and altering the environment, but also include efforts to limit, reduce, or neutralize the agents of violence, which are usually identified as guns, alcohol, and illegal drugs. This perspective has led to efforts by the public health community to promote gun control, gun safety, and restrictions on alcohol outlets in high-crime neighborhoods. In the world of public health, violence-prevention efforts are seen as a subset of the larger field of injury prevention, which includes both deaths by homicide or suicide

In this book I restrict the definition of "prevention" to focus attention on those interventions that attempt to change the antisocial proclivity or life-course trajectory of individually targeted youth. I do not devote much space to other types of prevention, such as those that involve altering the environment (better lighting), improved security practices (use of metal detectors, better locks), or reducing access to such high-risk agents as guns or drugs. I show that the narrower focus is justified on the grounds that the life-course approach, when successful, appears to be far more effective than those other strategies, both because of its leveraged position at the start of the criminal career and because its effects are not usually negated or discounted by the replacement and displacement effects that occur with many other crime-control strategies.

What Kinds of Criminal Behavior Do We Most Want to Prevent?

All delinquent acts are not alike in their impact on the community or in what they have to say about the character of their perpetrator(s). In terms of community impact, there is a major distinction between crimes against the person and property crimes. The risk of being killed or seriously injured is many times greater in a robbery or aggravated assault than in a burglary, even when the victims are home at the time of the crime (Zimring & Hawkins, 1997). Studies of victim pain and suffering show that the costs associated with violent crimes are orders of magnitude greater than the costs of property crimes (Miller et al., 1996). Longitudinal studies have shown that there appears to be a pattern of progression in seriousness among delinquent youth, where the first offenses are minor property crimes. The more crimes a youth commits the more likely he is to escalate up to more serious property crimes and crimes of violence (Elliot et al., 1989; Tolan & Gorman-Smith, 1998). Thus a youth who commits a violent crime is much more likely to commit another than a youth whose record is clean. Therefore, the youth most at risk for future violent behavior include those already engaged in violence as well those at very high risk of chronic delinquency.

Although many of the programs and strategies this book reviews can be applied to a wide variety of deviant social behavior, I pay particular attention to how well they work in preventing criminal violence, particularly lethal criminal violence.

My focus is on programs that might change the life-course trajectories of those chronic youthful offenders who usually start young, account for a small fraction of those identified as delinquent by the police, but account for a majority of the crimes committed by their age group. Because the cost effectiveness of any program is heavily dependent on the risk level of its clients, it is important to understand the degree of accuracy with which we can predict trajectories for particular types of youth. Are those identified as high risk likely to commit many more offenses than their less-risky cohorts, or just a bit more?

Prevention and Government

One of the issues the book confronts in attempting to think about how delinquency-prevention programs should be stimulated, developed, operated, and monitored is the huge overlap in intentions and effect between prevention and education. Virtually everything the government does for youth is preventive in intention, although not always in effect. Prenatal healthcare, well-baby checkups, immunizations, home-visitation programs, and HeadStart are all programs designed to improve the well being and educational attainment of youth. And in doing so, they prevent a cluster of childhood problems including disease, abuse and neglect, malnutrition, learning problems, and conduct disorder. Since educational attainment and educational readiness appear to be so central to the healthy development of young people, determining where the preventive efforts of government leave off and the educational efforts begin is no easy task.

It may be that the distinction between education and delinquency-prevention activities is not one we are forced to make. Perhaps any activity that is part of the regular education curriculum can be considered educational, while those activities that get added on to help cope with the problems and challenges faced by high-risk youth can be though of as preventive. The problem with this simple distinction is that the best approaches to teaching and delinquency prevention in the schools have much in common between them. If we only count the benefits of programs on one side of the education/prevention ledger, we will ignore the significant contribution these "best practices" can make to improving the lives of children and their community.

This book represents a serious effort to provide the kind of interpretive and integrative structure that allows the kinds of discussions and developments that need to take place for the prevention field to prosper while becoming both accountable and coherently located in a larger government youth policy. At present, delinquency prevention is a subfield that suffers from a lack of definitions of its key terms. It also lacks a common language that allows representatives of law enforcement, juvenile justice, education, mental health, academics, and other professions to share their individual perspectives while working toward common solutions. Furthermore, it lacks an organizational structure that can effectively synthesize and integrate the efforts of these diverse groups. Finally, it lacks a rigorous evaluation of what we know and what we need to find out about the impacts of programs on high-risk youth. Filling these gaps is the ambition of this book.

The book is divided into two parts and eight chapters. The first part concerns the nature and impact of prevention programs; the second part concerns the many issues encountered when attempting to make prevention activities a part of American government. The first five chapters of the book are my attempt to survey the field of delinquency prevention as it is normally understood. In this first chapter I have introduced the concept of "prevention" and provided a map of the coverage of this effort. Chapter 2 provides a brief intellectual history of delinquency-prevention priorities and strategies. Chapter 3 details the building blocks of program evaluation. Chapters 4 provides a profile of effective programs while chapter 5 describes a number of ineffective programs and the reasons they nevertheless appear to thrive in the competition for scarce resources.

This analysis does not cover a number of specialized programs that do not target delinquent youth yet can still play important roles in personal development and crime prevention. Programs that provide job training and enhanced economic opportunity are very important but involve different strategies of development, evaluation, and dissemination than I cover here. Therapeutic programs for defined childhood or adolescent psychological problems are also beyond the scope of this undertaking, as are specialized treatment programs for juvenile sex offenders.

All of the topics covered in this book's first part have been addressed in professional and scholarly literature. The questions reviewed in part two have not received much attention in the prevention literature. Chapter 6 discusses how the concepts of cost effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis interact with questions of valuing the effects of prevention programs.

Chapter 7 addresses the issue regarding where in the government responsibility for delinquency prevention is most appropriately be lodged. Chapter 8 addresses the role of the juvenile court in treatment and prevention programs.


Excerpted from Changing Lives by Peter W. Greenwood Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Contents List of Illustrations....................vii
Part 1 The Nature and Effectiveness of Crime Prevention Chapter 1 Delinquency Prevention as Crime Control....................3
Chapter 2 The Evolution of an Idea....................10
Chapter 3 Strategies for Measuring Program Impact....................28
Chapter 4 What Works....................49
Chapter 5 What Doesn't Work....................84
Part 2 Prevention and Policy Chapter 6 The Uses and Limits of Cost Effectiveness in Allocating Crime-Prevention Resources....................119
Chapter 7 Politics, Government, and Prevention....................155
Chapter 8 Programming in the Modern Juvenile Court....................183
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