No child grows up wanting to be a criminal… so what goes wrong?
How could we, as a society, help these kids from heading down the wrong path? By watching and acting on early risk indicators for criminal behaviour, we can invest in a better future. If we neglect our children when they are young, crime is the cost we will have to bear. This observation is based on research-based evidence and my 30 years of first-hand experience as a police officer.
Risk Factors for Criminal Behavior
Crime is a phenomenon influenced from a variety of factors including education levels, cultural factors and the economy of a particular region. Kids are not born criminals; a number of factors come into play that make kids more likely to find themselves in a life of crime either as juveniles or later in life.
Very few juveniles commit crime; a small number of juveniles are responsible for the majority of juvenile crime and these juveniles show a number of at-risk indicators. These at-risk behaviors could include: failure in school, family problems (a history of criminal activity, abuse, neglect, abandonment), substance abuse, conduct problems (stealing, running away), and involvement in gangs. The Government of Canada provides a chart outlining the cumulative and interactive effects of risk factors by age group and the CDC outlines a similar chart of risk behavior by grade and gender. Youth who exhibit multiple risk factors are most likely to become career criminals; so, what can we do to prevent these risk factors from turning into future criminal behavior?
Pay Now or Pay Later
There is a cost to preventative services and programs that often prohibits their widespread adoption; ironically, this up-front preventative cost is lower than the costs of later crime.
Crime exacts a heavy cost, both financially and socially. From violent crimes and property crimes to drug and alcohol abuse, the costs is immeasurable. How can you measure the loss of a life? Can any victim put a cost on their experience? If juvenile risk factors can be a predictor of future crimes, why aren’t we stepping in to offer help before these crimes take place? If we can reduce crime by investing in our youth, why aren’t we?
It is our fault that crime continues to be such a problem; our inaction has allowed many kids to enter into a life of crime rather than becoming productive members of society. Our lack of courage and coordinated action at the front-end are exerting too high a cost.
Develop Positive Assets in Our Youth:
Investment Can Yield a 94% Chance They Will Not Engage in Crime
Research from the Search Institute has found that positive experiences (assets) and characteristics for young people have a correlation with reduced high-risk behaviors in youth (alcohol, violence, drugs, sexual activity). The more of these assets that children have, the greater the reduction in these negative behaviors and an increase in positive behaviors and attitudes such as leadership, good health, and success in school. Simply put, once a young person has 31 or more assets in their life, the chance that they will be involved in crime is less than 6%.
The asset we should be encouraging in our youth are developed from factors such as family dynamics, support from community adults, school effectiveness, peer influence, values development, and social skills. In essence, these protective factors create a resiliency in youth to help protect them from risk factors.
Based on these factors, it’s clear to see that early attempts to increase these assets can reduce future problem behavior. Through the development of programs, services, and counselling, we can help our youth to follow a better path in life. It is our responsibility to work to create programs to develop positive assets and to identify risk factors in our youth as an opportunity for additional intervention.
For those who are just starting off on a criminal path, we should consider that juvenile crime can also be an opportunity for intervention. Here we’re not talking necessarily about preventing crime but about working in the middle of the crime cycle – of finding ways of correcting crime that is already happening before it becomes worse.
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