Issue Paper

Enacted: Jan 2001

The American Probation and Parole Association has generated a "Vision" for the future of community corrections: "We see a fair, just, and safe society where community partnerships are restoring hope by embracing a balance of prevention, intervention and advocacy." This statement further adds that "Primary prevention initiatives are cultivated through our leadership and guidance." Traditionally, those of us in the field have been actively engaged in "intervention" and "advocacy" but, APPA's inclusion of "prevention" in its vision has challenged us to define what we mean by "prevention" in the context of our "Vision" and to be ready to lead the charge in guiding our communities to fairness, justice, and safety through its application.

The following article entitled "United By Prevention" by National Crime Prevention Council is a chapter in the recent APPA publication "Community Justice Concepts and Strategies."


National Crime Prevention Council, adapted from Uniting Communities Through Crime Prevention

Crime prevention is: "a challenge to parents, children and teens, concerned citizens, grassroots and community groups, businesses, law enforcement and the criminal justice system, churches, youth and social service workers, housing and employment systems, to:

  • ADMIT that their community has crime problems,
  • TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for solving these problems,
  • SET PRIORITIES for addressing various crime problems,
  • IDENTIFY resources available to tackle problems,
  • WORK TOGETHER to solve or reduce the impact of the problems.

National Crime Prevention Council, 1986

Community Involvement

Preventing crime is a purpose that can unite neighborhoods and communities, a task that can gather energies and allies. It involves everyone in the community, focuses community energies in positive ways, builds partnerships, reduces crime and fear, and makes communities more vital. It adapts to local needs and circumstances, saves money and heartache, and frees up resources to meet other community needs. Crime prevention is not a single program but an approach that both deters crime and enhances community health.

Crime prevention deals with both immediate situations and causes that are far removed in time and space. It provides know-how for individuals, neighborhoods, or whole cities; it addresses the physical and social needs of communities, from redesigning streets to formulating social programs. It deals with fear that paralyzes communities and their residents and saps civic lifeblood.

The Community Setting

A community is a gathering of people who live in the same area or who share interests. A residential neighborhood, a high-rise apartment or office building, a school, a church, a professional society, or a civic network can be a community. Communities are central to the concept and practice of crime prevention. Our definitions of community have shifted to encompass more than just place of residence, which has made the idea of community even more important. Most adults and children spend large parts of their time in at least two communities - school or work and residential. Freedom from crime is important in each, as in all communities.

To thrive, the community must offer its members a sense of security not just in their homes but in streets, corridors, public places, and commercial spaces. Community members must feel free to interact with each other, not forced into isolation for mere survival. That feeling must be supported not just by law enforcement agencies but by those who make up the community. In this context, it goes hand-in-glove with community policing, which seeks to assist communities in building and sustaining that sense of security and shared expectations and standards. Not unlike community policing, crime prevention invests the community in forestalling harm, in addressing causes, and in solving problems rather than just reacting to events and addressing symptoms.

Beyond Self-Protection

Individual prevention actions are necessary but not sufficient. Even if home is a secure fortress, its residents must travel to work, the store, school, church, and play. There must be a safe and secure climate beyond the front door in order for them to do so. Creating that climate requires action in concert with other members of the community. The action may not always be easy, but it can be effective-even in reclaiming hard-hit areas. Whether it is as basic as organizing a Neighborhood Watch or as complex as ridding the area of an active drug trade, community action draws in the local law enforcement agency as a key partner.

With a safer neighborhood, many people are willing to meet the challenge of community-wide action. It is no accident that community policing’s advocates point to its role in re-establishing or reinforcing a sense of security and control among and by neighbors as one of the major assets of this approach. Community policing recognizes intrinsically that security must extend beyond self-protection, that the community must be safe for the individual to be secure within it. It also works to enhance the sense of cohesion and the partnerships that enable communities to prevent crime.

There is no question that a community suffers from every crime. The loss of productive time; the costs of injuries; and the expense of catching, prosecuting, and jailing the offender combine with less tangible but no less real community wounds-increased citizen fear, diminished use of public space, reduced participation in civic activities, decreased economic and social activity, and decreased respect for duly constituted authority-to cause physical, fiscal, and psychic harm to the concept of community.

Fear, in particular, is a vicious force that can cause residents to change their behavior dramatically, disrupt community life thoroughly, and force residents into isolation. A parent refuses to attend a PTA meeting; a business closes at 5:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 p.m.; older residents venture outside only briefly at the height of daylight; cultural, sports, and civic events suffer as concerned patrons forego attendance to avoid the prospect of victimization; children are kept out of playgrounds and parks by worried adults.

The modern concept of community-oriented policing has recognized the role of fear in the community’s reaction to crime, and the best community policing models acknowledge that civic perceptions deserve equal attention with crime realities in identifying and addressing community problems. The crime prevention experience, like that of community policing, documents the power of working with residents in the environments that are important to them on the problems and concerns that make a difference in their lives, rather than dealing only with cold, sometimes inadequate, statistics.

The public health community, especially through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Public Health Service (Department of Health and Human Services), has in recent years acknowledged that violent crime is a preventable public health problem, and that, as such, it must be addressed on a community rather than on an individual level. It is the community’s health in this case that must be restored or reinforced if crime is to be reduced.

Aiming to Empower Communities

Crime prevention seeks to build and sustain the kinds of communities that can keep themselves healthy through a sensible combination of formal (legal) and informal (social) controls and safeguards. Through regulations, laws, and sanctions, the community provides explicit standards and expectations and establishes official punishment for those who violate the rules. Unofficial attitudes and actions by community members, such as peer pressure and neighborhood standards, are the informal ways in which the community defines, teaches, and encourages acceptable behavior in a variety of settings. Examples include the neighbor who stops a child from vandalizing a street sign, the children who refuse drugs and report pushers, or the youth who pressures friends to stay out of gangs.

Informal social controls in a community are extremely important in preventing crime. They are what many people speak of when they talk about "the way things used to be." One study described informal social controls in a familiar way (Greenberg, Rohe, and Williams, 1995, p. 1-2).

Neighbors questioning strangers, watching over each other’s property, and intervening in local disturbances (e.g., scolding children for fighting) are all examples of informal social control. The basis for these behaviors is a shared set of norms for appropriate public behavior.

Neighborhoods and smaller communities cannot, in the long term, remain healthy unless the larger community is both healthy and supportive. Crime prevention and community policing both acknowledge the underlying truth that civic participation, activity, and freedom cannot flourish if crime or fear is rampant, and that informal social standards must play a major role in reducing or eliminating both crime and fear. They also acknowledge that the community must own these standards and develop these mechanisms if they are to be truly effective.

Promise Grounded in Experience

The promise of crime prevention as an approach to helping communities was spelled out by the Crime Prevention Coalition of America, which consists of more than 118 federal, national, and state agencies and organizations, in Crime Prevention in America: Foundations for Action published by the National Crime Prevention Council in 1990. The Coalition member groups described the need in the following way (National Crime Prevention Council, 1990, p.64):

Crime is a problem for many communities, and predictions are made about the burden it imposes for our future. If nothing is done, these predictions may well come true. But they can be challenged if we take responsibility for molding our own future by planning and practicing crime prevention...The challenge facing each of us is to accept crime prevention as basic to our lives and to pledge to take action with our families, our neighbors, and communities to solve problems.

The three-year process that led to Foundations drew on hundreds of years of combined experience and led the Coalition to set forth 11 principles of crime prevention:

Crime Prevention Is

  1. Everyone’s business
  2. More than security
  3. A responsibility for all levels of government
  4. Linked with solving social problems
  5. Cost-effective

Crime Prevention Requires

  1. A central position in law enforcement
  2. Active cooperation among all elements of the community
  3. Education
  4. Tailoring to local needs and conditions
  5. Continual testing and improvement

Crime Prevention Improves - The quality of life for every community

(Ohio Crime Prevention Association, 1994, p.11)

The Scope of Crime Prevention

A definition of crime prevention popular in the 1970s and 1980s was the anticipation, recognition, and appraisal of a crime risk and the initiation of some action to remove or reduce it. Over time, this definition became closely linked with household protection—lights, locks, alarms, and the like. It did not reflect the role of public attitudes and fears in setting community context; it did not account for the need to look at causes as well as symptoms.

In 1990, the Crime Prevention Coalition of America formulated the following definition of crime prevention (NCPC, 1990, p.64):

A pattern of attitudes and behaviors directed both at reducing the threat of crime and enhancing the sense of safety and security, to positively influence the quality of life in our society and to help develop environments where crime cannot flourish.

This definition clarifies the importance of community as a base for prevention. It also recognizes that there is a dual task: reducing crime’s threats to the community and developing communities that discourage crime.

This definition also acknowledges the importance of community perceptions. One task of community crime prevention is to help people overcome the crippling effects of unwarranted fear while acknowledging their legitimate concerns and helping to resolve these problems. Like community policing, crime prevention seeks to understand local needs and perceptions and solve problems in local contexts.

Crime prevention encourages and embraces the many community-building activities that neighborhood and community groups have found to be critical to their success. That is one reason Neighborhood Watch efforts are so compatible with the work of general civic organizations. These activities are as widely varied as the needs of the community and the crime causes they are trying to address. They can range from general maintenance such as installing lights, cleaning up graffiti and litter to positive opportunities - providing mentoring, recreation, transportation, job training to economic development - developing industries, making infrastructure improvements, and giving aid to small businesses.

The Answer from Many Perspectives

From many different viewpoints, crime prevention fits with much that has been learned about our communities and their needs.

For example, community crime prevention is central to the concept of public or community health. Violence has for more than a decade been seen as a problem that can be studied, understood and prevented. Public health efforts have begun to focus on violence as a public health problem, especially violence among youth, applying its prevention perspective to what has become the leading cause of death among many young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been a focal point for this activity. In communities such as San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, Houston, and Newark, public health specialists have begun a variety of violence prevention initiatives with important results.

Economics teaches that community safety is a "public good." No single individual can provide neighborhood or community security alone, but people working together, pooling resource and knowledge, can produce and share this commodity. Crime prevention theorists have used the term "co-production of public safety" to describe the idea that just as everyone shares the benefits, so must everyone take part in establishing them.

The concept of risk assessment familiar to businesses and strategic analysts also applies to communities. The community faces a variety of risks ranging from flood to earthquake, from crime wave to tidal wave. By thoughtful assessment and management of these risks, using prevention and damage control strategies, the community can minimize potential losses. Crime prevention seeks to manage and reduce the crime risk. It also frees resources and builds resilience against future problems.

Some of the nation’s best policy thinkers on criminal justice have strongly endorsed the concept of community-based crime prevention (Rosenbaum et al., 1988, p. 324):

Expanding the role of ordinary citizens in the ‘ war on crime ’ has been recommended by no less than three national commissions in the United States, which assessed the nation’s response to crime...based on the premise that private citizens play a major role in maintaining order in a free society, and therefore should be encouraged to accept more responsibility for prevention of crime...Because society cannot afford a ‘cop on every corner’ or a parole officer for every parolee, criminal justice scholars and policy makers must take a closer look at the costs and benefits of this relatively cheap alternative.
Communities Offer the Best Setting for Action

The comprehensive study, Understanding and Preventing Violence 7 (1993), published by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences concludes that violence is caused by a wide array of factors-several dozen play a role. Community is at the center of prevention, based on their analysis. It is the best-or most logical-place at which to change many of the individual and social factors that contribute to violence.

Obviously, some factors require state or national action; some can most readily be changed through individual or family action. Where action is necessary outside the community framework, the community can nonetheless support and encourage those changes. By providing or encouraging appropriate services, the community can have an impact on broad social issues, e.g., economic development and employment levels, and on individual physical and psychological factors, e.g., through sound nutrition, parenting assistance, and good prenatal care.

Local law enforcement agencies in the United States have been described as the last 24-hour social service agencies. Most communities view police and sheriffs as the court of first resort for maintaining or re-establishing order. But social service agencies and law enforcement staffs have been reaching out to form rich partnerships, under banners of both community policing and crime prevention.

Not every neighborhood or community is immediately equipped to tackle crime and its causes. Some need more help than others in organizing and mobilizing residents. Some, in a state of near collapse, may need rescue, CPR, and a large dose of hope as well as help before they are ready to take their own reins without support. But the goal of crime prevention is always to move toward a self-sustaining, self-renewing community, no matter how long the journey.

Criminal Justice Links With Communities

The importance of the community in preventing and reducing crime is increasingly recognized in the criminal justice system. Community policing, for example, emphasizes that law enforcement works in conjunction with local residents and institutions rather than in response or reaction, in collaboration rather than confrontation. Whether in community policing or community justice, the ultimate goal of problem-solving and collaboration is to prevent further crimes. The energies of law enforcement and criminal justice agencies are better invested in resolving problems than in just reacting repeatedly to the same calls for service and repeat offenders.

Mini-stations in neighborhoods; community bicycle, scooter, horseback, and foot patrols; co-location of law enforcement and social services in neighborhood settings and multi-service centers; community and neighborhood-based courts; and neighborhood organization support are just some of the ways in which community policing has brought the criminal justice system function into closer contact with the people it serves.

Preventing crime also has become increasingly urgent as a policy goal because state and local courts are overwhelmed, the corrections system is stretched to its limits, and local and state governments are faced with shrinking resources to pay these costs. These governments also face competing demands ranging from education to infrastructure. Prevention offers the prospect of heading off many of the criminal justice costs while at the same time avoiding other costs of crime.

Courts also are increasing their involvement with communities. They are locating in neighborhoods and developing special mentoring and monitoring relationships with defendants in cases like drug abuse. Restitution, whether monetary or in the form of repairing the damage, is increasingly used as a means of administering justice. Courts have promoted or approved a variety of neighborhood dispute resolution systems to help settle conflicts peacefully in the community and with relative informality. Prosecutors are working with community groups to gather evidence on drug dealers, to provide victim and witness support, and to build prevention systems. Probation and parole departments are working with police departments, prosecutors, and defendants in new partnerships to reduce recidivism and enhance community safety. Corrections experts are stressing the value of community-focused correctional systems and alternatives to incarceration, both to relieve prison overcrowding and to provide an established community link for those being released from custody. The conclusion is clear: The community setting offers the most hope for change for the most causes of crime at the most enduring level.

Community Crime Prevention Works

Community crime prevention has been under way since the 1970s in communities throughout the country, encouraged by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Since then, despite crime prevention’s many successes, some officials and civic leaders still express skepticism about the concept. But over the years, crime prevention has developed a track record that demonstrates its success in reducing crime, reducing fear, and restoring citizens’ sense of security in many ways. Even criminologists have agreed that crime prevention is a valid approach. Reviewing 11 rigorous evaluations described in Community Crime Prevention: Does It Work?, Robert K. Yin (1986) observed, "The evaluations and their largely positive outcomes do point to the fact that crime can be prevented, under a variety of circumstances."

Community crime prevention has demonstrated effectiveness in six key areas:

  1. Increasing Knowledge - In Lincoln, Nebraska, a major outreach effort by police officers to educate the Vietnamese community about ways to prevent crime not only reduced victimization among that group but increased knowledge, respect, and understanding between law enforcement and the refugee community.
  2. Changing Attitudes - Fear of crime has been documented to be reduced in a number of cases. Community-based programs by police in Houston, Texas, and Newark, New Jersey, helped to reduce residents’ fear of crime and to increase their positive attitudes toward law enforcement officials.
  3. Altering Actions - In one Columbus, Ohio, public housing community, the active involvement of a crime prevention coordinator and a multi-faceted approach reduced the number of drug houses in the community from 251 to 5, in just two years.
  4. Mobilizing Communities - In Baltimore, Maryland, a deep and strong partnership among residents, city government, the Police Department, community organizers, probation and parole, treatment services, and foundations has reinvigorated the safety and vitality of six of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Tackling drug-related and other violent crime head-on along with disorder issues, these collaborators have inspired a statewide effort to focus crime prevention and control in a "hot spot" in each of Maryland’s counties. An extraordinary commitment to community organizing and training is another hallmark of this now citywide strategy, which has reduced crime by as much as 50% in some neighborhoods. Boston, Massachusetts has set a new national standard for collaboration among law enforcement, criminal justice systems, and the community. Their embrace of a research-based, neighborhood-focused, and fully balanced prevention/intervention/enforcement strategy has saved countless young lives, bringing a new atmosphere of hope to youth and other residents throughout the city. From July 1995 to May 1998, only three juveniles were killed by a gun, compared with 150 in 1991 alone. An extraordinary commitment to strategic planning respected neighborhood level concerns and helped point out citywide priorities which remain the focal point of the city’s successful efforts.
  5. Reducing Crime Rates - From city hall to the state courts to the colorfully named neighborhoods, it seems nearly everyone in Hartford, Connecticut, is involved in something related to the city’s comprehensive anti-crime strategy. The Community Court, the 16 neighborhood-based, multi-agency and resident Problem Solving Committees, and partnerships with businesses are leading the city to a safer and brighter future. In 1997, neighborhoods experienced drops in reported crime of 20% to 40% as compared with 1995 and 1996. The strategy is supported by a local government committed to finding the "levers of change" for a more community-oriented approach, and a community which has tasted the successes of crime prevention and collaboration.
  6. Enhancing Quality of Life - Residents in one Columbia, South Carolina, community can now shop in their neighborhood’s first grocery store. A partnership between police, the city’s community development agency, residents, and area churches helped close down and remove drug houses. In their wake, this partnership helped build new housing and attract several new businesses, including the grocery store. Children now play in an area formerly frequented by drug traffickers. In one of the city’s public housing neighborhoods, a similar commitment to prevention and safety has resulted in the resumption of pizza and other food delivery to the neighborhood for the first time in recent memory. These results signal residents more active and secure in their communities and the return to "normal" life.
Enhancing the Quality of Life

Crime prevention has produced benefits beyond changing attitudes and behaviors, beyond mobilizing communities, beyond reducing crime rates. It has built better working relationships among government agencies in Knoxville, Tennessee; enabled once confrontational groups to develop solid working partnerships in Waterloo, Iowa; created strong community groups, generated police-community partnerships via Neighborhood Watch and numerous other programs, and saved businesses money and other crime losses.

Partners-community agencies and civic and neighborhood groups-have repeatedly attested that their ongoing working relationships make it far easier to reach the right parties, seek the right services, develop effective collaborations, and cut through needless bureaucracy. Such relationships not only conserve scarce resources but improve people’s satisfaction with the level of their work and communities.

Those involved in community-based crime prevention report frequently that they have a better understanding of the tasks facing other partners. A heightened sense of community develops as groups and individuals that previously did not communicate-or communicated only formally-begin to discover common concerns and interests and to see each other as allies in a greater cause.

National Crime Prevention Council. (1990). Crime prevention in America: Foundations for action. Washington, DC: Author.

Greenberg, S., Rohe, W., & Williams, J. (1985). Informal citizen action and crime prevention at the neighborhood level. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

National Crime Prevention Council. (1986). Maintaining neighborhood watch programs. In Topics in crime prevention. Washington, DC: Author.

Ohio Crime Prevention Association. (1994). Conference on community policing and crime prevention. Dublan, OH: Author.

Reiss, A. R., & Roth, J. P., (Eds.). (1993). Understanding and preventing violence. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

Rosenbaum, D. (1988, September). Community crime prevention: A review and synthesis of the literature. Justice Quarterly, 5(3), 324.

Yin, R. K. (1986). "Synthesis of Eleven Evaluations." Community crime prevention: Does it work? In ed, Rosenbaum, D, Cahn, M. Beverly Hills : Sage Publications, Chapter 11.