Childhood risk factors and risk-focussed prevention

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David P. Farrington, Ph.D.
Institute of Criminology University of Cambridge

August 1, 2006

Chapter for: M. Maguire, R. Morgan and R. Reiner (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (4th ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press.

INTRODUCTION The main aim of this chapter is to review key information about childhood riskfactors and risk-focussed prevention. It focusses on individual and family risk factors for offending and antisocial behaviour, and on the results of prevention initiatives targeting these risk factors. The emphasis is on offending by males; most research on offending has

concentrated on males, because they commit most of the serious predatory and violent offences (for reviews of risk factors forfemales, see Moffitt et al., 2001). This review

focusses on research carried out in the United Kingdom (especially), the United States and similar Western industrialized democracies. Within a single chapter, it is obviously impossible to review everything that is known about childhood risk factors and risk-focussed interventions. I will be very selective in focussing on some of the more importantand replicable findings obtained in some of the more methodologically adequate studies: especially, prospective longitudinal studies of large community samples and randomized experiments conducted to evaluate the impact of prevention techniques. (For more extensive reviews, see Farrington and Welsh, 2007.) Tonry and Farrington (1995) distinguished four major prevention strategies. Developmentalprevention (reviewed in this chapter) refers to interventions designed to prevent the development of criminal potential in individuals, especially those targeting risk and protective factors discovered in studies of human development (Tremblay and Craig, 1995). Community prevention refers to interventions designed to change the social

conditions and institutions (e.g. families, peers, socialnorms, clubs, organizations) that influence offending in residential communities (Hope, 1995). Situational prevention refers to interventions designed to prevent the occurrence of crimes by reducing opportunities and increasing the risk and difficulty of offending (Clarke, 1995). Criminal justice prevention refers to traditional deterrent, incapacitative and rehabilitative strategies operated by lawenforcement and criminal justice system agencies. The term “risk-focussed prevention” is 1

now used more generally than “developmental prevention”, but the two terms essentially have the same meaning. This chapter is structured as follows. This section introduces the key concepts of developmental criminology, risk factors and risk-focussed prevention. This is followed by more detaileddiscussions of individual and family risk factors for offending, including reviews of explanations and possible intervening processes and a description of a wide-ranging integrative developmental theory. The next section reviews risk-focussed prevention

programmes that have been proved to be effective in high quality evaluation research, and the final concluding section outlines recommendations forresearch and policy. DEVELOPMENTAL CRIMINOLOGY Developmental criminology is concerned with three main issues: the development of offending and antisocial behaviour, risk factors at different ages, and the effects of life events on the course of development (Loeber and LeBlanc, 1990; LeBlanc and Loeber, 1998; Farrington, 2006a). Developmental topics are reviewed only briefly here, as the focus is onrisk factors and on risk-focussed prevention (see also Smith, this volume). In studying development, efforts are made to investigate the prevalence of offending at different ages, the frequency of offending by offenders, the ages of onset and desistance, and specialization and escalation of offending over time (for reviews of criminal career research, see Piquero et al., 2003, 2007). There are...
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