Christopher and Melissa Thompson.
2001. “Prevention: Juveniles as Potential Offenders.” Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice.
If a program prevents the first delinquent act, the social harm associated with subsequent delinquency can be avoided. To deliver on this promise, however, prevention programs must be effective and targeted to those most likely to offend. Evaluation research has challenged the effectiveness of prevention efforts, prompting one careful reviewer to conclude:
Prevention projects don’t work and they waste money, violate the rights of juveniles and their families, inspire bizarre suggestions and programs, and fail to affect the known correlates of urban delinquency…it is time to get out of the business of attempting to prevent delinquency (Lundman 1993:245).
In contrast to this appraisal, another careful examination concludes that such efforts:
show promise in their potential for helping participants and having positive spillover effects for other members of society (Karoly et al. 1998:107).
The differences in these assessments reflect the different programs, outcomes, and evaluation procedures examined. This entry critically examines prevention efforts and their evaluation, and identifies the most promising new approaches. Early attempts, such as the 1825 opening of the New York House of Refuge and sixteenth century British Poor Laws, aimed to prevent delinquency by housing a population we would today characterize as “at-risk youth.” Since this time alternative approaches have emerged, including individualized treatment, early childhood intervention, and programs targeting adolescents, low-income communities, and youth in the juvenile justice system.