The John Howard Society is a leader in educating the public on criminal justice issues. Through research papers and practical criminal justice education programs, the Society ensures that people have access to accurate information about the criminal justice system, about how to best resolve conflicts, and how crime can be prevented. The belief is that positive changes in the justice system can only occur if the public is well informed as to the true nature and scope of criminal behaviour.

Although there will always be those who will favour tougher laws and harsher punishments, lately there has been a significant surge of interest in long term, social development-based crime prevention approaches. Crime prevention through social development (CPSD) is long term, proactive, preventive and is guided by social and economic factors. CPSD does not replace other crime prevention strategies, but instead compliments them by forming partnerships and collaborating with other agencies and groups responsible for dealing with the conditions associated with crime. This includes agencies responsible for planning and development, the family, health, employment and training, housing, social services, schools, the police and other sectors of the justice system. CPSD emphasizes the need to pay explicit attention to the root causes of crime. In doing so, social problem approaches to crime prevention recognize that these root causes lie outside the purview of the formal criminal justice system. The idea that crime and, therefore, crime policies must reflect the relationship of crime to larger problems of community and social structure is essential to crime prevention strategies.

CPSD uses targeted, long term programs aimed specifically at alleviating the combination of social and economic problems that can increase the risk of criminal behaviour. CPSD addresses a wide range of risk factors connected with crime through the efforts of various social development policies, programs and services already in existence, such as housing, education, health, income security and social services. To be effective, they need to be focussed on specific at-risk individuals and must operate in coordination with several other initiatives at the same time. The reason for this is that those most at risk of becoming involved in crime are often struggling with several problems such as unemployment, poverty, family violence, learning problems in school, and/or substance abuse.

Although the existence of risk factors may not inevitably lead to criminality, many of these factors in combination can increase the propensity toward criminal behaviour. These risk factors include, but are not limited to, age, gender, socioeconomic status, family disruption, and peer influence.

Statistics consistently show that particular age groups commit more offences than others. Although adults commit the majority of offences, youths aged 12 to 17 are disproportionately represented in statistics for violent and property crime (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1994). Although age as a risk factor cannot be analysed in isolation, it will continue to be considered a significant risk factor connected with crime. Crime prevention efforts must focus on the early years of adolescence since many persistent delinquents begin their involvement in anti-social activities before adolescence. In other words, CPSD efforts with the best chance of success in the long term will be those aimed at altering the early childhood experiences which increase the risks of criminal behaviour later in life.

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