Researchers in Texas have found that, like Generation X before them, millennials commit fewer crimes than their forefathers. The scientists also propose that a shift in criminal justice thinking may yield even better results.
In their study, ‘How Cohorts Changed Crime Rates, 1980–2016’, the team at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin found that, while crime rates overall are down since 1990, crime reduction efforts accounted for less than 50% of the drop in crime since 1990 and almost none since 2000.
In other words, criminal justice policy wasn’t actually moving the needle on crime, suggesting that other factors were at play in the decline of crime over time.
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For example, according to national crime statistics data, baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, were found to be the most criminally active in modern history. Generation X (1965-1980) committed fewer crimes and now, following the trend, millennials also commit fewer crimes than their predecessors.
“Since criminal activity starts in the teens and peaks at about 18, this means improved conditions in childhood – families, neighborhoods, schools – were mostly responsible for the crime drop,” said Bill Spelman, a professor of public affairs at the LBJ School and author of the report.
Spelman advocates a more proactive, preventative approach to reducing crime rates such as “helping our families, neighborhoods and schools raise kids who are respectful of others and don’t need to steal to get by.”
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Simultaneously, he argues in favor of a shift in thinking away from “stopping bad guys” to “helping kids be good guys.”
Spelman also claims that “gun and drug policies appear to increase crime rather than reduce it.” In other words, merely increasing the cost of crime, but failing to effectively dissuade people from engaging in criminality in the first place, is a failed strategy, according to crime statistics from recent decades.
In order to achieve an even more meaningful drop in overall crime, Spelman claims primary prevention measures are far more effective, given that most crimes are committed by people aged between 15 and 25, while the majority of criminality slows dramatically or ceases altogether between the ages of 25 and 40.
The so-called ‘period effect’, in which crime reduction methods focus almost entirely on current offenders and their crimes, had a visible impact on crime reduction in the middle of the last century, but eventually petered out.
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Spelman’s latest research paper offers an alternative by examining the ‘cohort effect’ or the relative criminality of people born in the same year.
So, while most of the crimes committed at present are perpetrated by millennials aged between 15 and 25, their generational peak crime rate is still below that of Generation X, which was in turn lower than the baby boomer peak.
The researchers therefore suggest a shift towards reducing delinquency among young children as critical to continuing the ongoing, downward trend in criminal activity as opposed to the misguided policy of punishment, opportunity reduction, or deterrence.
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