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Systematic reviews aim to minimize any possible bias in drawing conclusions by stating explicit criteria for inclusion and exclusion of studies, by conducting extensive and wide-ranging searches for possibly eligible studies, and by making all stages of the review explicit and transparent so that the methods can be checked and replicated. Over a decade ago, a concerted effort was made by members of the criminology community, including the Editors and contributors of this volume, to bring the practice of systematic reviews to the study of Criminology, providing replicable, evidence-based data to answer key questions about the study of crime causation, detection, and prevention. Now, the pioneers in this effort present a comprehensive stock-taking of what has been learned in the past decade of systematic reviews in criminology. Much has been discovered about the effectiveness of (for example) boot camps, “hot spots” policing, closed-circuit television surveillance, neighborhood watch, anti-bullying programs in schools, early parenting programs, drug treatment programs, and other key topics.

This ambitious volume aims to bring together and assess all major systematic reviews of the effectiveness of criminological interventions, to draw broad conclusions about what works in policing, corrections, developmental prevention, situational prevention, drug abuse treatments, sentencing and deterrence, and communities. It will be of interest to researchers in criminology and criminal justice, as well as in related fields such as public health and forensic science, with important implications for policy-makers and practitioners.

Decisively showing that the “nothing works” era is over, this volume takes stock of what we know, and still need to know, to prevent crime. Focusing on different areas of prevention, individual chapters provide a state-of–the art analysis of the extent evaluation evidence. Together, they comprise an essential guide to improving both public safety and the lives of those most at risk of criminal involvement. I plan to keep this book close at hand and to use if often!

Francis T. Cullen, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati

This impressive volume, edited by Weisburd, Farrington and Gill, provides a comprehensive picture of what we’ve learned from systematic reviews about “what works” in addressing crime – and goes on to identify the “next step” issues that demand attention if the field is to move forward. At a time when there is a broad commitment to bringing science to the front lines of practice, this book should be on the reading list of both policymakers and scholars.

Laurie O. Robinson, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law Society, George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice



Chapter 1. Introduction: What Works in Crime Prevention?

Just four decades ago, the predominant narrative in crime prevention and rehabilitation was that nothing works. Since that time, criminologists have accumulated a wide body of evidence about programs and practices in systematic reviews. In this book we summarize what is known in seven broad criminal justice domains, drawing upon systematic reviews of over 3,000 studies. While not everything works, our “review of reviews” provides persuasive evidence of the effectiveness of programs, policies, and practices across a variety of intervention areas and highlights the need to improve the utility of systematic reviews for policymakers.
David Weisburd, David P. Farrington, Charlotte Gill

Chapter 2. Developmental and Social Prevention

The main aim of this chapter is to assess systematic reviews of the effects of developmental and social prevention programs. These programs are defined as community-based programs designed to prevent antisocial behavior, targeted on children and adolescents up to age 18, and aiming to change individual, family, or school risk factors. Only evaluations that reported effects on the outcomes of delinquency, offending, violence, aggression, or bullying were included. In total, 33 systematic reviews were summarized: three general reviews, five reviews of individually focused interventions, eight reviews of family-based programs, and 17 reviews of school-based programs (four of which were targeted individual risk factors). It was possible to calculate effect sizes and confidence intervals from 22 reviews. Every summary odds ratio effect size was greater than 1, indicating that all types of programs were effective. Furthermore, the effect size was statistically significant in 18 out of 22 cases. The median effect size was 1.55, which corresponds (on some reasonable assumptions) to a decrease in offending of about 30 %. This chapter makes recommendations about how to improve systematic reviews and concludes that more investment in developmental and social prevention is warranted.
David P. Farrington, Maria M. Ttofi, Friedrich A. Lösel

Chapter 3. Community Interventions

Community-based crime prevention embraces a number of strategies, from civic engagement in response to crime and disorder issues, to interventions for at-risk youth and community correctional and reentry programs for adjudicated offenders. Although there is strong meta-analytic evidence for the effectiveness of individualized treatment delivered in a community setting, we know less about the conditions under which community resources can be mobilized more generally to control crime. This chapter takes stock of what has been learned from reviews of community-based interventions, including neighborhood watch, mentoring and diversion of youth, intensive probation, electronic monitoring, and restorative justice.
Overall, despite its broad scope, research on community interventions is surprisingly limited. However, there is good evidence that community programs designed to strengthen and restore positive social ties with at-risk youth are effective. In community corrections, research quality is strong but results are mixed at best. The most effective programs target specific risk factors or directly reengage the offender with the community, but general deterrence and punishment programs are at best ineffective and at worst harmful. We know much less about the most effective strategies to mobilize communities against crime, but emerging findings suggest that proactive engagement with the police and other civic partners to enhance legitimacy and build social cohesion may produce the best results. Finally, before we can conclude “what works” in community-based crime prevention, we need to better define the community’s role in crime prevention and the mechanisms by which it can be effective.
Charlotte Gill

Chapter 4. Situational Prevention

Situational crime prevention (SCP) measures are those that aim to prevent crime by reducing opportunities for offending and by increasing the effort and risk to offenders (Clarke, Building a safer society: Strategic approaches to crime prevention, 1995). There have been a number of systematic reviews, using the explicitly stated, transparent method adopted and documented by the Campbell Collaboration that focus on assessing the effectiveness of SCP interventions. In this chapter, we review the evidence arising from these reviews to assess whether general conclusions can be made about the effectiveness of situational approaches to the reduction and prevention of crime. In reviewing the evidence, we examine the individual effect sizes from all contributing studies as a single group. Our reason for taking this approach is that it allows us to examine the heterogeneity in evaluation effect sizes when assessing the broad effectiveness of SCP interventions and to see if there are any systematic patterns. We do this by classifying studies on a number of factors other than the type of situational measure employed. Analysis of the available reviews (there were seven that met our criteria) indicates that the mainstream situational measures such as closed-circuit television camera, improved lighting, and public area surveillance are effective at reducing crime, as are some of the situational strategies such as repeat victimization schemes and neighborhood watch. Our heterogeneity analysis revealed that other contextual factors, such as the time and place of implementation or the type of crime targeted, appear to be as important in explaining variation in effectiveness as the type of SCP employed.
Kate J. Bowers, Shane D. Johnson

Chapter 5. Policing

While just a decade ago, there were almost no systematic reviews on policing, we now have 17 completed systematic reviews of police practices. We examined these reviews to assess what we have learned, questions that remain unanswered, and how we can best move forward. Our findings suggest the effectiveness of a number of policing strategies for addressing crime including hot spots policing, problem-oriented policing, community problem-solving to address disorder, directed patrol to reduce gun violence, focused deterrence approaches, and using DNA in investigations. Additionally, there is little evidence that focused policing approaches displace crime to areas nearby. This is a very different portrait of the effectiveness of policing than even as recently as the early 1990s, when it was widely believed that the police were ineffective crime fighters. Information-gathering interrogation methods seem promising for reducing false confessions, and programs to increase procedural justice show promise for increasing citizen satisfaction, compliance, and perceptions of police legitimacy. Community policing programs have an overall impact on improving citizen satisfaction and perceptions of legitimacy. In contrast, certain programs show less effective results, including second responder programs, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and police stress management programs. While the existing reviews have been beneficial in advancing policing knowledge, they are not without limitations. The major shortcoming in many reviews is a lack of rigorous eligible studies, particularly a lack of randomized experiments. Additionally, heterogeneity in treatments and outcome measures within reviews makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions from mean effects in meta-analyses. A lack of descriptive validity can also make effect size calculation challenging. Moving forward, we suggest a focus on balancing research generation and research synthesis to ensure that there are high-quality reviews with a sufficient number of rigorous studies.
Cody W. Telep, David Weisburd

Chapter 6. Sentencing and Deterrence

The impact of sentencing choice and deterrence strategies has important implications for public safety and cost to the criminal justice system (CJS) and its victims. Evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analytical studies provides valuable information about the relative effectiveness of these strategies. In this chapter, we use systematic principles to identify systematic reviews and meta-analytical studies of sentencing options and deterrence strategies. Five databases and two websites were searched between the date of database inception up until February 2012. Abstracts and papers were screened for inclusion and data extracted resulting in 22 publications (reporting on 16 reviews). The findings revealed 12 different sentencing reviews and four reviews using or applying deterrence theory. The results were categorized into “What Works”, “What’s Promising”, what showed “No evidence of any effect”, “Harmful interventions”, and interventions where the conclusions were “Uncertain”. Those that were classified as “what works” included adult drug courts where the majority (n = 8) of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been conducted. The largest body of evidence showed some promising findings but require additional research to ascertain firm conclusions. Interventions that were classified as promising included mental health courts (MHCs), post-booking schemes, FACT, jail-based courts, mental health and probation and parole schemes, and driving while intoxicated (DWI) initiatives. We remain “uncertain” about the effectiveness of juvenile drug courts and courts assessing DWI offenders, court-mandated domestic violence schemes, and use of the death penalty. The broad category of sentencing and deterrence, specifically in relation to sentence severity and boot camps, was found to have “no evidence of any effect”. Limitations of the literature included the external generalizability of the results beyond interventions in the USA.
Amanda E. Perry

Chapter 7. Correctional Programs

Rehabilitation of the criminal offender is a goal of the criminal justice system. A range of programs have been developed for incarcerated offenders, although availability of these programs is typically inadequate. Programs often focus on educational or vocational deficits or address problems that contribute to crime, such as criminogenic thinking or substance abuse. This chapter summarizes the findings from meta-analyses that examine the effectiveness of such correctional programs. Overall, the evidence suggests that correctional programs produce some benefit. The existing evidence most strongly supports the effectiveness of the following programs: group-based cognitive-behavioral programs for general offenders, group-based cognitive-behavioral programs for sex offenders, hormonal mediation treatment for sex offenders, and prison-based therapeutic communities for substance abusing offenders. The evidence for educational and vocational programs is promising. No programs were found to be detrimental in terms of future criminal behavior. Additional rigorous research is needed to better understand what changes within an offender treatment programs should try to bring about.
David B. Wilson

Chapter 8. Drug Interventions

This chapter investigates what has been learned from systematic reviews on the effectiveness of drug treatment interventions in reducing crime. The chapter is based on a systematic review of systematic reviews and uses rigorous and transparent procedures for selecting and analyzing relevant studies. Published reviews were identified by searching selected electronic databases. Unpublished reviews were obtained from materials already known to the authors and by contacting prominent researchers in the field. Reviews were defined as eligible if (among other things) they were published between 1992 and 2012, available in the English language, and defined as a systematic review in the paper. The eligibility criteria also required that there were outcome measures relating to crime. The results of the analysis are presented in a summary table showing mean effect sizes and confidence intervals (when available), the significance and direction of the findings, and a breakdown of the effect of mediating factors. The analysis also includes a forest plot of quantitative results and a summary of the authors’ interpretation of the intervention and outcomes. The chapter concludes by discussing which interventions are the most effective in terms of crime reduction. The treatments included under the heading of “What works?” were ‘naltrexone treatment” and “therapeutic communities.” The single treatment type described as “promising” was “buprenorphine substitution.” Programs defined as having “no effect” or a negative effect included other forms of “substitute prescribing” (excluding buprenorphine), “reintegration and recovery” programs and “supervision and surveillance.”
Katy R. Holloway, Trevor H. Bennett

Chapter 9. Qualitative Data in Systematic Reviews

Systematic reviews that examine evidence derived from a variety of sources carry important details that can contribute information to key questions within the perspective of “what works.” The ability to reveal the inner mechanisms of interventions by shedding light on the contextual variables in the examined policy can help researchers to understand how the examined program works. The integration of methods and data from various sources enables the researcher to address the complexity of the examined program by following the ways in which program attributes are experienced. In addition, qualitative research is essential in providing a fuller picture of areas that have not yet been examined. Embracing this attitude, researchers in the areas of medicine, social work, education, and public health have set out to conduct systematic reviews, evaluating interventions from various angles. Recognizing that the assembly of evidence from a variety of sources provides rich information that can inform policy and practice, scholars have modified traditional systematic review procedures to incorporate data generated by qualitative methods.
The inclusion of qualitative data in studies that review issues relating to criminology, however, has rarely been accepted by criminologists. The aim of this chapter is to try to bridge this gap by introducing some of the main issues in the arena of systematic review to encourage criminologists to participate in this new trend and give interpretive work a more central role within the criminological research sphere.
Mimi Ajzenstadt

Chapter 10. Evidence Mapping to Advance Justice Practice

This chapter provides an overview of the Evidence Mapping to Advance Justice Practice (EMTAP) project commissioned by the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!) at George Mason University to summarize systematic reviews (SRs) and meta-analyses related to behavioral health interventions in the justice system. An extensive overview of the EMTAP “review of reviews” methodology is provided and findings from the coding of more than 300 SRs and meta-analyses are discussed. Project findings highlight problematic variability in the descriptive validity of included SRs. Incomplete reporting of key intervention features limits the transportability of research synthesis findings to practice. Among coded reviews, only 48.3 % considered methodological quality of primary studies, 8.7 % considered implementation fidelity, and 37.2 % assessed for publication bias. EMTAP findings identify several important limitations that plague many existing research syntheses including poorly defined interventions, a lack of consideration of implementation issues, and inadequately reported findings that hinder transportability and replication. The implications of EMTAP findings for research and practice are discussed and recommendations are made for improving the quality of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in criminology and related fields.
Michael S. Caudy, Faye S. Taxman, Liansheng Tang, Carolyn Watson

Chapter 11. Economic Analyses

There have been a few systematic reviews of economic studies of criminal justice interventions. Findings from four reviews are presented in this chapter. All report the potential for positive return on investment from programmes that are demonstrated to be effective in reducing crime, offending and re-offending. Economic benefits to taxpayers, victims and wider society can be substantial, with benefits exceeding intervention costs several times over. Review authors consistently report a paucity of good-quality primary research studies and inconsistent methodologies and call for more research. Moreover, there are limitations in the usefulness of reviews, especially for policymakers who require jurisdiction-specific economic analysis to make decisions relevant to the local context. Rather than waiting for the research base to develop, a complementary approach is presented using a case study from the Washington State Institute of Public Policy. This approach uses systematic review of high-quality impact studies, and combines these with jurisdiction-specific economic models. This enables investment return to be calculated in the context of the policy decisions being made and allows interventions and programmes to be compared. Policymakers internationally are encouraged to use similar approaches to economic analysis of crime science to inform government investment in adult and juvenile justice programmes.
Jacqueline Mallender, Rory Tierney

Chapter 12. Conclusion: What Works in Crime Prevention Revisited

Just four decades ago, the predominant narrative about the effectiveness of crime prevention was simply that nothing works. In this concluding chapter, we ask whether systematic reviews of evidence in interventions in crime and justice have changed our overall understanding of what works. Our assessments of systematic reviews show that there is strong evidence of the effectiveness of crime prevention and rehabilitation programs, policies, and practices across a wide variety of intervention areas. That array of findings is broad and persuasive. It is time to abandon the nothing works idea not only in corrections, but also in developmental prevention, community prevention, situational prevention, policing, sentencing and deterrence, and drug treatment interventions. The reviews also suggest that not everything works, and that criminologists, practitioners, and policymakers must look to the evidence to identify effective programs. Having synthesized the evidence gained from our book, we turn to key gaps in the existing knowledge base. We observe that the crime prevention and rehabilitation reviews provide general evidence that crime prevention and rehabilitation programs work, but they do not provide the kind of everyday guidance to practitioners and policymakers that an evidence base needs to become useful to practice. In turn, we note the paucity of experimental studies, and a growing problem in what we compare our treatments to. We also argue, drawing from chapters in the volume, that crime prevention and rehabilitation studies and reviews need to give greater attention to cost-benefit analysis, qualitative methods, and descriptive validity.
David Weisburd, David P. Farrington, Charlotte Gill

Erratum: Chapter 8 Drug Interventions

Without Abstract
Katy R. Holloway, Trevor H. Bennett


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