Unfortunately what ¨feels-good¨ to politicians may not be good for crime victims. It is urgent to make sure that our taxes are used to invest in actions that will indeed prevent victimization. Where prevention fails, we need actions that will meet the needs and rights of victims of crime.
For the harm done by the offender, he is accountable. For the harm done for policy makers not using what is known to prevent violence, they are accountable!
It is systematic science that enabled our political leaders to save lives and improve the quality of life for potential smokers. Forty years ago, it felt good to smoke and it felt good for politicians to allow folk to smoke. However, what felt good to politicians and to smokers was disastrous. Fortunately science came along and politicians invested in applying its conclusions.
This month, a unit close to the Prime Minister in the United Kingdom has produced a ¨politician´s guide¨ to using behavioral science to ensure that policies are deliverying results. The ¨behavioral science unit¨ proposes a more scientific approach to policy development. They call for a seven step process for developing public policy based on testing, learning, and adapting.
The unit uses examples of programs where we know that they work to prevent victimization, such as investing in more public health nurses, where random control trials proved that innovating with nurses working with new mothers reduced child abuse and teenage offending.
They also use counter examples where programs that judges and politicians felt were good, actually increased crime. For instance, ¨Scared straight¨ (see page 17 in unit report) was a popular program used by judges to send young offenders to visit prisons because the judges felt the young offenders would be deterred. However, when tested in a random control trial, it was shown that it did scare them straight. In fact, it increased, not decreased, offending.
While the UK Cabinet Office is right about testing and learning, they need to do more work on adapting. For instance, the US Department of Justice has a website on crime solutions that largely uses the results of random control trials to provide the results of testing and learning. In my blog post 20 in December, 2011, I have provided links to several other websites that provide this knowledge.
While we will always need more knowledge, the major challenge at the moment is getting legislators to use it. To be good to potential victims, politicians need to adapt and apply that knowledge (post 23) of what prevents victimization.
As I have shown in the last two chapters of Less Law, More Order, if they made a modest investment in what is proven of 5-10% of what we are currently spending on what is not proven, there would be many fewer victims – maybe 50% fewer!
Let´s hope that more smart politicians in 2012 will innovate with legislation and investments of taxes that are based on science to save lives and improve the quality of life for potential crime victims.