Control, punishment and victims: crime prevention and control


Situational crime prevention

Ron clarke describes it as a "pre-emptive approach that relies not on improving society or its institutuions, but simply on reducing oppourtunity for crime". He identifies three features of measures aimed at situational crime prevention.

  • They are directed at specific crimes
  • They involve managing or alternating the immediate environment of the crime
  • They aim at increaing the effort and risks of commiting crime and reducing the rewards

For example, "Target hardening" measures such as locking doors and windows increase the effort a burglar needs to make. While more CCTV in shops makes it more likely that an offender will be caught.

The underlying theory here is that criminals make a "rational choice" to commit crime, they weigh up risk and reward and make a decision to commit crime. This is a contrast to "root" crime theories that suggests  causes such as socialisation or capitalist exploitation are the cause of crime. To deal with theses causes would involve huge changes to society. Clarke argues that these theories have no real solution to stopping crime. The most obvious thing to do is to focus on the immediate crime situation. This is where the scope for prevention is the greatest. 

Marcus Felson gives a fantastic example of situational crime prevention. A bus terminal in New York was poorly desinged and provided oppourtunity for devient conduct. For example the toilets were a place for luggage stealing, rough sleeping, drug dealing and homosexual liasions. Re-shaping the psysical environment to "design out crime" greatly reduced such activity. For example the large sinks were the homless were bathing were replaced by small hand basins.

A critisism of sitatuational crime prevention is that it does not reduce crime it only displaces it. After all if criminals are acting rationally then they will respond to target hardening by simply moving to were targets are softer. Chaiken et al found that a crack-down on subway robberies in Newyork simply saw them move to the streats above. Displacement takes several forms

  • Spatial - moving elsewhere to commit the crime
  • Temporal - commiting the crime at a different time
  • Target - choosing a different victim
  • Functional - simply commiting another type of crime

An example of situational prevention that was sucessful is suicide in Britain. In the 1960's almost half of suicides were the result of people gassing themselves in their ovens. Measures were taken to reduce this and by 1997 there were no suicides by this cause. What is striking is that by this time the overalll suicide rate had declined. This shows that by making an act of deviance harder to commit people are less likely to do it.

Evaluations of situational crime prevention 

  • Works with some kinds of crime but generally leads to displacement
  • Tends to focus on oppourtunistic petty street crime while ignoring white collar crime, corporate and state crime which are more harmful
  • It assumes all criminals are rational, this seems unlikely in crimes of violence that are likely to have the influence of…




Thank you, your notes are very useful :)