To address the centenary slogan ‘Bringing psychology to society’ The Psychologist is pleased to introduce a series of articles taking the form of practical advice on how to tackle major societal problems. In the first of these ‘action plans’ David P. Farrington proposes ways in which psychology can contribute to the reduction of crime. Also in this month's centenary coverage, biographies of J.G. Taylor, Carl Rogers, and Susan Isaacs, and 'Reducing the psychological impact of unemployment' by Mary Dalgleish.
With crime, as with illness, prevention is better than cure. Few people would argue that the optimal strategy to reduce coronary heart disease is to carry out quadruple heart bypass operations. Instead, efforts are made to identify the key risk factors for heart disease by following people up over time. These risk factors include smoking, a fatty diet, and lack of exercise. Efforts are then made to tackle these risk factors by encouraging people to stop smoking, to have a more healthy low-fat diet, and to take more exercise. This strategy has led to a marked decrease in coronary heart disease in many Western countries. The same risk-focused prevention strategy can be implemented to reduce crime, and a lot of research by psychologists has taken this approach. Prospective follow-up studies have identified key early risk factors for offending, including impulsiveness, low school attainment, poor parental supervision and harsh or erratic parental discipline. Experimental studies show that these risk factors can be tackled successfully in early prevention programmes, and later offending can be reduced. Effective prevention methods include cognitive-behavioural skills training, pre-school intellectual enrichment programmes, and parent management training (Farrington, 1996). Furthermore, risk factors for offending are often the same as risk factors for other types of social problems, and programmes that reduce offending often reduce other types of social problems as well.
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