Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Individual Impact – At-Risk Population

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Individuals with heightened risk profiles,95 either as a result of accumulated criminogenic risks, the presentation of particularly troubling or numerous routine conflicts,96 or some combination thereof, are better able to navigate away from criminal activity when offered conflict-oriented interventions. For at- risk individuals, the use of multi-domain interventions and skills training reinforced by cognitive behavioral techniques helps moderate their risk profile and produces more easily navigable desistance pathways.

Dysfunction in any domain of one’s life can contribute to an increased risk of disorderly or criminal conduct.97 Experiencing conflicts in multiple domains further elevates this risk.98 As such, one of the most effective methods of preventing criminal activity amongst at-risk individuals is to address multiple risk factors using multiple techniques and acting across multiple domains.99

Cognitive-behavioral techniques100 enhance skill recall and contribute to prevention gains of up to 15%101 amongst at-risk individuals.102

The relative ease of desistance pathways can mean the difference between the prevention and profusion of crime. While traditional institutional responses to crime complicate pathways,103 mediative and restorative interventions ease desistance by minimizing family conflict, improving school attendance, resolving housing uncertainty,104 enhancing conflict engagement skills,105 reducing victimization,106 curating meaningful staff107 and mentor relationships,108 and generally turning down criminogenic risks while amping up protective and resilience factors.

NYC Performance and Potential

Service providers’ diverse portfolios, their multi- intervention Catchment Area services, and their use of cognitive-behavioral techniques help maximize their preventative and decidivative returns. First, nearly every service provider operates programming targeting each of the core life domains. From stressful family transitions, to personal skills development, community problem solving, prosocial mentoring, and whole-school restorative practices, providers offer constructive interventions for nearly any conflict and criminogenic scenario.

Second, Catchment Area providers have combined their existing services to offer services that address multiple domain risk factors. For example, students at Curtis High School who participate in NYCID’s student-focused peer mediation can also request family-focused interventions. Mentees in CMS’ DOP-funded programs can receive conflict coaching for peer conflicts. Participants in RHPP’s Peacemaking circles can include support individuals from across the spectrum of their life domains to help implement their personalized healing steps.

Finally, providers’ training pedagogies rely heavily on cognitive-behavioral techniques, including instructor demonstrations, mini and extended role-play scenarios, and role-reversal exercises. Use of these and similar techniques help improve the reliable recall of these de- escalatory skills and their recessive impact on risk.

Figure 17. Domain-Specific Risk Factors Addressed by Providers

MOCJ service providers actively address dozens of high-profile risk factors across each major life domain. This visualization identifies the range of domain-specific dynamic and static risk factors that are currently addressed by conflict resolution and restorative programming.


95. Importantly, not all at-risk individuals present with obviously elevated risk profiles. Adult-onset individuals (i.e. those whose first recorded offending occurs after the age of 21), for example, are notable for the difficulty associated with accurately identifying their associated risk (Zara, G., Farrington, D.P., 2013). For these offenders, internalizing problems such as anxiety, nervousness, and other cognitive, emotional, and social processing skills (Zara, G., Farrington, D.P., 2013) lay observationally dormant (i.e. their ‘sleeper effect;’ West, D.J., Farrington, D.P., 1977) until amplified during select triggers, such as stressful conflict situations.

Prevention services that target these internalizing problems either prior to their development or during their window of latency can forestall their manifestation into criminal activity, effectively nipping criminality in the bud (Zara, G., Farrington, D.P., 2013). Sequencing these interventions thusly means it may be more likely that these individuals are referred to a conflict-assistive intervention from a non-criminal justice-affiliated entity than from a criminal justice entity. Still, regardless the referral source, the intervention’s value in minimizing these offenders’ future potential for criminal activity should be supported as part of a comprehensive approach to crime prevention. In this way, MOCJ should acknowledge the preventative potential from services delivered to clients regardless the originating referral source.

96. See supra note 83.

97. This harm is particularly acute for youth and emerging adults, but has been demonstrated in nearly every studied demographic. To wit, “the presence of only one risk factor, if sufficiently deleterious within a given individual, can contribute to a high level of risk” (O’Brien, K., et al., 2013). See also: McLaren, K.L. (2000).

98. “Individuals who present with risk factors in multiple domains typically pose greater risk than those with risk factors in only one domain” (O’Brien, K., et al., 2013).

99. Specifically, Harvey (2005) notes that interventions should target each of the domains of youth life. Wyrick and Howell (2004) concur, noting “it is the accumulation of risk factors across domains that greatly contributes to the likelihood of ... delinquency. Thus, communities need to address not only multiple risk factors, but multiple risk factor domains.”

100. “Effective interventions teach new skills in active ways [using] cognitive and behavioural techniques” (McLaren, K.L., 2000).” Examples of cognitive behavioral techniques include instructional feedback, instructor modeling of new skills and attitudes, skills rehearsal, and role-playing.

101. Cognitive behavioral programs can reduce offender reconviction rates by 15% (Harvey, S., 2005). These preventative gains can be transferred, in part, when service providers appropriate specific techniques common within those programs to enhance their own conflict skills trainings.

102. “The most effective social skills training programs used a cognitive-behavioral approach and were implemented with... higher risk groups who are already exhibiting some behavioral problems” (Welsh, B.C., 2007). Specific to community-based services, Harvey (2005) notes that “programs that have been evaluated and shown to be effective in reducing future offending are skills based, improve offender problem-solving, and use behavioral techniques to reinforce improved behavior.”

103. Involvement with the criminal justice system is a vicious cycle, with more frequent and more significant involvement leading to an elevated risk of further future involvement. This risk originates with police contact (Keane, C., Gillis, A.R., Hagan, J., 1989) and continues through prosecutorial decision-making (Wermink, H., et al., 2010), court sentencing (Fagan, J., 1996), longer (Gendreau, P., Goggin, C., Cullen, F.T., 1999) and harsher (Chen, M.K., Shapiro, J.M., 2007) correctional placements, and probation conditions (Morgan, K.D., 1994). As a general rule, the harsher the punishment, the more likely future involvement will occur.

104. One of the key findings from the Pathways to Desistance Project was the importance of stability in youth’s daily routines, including the minimization or resolution of conflicts that can negatively affect the family, school attendance, and living arrangements (Mulvey, E.P., 2011). Service providers efforts on each of these fronts positions their services as key contributors easing youth and young adult desistance pathways.

105. Constructive conflict skills development is a core focus of service providers’ crime prevention-oriented and broader community engagement programming. An analysis of their most recent service reports found nearly 5,500 individuals annually received conflict skills training or public education, which included at least nominal skills awareness messaging.

106. The connection between victimization and subsequent offending (commonly referred to as the ‘victim- offender overlap’) is well throughout criminology and acknowledged by NYPD’s upper echelon. Susan A. Herman, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing, in her 2010 book noted: “Children who have been victims of abuse and neglect are more likely to commit delinquent and criminal acts. Among teenagers, the strongest predictor of future criminal behavior is a prior experience as a crime victim. These studies demonstrate that helping victims may also turn out to be one of the most effective ways to prevent further crime and violence.” Through victim-centric, empowerment- and understanding-focused restorative interventions, service providers are concertedly working toward minimizing this overlap and reducing conflict-induced victimization experiences.

107. One factor influencing the effectiveness of an intervention is the quality of the relationship between those served and the service providers themselves (Harvey, S., 2005). As staff members at each of the service providers are active contributors to at least some stage of the case development lifecycle, their constructive, non-judgmental interactions influence the overall effectiveness of the broader interventions.

108. Mentorships, as part of a broader prevention effort, can reduce recidivism by up to 10% (Jolliffe, D., Farrington, D. P., 2008).