Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Individual Impact – Collaterally Consequenced

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Collaterally consequenced individuals146 can be personally affected by criminal acts despite their lack of direct involvement, and can even be conscripted into the commission of such acts regardless their own inclinations to the contrary. This is notable for three specific populations: the strain-primed, vicariously victimized, and in/voluntary co-offenders.

Strain-primed individuals147 are placed at an increased probability of engaging in delinquent or criminal behaviors as a result of elevated economic, familial, mental, and/or social stressors associated with close others’ conflict related or criminal activities. They engage in ‘criminal coping’148 as a result of noxious and negative stimuli from others.149 Children who engage in criminal activity following exposure to community violence150 or prolonged parental conflict151 are well-recognized examples of strain-primed individuals.

Vicarious victims (i.e. those suffering negative affective consequences resulting from the victimization of close others) are at an increased risk of juvenile delinquency.152

Finally, criminally impelled co-offenders are conscripted into the commission of criminal activity not through their own inclinations, but through peer pressure153 and the sub/conscious maintenance of group identity.154 This type of co-offending is common amongst children as young as ten and slowly abates until becoming statistically insignificant by one’s mid-30s.155

NYC Performance and Potential

By addressing family-oriented criminogenic risk factors, MOCJ service providers improve numerous aspects of family functioning, including interactional and caretaker variables such as the prevalence of family conflict, poor monitoring of children, hostile communication patterns, parent antisocial attitudes, parental stress, and biological parent police contact.156 The NYPI’s Co-Parenting Mediation programming, and CMS’ A.C.T. services are definitional examples of how interventions that seek to minimize family strain also directly minimize the criminogenic risks for all involved, especially the children.

Similarly, many of the providers’ work in the special education and early intervention arenas also minimize criminogenically relevant strain by easing education related stress from sub- optimal learning environments and shoaling the downward spiral of behavioral problems associated with the performance shortfalls frequently resulting therefrom.

Of further service to collaterally consequenced populations is NYCID’s collaboration with CeaseFire, which helps reduce the solidarity retribution of in/voluntary co-offending and the vicarious victimization of street-level, membership-based violence.

“Possibly the most impact CMS has had over the years is applying mediation to the thousands of families with teens. This continues our 30 year effort to divert youth from the family and criminal courts and also use these skill sets and processes to stabilize their home relations and enable them to more effectively negotiate their lives.”

-Regina Ritcey, Director of Mediation Services, CMS

Figure 20. Changes in the Frequency of Co-Offending by Age

The prevalence of criminal activity involving multiple offenders is inversely related to offenders’ ages; younger offenders co-offend far more frequently than older offenders. By engaging offenders at earlier ages, service providers can influence not only those directly served, but their potential future co-offenders, as well. Unfortunately, the highest rate of co-offending occurs between the ages of 10 and 15, a population omitted by MOCJ’s current focus (shaded area for ages 16 to 24) and, therefore, beyond the supported reach of service providers’ resistive and decidivative interventions.


146. Collaterally consequenced refers to a range of proximodistally-aligned individuals affected by the commission of criminal or deviant acts, including through an elevated criminogenic risk, vicarious victimization, enticement to participate therewith, and/or suffering the socio-legal punishments resulting therefrom. They represent those not central to a conflict or crime, but nonetheless harmed by its externalities.

147. Criminology has long-recognized strain as a powerful contributor to criminal ends. Classic Strain Theory (Merton, R.K., 1938) first considered strain as the proliferating phenomenon of social anomie arising from increasingly stilted economic mobility. Over a half-century later, General Strain Theory (Agnew, R., 1992) reformulated strain, positioning it at the center of interpersonal relationships whereby elevated familial and social strain, as is generated through harmful conflicts within those spheres, for example, can increase collateral others’ risk of engaging in delinquent and criminal activities. Extended General Strain Theory (Agnew, R., 2013) furthers this line and deepens the theoretical appreciation for how strain contributes to criminal activity and inclinations. As both General and Extended Strain Theories lay at the nexus of conflict intervention and crime prevention, administrators are encouraged to explore this area further. For more, see: Agnew, R. (2008); Agnew, R., Brezina, T. (2010); Agnew, R., et al. (2002); and Mazerolle, P., Piquero, A.R., Capowich, G.E. (2003).

148. Agnew’s (2013) Extended General Strain Theory positions criminal coping as a mechanism by which collaterally consequenced deal with the received strain of others’ criminal activity. For more on criminal coping, see: Jang, S.J., Song, J. (2015).

149. Researchers of General Strain Theory have categorized a broad range of stimuli as noxious or negative, each of which result in the blockage of goal-seeking or pain-aversion behaviors (Agnew, R., 1985), only some of which, however, directly contribute to the strain-primed individual’s subsequent criminal activity. These include: family conflict (Aseltine, R.H., Gore, S., Gordon, J., 2000), abuse in the home (Piquero, N.L., Sealock, M.D., 2000), neighborhood problems, school/peer conflicts (both: Paternoster, R., Mazerolle, P., 1994), and negative relations with adults (Agnew, R., White, H.R., 1992). For more on specific strain characteristics causally associated with criminal activity, see: Agnew, R. (2001).

150. Exposure to community violence increases strain and elevates the risk of childhood delinquency (Patchin, J.W., et al., 2006).

151. Parental conflict, and family conflict more generally, is a direct and significant contributor to children’s criminogenic risk profiles and subsequent criminal activity. Whether this occurs by way of a causal chain moderated by anger (Aseltine, R.H., Gore, S., Gordon, J., 2000) or depression (Piquero, N.L., Sealock, M.D., 2000), household conflict-based strain is powerfully connected to criminality among youth and emerging adults’.

152. “Delinquency is related not only to experienced victimization, but also to certain types of anticipated and vicarious physical victimization [e.g. those involving friends/family]” Agnew, R. (2002). For more on the connection between vicarious victimization and juvenile delinquency, see: Lin, W., Cochran, J.K., Mieczkowski, T. (2011).

153. “Peer influence is the most powerful correlate of delinquent behavior” examined to date (Sullivan, C.J., 2006). Youth exposed to peers with deviant attitudes and behaviors are more likely to ascribe to similar attitudes and engage in similar behaviors themselves (Thornberry, T.P., 1987). This is true for both violent (Henry, D.B., Tolan, P.H., Gorman-Smith, D., 2001) and property (Piquero, N.L., Sealock, M.D., 2000) offending. Notably, this behavior is most commonly observed within female social networks, which engage in a sort of solidarity mobbing, “commit[ing] crimes of violence not alone, but by two, three, or more – in a group (Faldet, A., Skjønsberg, E.E., 2013; citing: Woźniakowska-Fajst, D., 2010). Finally, the influence of peer networks has also been linked to the victim-offender overlap paradigm (Shaffer, J.N., 2003), placing peer influence at the center of a particularly vicious cycle for friends of frequent offenders and victims.

154. Maintaining group identity is a strong motivation to engage in otherwise personally aversive violent acts, particularly when done in the context of protecting fellow group members from ongoing violent conflict (Littman, R., Paluck, E.L., 2015). This desire to maintain one’s group identity can result – particularly amidst threatening conditions – in subconscious morality shifting that helps encourage and justify harmful acts against perceived outgroup aggressors (Leidner, B., Castano, E., 2012).

155. Reiss, A.J., Farrington, D.P. (1991).

156. For a more thorough review of family-oriented criminogenic risk factors and their impact upon the rate and severity of youth offending, see: Loeber, R., et al. (2008).