Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Emerging Impact

Expanding research horizons and a deepening appreciation for the core and collateral consequences of conflict assistive interventions are combining to reveal newly identified effects of these services.

Destigmatizing Criminal Convictions. The social stigmas of arrest, conviction, and incarceration remain practical impediments to normalizing many aspects of former offenders’ lives.326 For example, though research indicates the ‘hazard rate’327 for offenders does eventually intersect with and, in fact, decline below that of non-offenders,328 long-term employment consequences and constrained upward mobility prospects329 demonstrate the subversive stickiness of the criminal stigma. These impediments frustrate important societal interests, such as ensuring former offenders fulfill their responsibilities to their victims, families, and communities. Indeed, the amplification of criminal justice sanctions through socialized stigmas can encourage recidivism by limiting non-criminal opportunities post-reentry.330

Interventions that seek to personalize and reindividuate offenders from their scarlet letterboards destigmatize criminal convictions, minimize recidivism, and facilitate smoother communal reintegration. Given their deeply personalizing and accountability-focused nature, Peacemaking, VOM, and other restorative interventions are well positioned to contribute to the destigmatization of former offenders.

Disrupting the Transmission of Criminality. The notion that one may be predisposed toward criminality by nature of their parentage is widely accepted331 – ‘apples and their trees,’ as its quipped. These intergenerational continuities have been observed for a variety of behaviors.332 Indeed, among males, the best predictor for a criminal conviction is the criminal careers of their parents,333 regardless the timing of those careers334 and despite parents’ active discouragement of their sons’ criminal activities or affinities. 335

Though the definitive mix of transmission mechanisms has yet to be revealed, a number of potential causes336 have been explored, including criminogenic chains (i.e. the linking of multiple risk-associated behaviors that can cascade across multiple generations).337 Manifestations of these chains include the poor supervision, harsh discipline, and neglectful attitudes of convicted parents.338 These behaviors then contribute to the criminogenic needs and subsequent criminal activities of their children. Targeting harmful parenting techniques, resolving parent-child conflicts, and delivering diversionary services are promising approaches in the pursuit of severing criminogenic chains and disrupting the intergenerational transmission of criminality.

Disrupting the Transmission of Trauma. Trauma can also transmit across generations. Here, epigenetics elevates the susceptibility of psychological trauma in the progeny of those previously traumatized.339 Interventions that minimize even short-term post-traumatic stress symptoms – as research has shown restorative services capable – can reduce this transmission and minimize the traumatability of potential future victimizations.

Interventions that personalize offenders beyond their scarlet letterboards destigmatize criminal convictions, minimize recidivism, and facilitate communal reintegration.

Conflict skills training and parent-child mediation services delink criminogenic chains and discourage the transmission of criminal tendencies across generations.

Figure 31. A Family Tree of Crime and Trauma

Recent research has confirmed the inheritability of individuals’ risk of criminal offending and their sensitivity to victimization-related trauma. Interventions that help remediate trauma (such as through empowering restorative services) and lessen the risk of criminal offending (such as through improving conflict skills and parent-child relationships) can help minimize the intergenerational transmission of these heirlooms of harm.


326. Earle, R., Wakefield, A. (2012).

327. In criminology, an individual’s ‘hazard rate’ represents the probability of engaging (for non-offenders) or re- engaging (for previous offenders) in criminal activity within a specified time frame. For an expanded review of the concept and cutting edge applications of hazard rates in criminology, see Bushway and Paternoster’s (2013) discussion entitled ‘An Analytical Framework for Studying Desistance Using Hazard Models’ (pp. 224-226.

328. For example, the hazard rate of 18-year-old first-time burglary offenders is equal to the general population after 3.8 years, while aggressive assault offenders require 4.3 years for general population parity, and robbery offenders, 7.7 years. For a review of hazard rates in the context of offender employment consequences, see: Blumstein, A., Nakamura, K. (2009).

329. For a review of the significant and enduring economic repercussions of incarceration borne by offenders, their families (including long-term multi-generational impact), and their communities, see: Western, B., Pettit, B. (2010).

330. Kurlychek, M.C., Brame, R., Bushway, S.D. (2006).

331. See: Widom, C.S., Maxfield, M.G. (2001) for a review of the research on “cycles of violence”; and Goodwin, V., Davis, B. (2011) for research on the intergenerational transference of criminal tendencies.

332. Intergenerational continuities have been studied for a variety of harmful behaviors, including aggression (Doumas, D., Margolin, G., John, R., 1994), alcohol and drug use (Velleman, R., 1992), antisocial behavior (Thornberry, T.P., et al., 2003), child abuse (Widom, C.S., 1989a,b), criminal history (Farrington, D.P., et al., 2001), family violence (Fagan, J., Hansen, K.V., Stewart, D., 1983), psychosocial risks (Serbin, L.A., Karp, J., 2004), and violent offending (van de Weijer, S.G.A., Bijleveld, C.C.J.H., 2014).

333. This is true for men up to the age of 32 (Farrington, D.P., 1993).

334. Interestingly, this is true even if parents’ criminal careers conclude prior to their sons’ births, suggesting this intergenerational transmission is independent of the negative effects of incarceration (Cohen, M.A., Piquero, A.R., 2009).

335. “The percentage of males who were convicted did not vary according to whether the father was last convicted before or after the boy’s birth, suggesting that there was no direct behavioural influence of criminal fathers on criminal sons. There was no evidence that criminal fathers directly encouraged their sons to commit crimes or taught them criminal techniques. On the contrary, criminal fathers condemned offending by their sons” (West, D.J., Farrington, D.P., 1977).

336. Possible transmission mechanisms currently being investigated include: social learning (i.e. imitation of behavior), intergenerational continuity of a criminogenic environment, and law enforcement and judicial biases against criminal families (Besemer, S., 2012).

337. Smith and Farrington (2004) have tied parental conflict to early childhood conduct problems in two successive generations, a clear indication of the powerfully harmful affect destructive conflict can have on those directly involved, as well as those collaterally consequenced.

338. Farrington, D.P., Coid, J.W., Murray, J. (2009).

339. For a review of the emerging science behind epigenetics and the manner in which one’s stressful experiences can influence the expression of genes across generations, particularly through maternal lines, see: Harper, L.H. (2005).