Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Mechanism of Impact

Deferred Classification

Deferred classification is the process of selectively withholding the assignment of a criminal interpretation to a conflict in favor of referrals to non-criminal entities best equipped to constructively address those conflicts.373 In extends the retention of the locus of control with the individuals involved rather than artificially narrowing the resolution options by reassigning control to the criminal justice system.374

This mechanism is most productively actuated at the earliest stages of possible criminal interpretations (i.e. initial police contact). These early interventions minimize the accumulation of criminogenic risk accrued during the formal – even diversionary – involvement of criminal justice institutions. As a result, the development or proliferation of a criminal career is discouraged through the comparative softness of these deferrals.

Selectively withholding such assignments depends upon the judicious use of officer discretion. This discretion requires awareness of the types of contexts appropriate for such referrals, and the indicators of when such deferrals may unnecessarily jeopardize participants’ or public safety.375

Benefits of referrals during this window of pending criminality can prove particularly productive for a number of reasons. First, conflict-oriented interventions are particularly effective at generating immediate and durable resolutions. Second, it pre-empts escalatory criminal feedback loops by redirecting the participants toward civil, conciliatory responses. Finally, in terms of the referrals themselves, participants are less inclined to self-select third-party interventions during stages of intense or protracted conflict intensity, but are more receptive to official exhortations to do so.


373. It is important to note that deferring the classification of conflicts as criminal is conceptually and practically distinct from simply looking the other way. Deferred classification is a proactive approach to conflict resolution and crime prevention that empowers citizens, newly motivated by the threat of potential criminal consequences, to more fully – through facilitation – consider their options for self-directed resolutions. Deferring criminal coding of conflicts, is really more about selectively preferencing an alternative public interest – achieving criminogenic neutral outcomes to potentially violent conflicts – in ultimate furtherance of broad criminal justice system objectives.

Generally, deferring assignment of legality or the active application of its legal consequences are well- recognized and respected executive and judicial process. Deferred action is a widely used tool within the executive branch to prioritize policy implementation amidst limited enforcement resources. Staying judicial orders is similarly common, allowing subsequent or extrajudicial processes to run their course without interference, often in the hopes of superior outcomes.

374. Generally speaking, the criminal justice system artificially narrows conflicts by focusing on acts rather than interactions, by externally ascribing legal meaning to interpersonal disputes whose participants may be otherwise indifferent to legal significance, and by assigning static, dichotomized roles to the participants (i.e. complainant and defendant, victim and offender). In this way, the initiation of institutional involvement removes an element of negotiation from these interactions. It hinders the ability of participants to advocate for broader context, the agency of participants to prioritize their own chosen frames of analysis and consequence, and the dynamic assignment of offending/victimization. For a more detailed review of the benefits of deferring the labeling of conflicts as criminal, see: Kennedy, L.W., Forde, D.R. (1999).

375. Unfortunately, “there has been very little study of police decision making, in part because of its sensitive nature and because of its complexity” (Canter, D., 2004). Still, inasmuch as deferred classification may already occur informally, it would be worthy to examine the range of rationales and procedures surrounding its use.