Fighting Violence with Programs: The Importance of Preventative Measures

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(Source: Rolling Stone)

As many of you may know, I am a massive true-crime fan. I listen to true-crime podcasts, record Dateline every week, and I binge watched the entire series of “The People v. OJ” in three days. Ask me sometime about my opinions on famous murder cases – I’ll talk your ear off about JonBenét Ramsey or Ted Bundy. Don’t flag me as crazy just yet. my love for true crime doesn’t stem from a dark place; I enjoy the mystery surrounding crime, but more so, I like the satisfaction that comes when justice has been served.

For example, one of my favorite true crime cases is the story of Tara Grinstead, a woman who disappeared from her home in rural Georgia over ten years ago. Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had never made any arrests in her case, her body was never found, and despite an exhaustive search effort, no evidence found at the crime scene. Her disappearance truly was the perfect crime, that is, until last month. Police announced they had received a tip leading to the arrest of two men who were responsible for Tara’s murder twelve years ago. Details are still coming to light, but it seems as if one of will be charged with murder and the other has taken a plea deal resulting in lesser crimes. Police are still searching for Tara’s body. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be Tara’s family, for all this time, never having closure, always wondering who, if anyone, harmed your loved one. I also can’t imagine how they feel now that they know what happened to her – there must be some sense of relief in knowing Tara’s fate.

The sad truth is that Tara’s family is far from alone, but instead part of a large group of those who often suffer in silence: the families of victims. In 2015, there were 15,696 murders in the United States.

The United States Declaration of Independence recognizes three fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I believe that while the violent crime rate has improved, the United States is doing a poor job at recognizing and preventing the deprivation of the most essential of the three fundamental rights: life.

How should the government offer protections and prevent homicide? What steps can it take to lessen violence? The work of Rachel Louise Snyder, although it focuses specifically on domestic violence cases, proposes one method to combat homicide: assess who is at risk to create a crime and collaborate to prevent them from doing so. Snyder’s article focuses on the actions of one community to prevent crime before it occurs. I couldn’t help but think that this notion could be applied, in a more general way, to reduce the number of homicides across the nation. So, I did some research about programs around the countries specifically designed to lower murder rates, and I found that there is already a shift to implementing preventative measures to combat the underlying factors behind violent crime.

In 2006, there was a comprehensive study done in Jacksonville, Florida, with a goal to assess ways to reduce murder rates. Conclusions drawn from this study emphasize the need for implementing prevention programs, stating that, “while the community must adequately fund a criminal justice system to respond to violent actions, to solve the problem prevention problems must be as high a funding priority as law enforcement” (JCCI, 2006). Prevention programs should not be limited to simply those who may be at risk to commit a first-time offense, but those who may already have been convicted of a previous crime. To combat the “cycle of criminal activity” that offenders may be caught in and prevent escalation, measures should be taken to provide education, job training, and drug treatment, as well as address the burdens that a criminal record can have. This holistic approach to addressing violent crime charges multiple agencies with the weight of murder, instead of simply law enforcement or the legal system.

Specifically, the Jacksonville study gives nine long-term solutions to combat homicide. They are: admit and address racism, provide adequate funding for preventative programs, provide strong positive male role models, improve economic opportunity, improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community, address the culture of violence, differentiate drug traffickers from users, target domestic violence, help children succeed in school, and rehabilitate inmates and ex-offenders.

Some of these goals, if not all of them, may seem common sense. But, that is only more evidence to the fact that our communities are currently not doing enough to implement change in the way homicide is combatted. If we want safer communities and to do more to protect our unalienable rights, then why should we not make greater efforts to save lives? I don’t see the harm in trying.

As for Tara Grinstead, details surrounding her case few and far between, as there is an ongoing investigation. However, it was concluded that at least one of the men charged had a previous violent record. Who knows? Maye a preventative measure, such as a rehabilitation program, could have steered him away from homicide and Tara would still be alive.

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4 Responses to Fighting Violence with Programs: The Importance of Preventative Measures

  1. edander4 says:

    First of all, I’ve been told by many people to watch “The People v. OJ”, so I think I will have to get on that. Second of all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post. I too am drawn in by the mystery of homicide cases. The part that stuck out to me the most was the segment about the rehabilitation of inmates. I know this is a debate that comes up constantly when discussing prison reform.
    After doing some research on the topic, I came up with information about the Dutch prison system. Basically, the inmates are sent away to be rehabilitated rather than punished. They are put up in nicer facilities and are offered ways to get back on their feet again on the right side of the law. This includes counseling and classes. Their reincarceration rate is significantly less than that of the United States.
    Maybe the United States should aim to reform prisons based on this model. This is not something that could be done overnight, but it could contribute to a reduction in violent crime.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/netherlands/12201375/Netherlands-doesnt-have-enough-criminals-to-fill-its-prisons-as-crime-to-drop.html

  2. Ryan Wadding says:

    I seldom use the term ‘common sense’, but you are correct. These goals are entirely reasonable and I think they should be common sense to any sensible person. However, I believe this is not the case. Maybe this is the cynicism in me, but I believe this country is afraid to talk about and address its problems. It is much easier for our society to fund the police force and throw anyone who violates our law into jail without thinking twice about it. Even though we all want to prevent crime, when crime does occur we only think about punishing the perpetrator instead of addressing the possible societal problems that led to this crime occurring. I am not naive enough to believe that by addressing societal problems we could stop all crime from occurring, but I think you and Snyder are on to something. I truly believe education would play an immense and fundamental role into our efforts to address crime.

    Also, I would love to take you up on that offer to ask your opinion of some famous murder cases. I can guarantee I am not as knowledgeable as you are on the subject but I love discussing legal cases, especially murder cases. I have fond memories growing up and watching Dateline with my father (please do not worry anyone who might be reading this, my dad was a caring parent and believed I was old enough and I suffer no psychological issues from watching as a teenager). And I still watch today. Anyway, great post, friend! Cheers!

    • azwoodland says:

      Thanks for your comment! You bring up a good point about the implementation of increasing harsher policies as means to deter crime. Once again, I understand where this argument originates. If we pass stricter sentences or increase funding to the police force, then we only are spending the money necessary to “lock up” those who should be removed from society. Spend the money on locking up the few bad apples. The Jacksonville study I cited recommends mentoring programs, job creation programs, and education programs. All of these things can be seen as additional welfare programs, especially to those who may have a far right or libertarian philosophy.

      However, I believe this is a poisonous mindset which neglects to address societal problems. Although it may be easy to write off the importance of a preventative program, it is just as easy to complain about crime rates. It all depends upon perspective.

      Onto the murders (can’t believe I’m doing this on a school blog)! A cool historical murderer is the Axeman of New Orleans (http://www.the-line-up.com/axeman-of-new-orleans/). A newer case is the murder of Sherri Rasmussen (http://casefilepodcast.com/case-42-sherri-rasmussen/). I can’t recommend that podcast enough. An interesting case of survival is the Jennifer Morey case (http://www.houstonpress.com/news/false-sense-of-security-6587121). Lastly, here’s a current case: the disappearance of Sheri Papini (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/30/sherri-papini-kidnapping-case-california).

      Cheers!

  3. dneu1 says:

    First off I liked that you provided evidence in the form of a study to back up your statements about the legal system, and secondly I just thought that this was an interesting, informative, and well-written post. Also I want to say that I really agreed with the opinions offered up in Ryan’s comment. I think the 9 long-term solutions offered up by the study you cited are a great starting point for actually preventing crime. As Ryan says it’s not like solving societal issues can prevent all crimes, but it would probably go a long way towards doing so. What worries me though is that a lot of people want to view crime, punishment, and rehabilitation as a much more simple process. I should say first that this is entirely anecdotal, but a sizeable portion (probably just short of a majority) of people I’ve talked to about this issue think that crime can simply be eradicated through harsher punishments or more enforcement. But to me that kind of solution is just a band-aid, sure it might decrease the frequency of some crimes around the margins, but it does nothing about the larger factors that make people more likely to commit crimes. Also like Ryan says, this might be an issue of funding, and from what I’ve seen most American people are not willing to bare the financial costs of creating a more effective legal and criminal justice system. It’s far too easy to frame reform as only benefiting criminals and terrible people, rather than our society as a whole.

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