How Do We Prevent Crime?
by Dr. Elliott Barker
|How do we reduce the prison population or prevent crime? I
have come to view the solution to those apparently serious problems as more or less
trivial compared to the more serious problems involved for all of us if our society
increasingly, as it seems to, rears and rewards psychopathy. Most especially so in a
world with weapons of mass destruction.
How do we go about the task of decreasing the number of psychopaths or the amount
of psychopathy in our society?
To me it is the same question as "How do we increase the number of people in
our society who have well developed capacities for trust, for empathy, and for
affection?" A few of the steps that could be taken seem fairly obvious:
Since the earliest years are crucial, we should scrutinize every program and policy
affecting infants and toddlers and ask ourselves "Whose needs are being
met?" There should be a clear recognition that the only meaningful measure of
success in child rearing is an adult with highly developed capacities for trust,
empathy, and affection. It follows that the current worship of child rearing practices
that evoke the highest possible I.Q., or the child with the greatest possible number
of factual crumbs by the lowest age, or the child who can play the cello best at the
earliest age should be suspect. Suspect because they may conflict with child rearing
practices that produce an adult with well developed capacities for the qualities
essential to harmonious co-operative human existence.
|Insofar as it is the quality of emotional care during childhood that seems most
crucial to the development of these capacities, attempts to raise the status of
parenting would seem obligatory. In a society in which it is possible to market the
most useless junk, Lysol Spray and Vaginal deodorants are but two of countless
examples, it should not be difficult to enhance "consumer taste" (through
modern marketing techniques) for what is probably the most important job anyone can do
- the nurturing of a new member of society.
|It seems peculiar in a society in which schooling is
mandatory from age 6 to 16 that we turn out graduates who have no preparation for the
one job they are almost certain to have - raising children. Surely, before conception
is a possibility, boys and girls should appreciate the permanent emotional damage that
can result if the emotional needs of a young child are not met.
It seems incredible to me that as a society we don't publicly advocate those values
upon which all harmonious social interaction depend - trust, empathy, and affection.
Why shouldn't society - all of us collectively - reinforce our own latent awareness
that these values are where it's at, and why shouldn't we do this at least as
frequently and effectively as we allow ourselves to be reminded to drink Coca-Cola?
If we really want a society that selectively fosters and rewards selfishness, envy,
and greed in pursuit of endless consumption of misnamed "goods", then we
should at the very least make all of the consequences of those values clear to
everyone, including all the implicit personal and social costs.
Why won't such preventive measures be taken? There are many factors. In part, it is
because we are presently attuned to a shorter time frame politically and
psychologically than prevention necessitates. In part we are misled by the excitement
and drama of intervention after a problem has occurred. The cops and robbers game for
example is the stuff of much of our entertainment. In part it is because today's
casualties have greater motivation to lobby for their own immediate needs than for
prevention of tomorrows' victims. In part it is because an impossible level of proof
is demanded whenever we discuss changes that appear to tamper with our present values.
But mostly we just know that such proposed solutions to crime prevention are
From my perspective the naive idealism is in the minds of those who believe that we
will survive as a species without soon taking action to prevent future generations of
those who, as Cleckley says, are so bleached of emotion that they are "invincibly
ignorant of what life means to others." And begin advocating those societal
values upon which all harmonious social interaction depends.
Excerpted from a paper entitled "Prisons, Psychopaths and Prevention", presented at
the Second World Congress on Prison Health Care, Ottawa, 1983.
Elliott Barker, M.D., D. Psych, F.R.C.P. (C), is the Director of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children and the Editor of the journal Empathic Parenting.
Presented with permission of the author.
|Elliott Barker Library