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 "naively
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
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
Presented with permission of the author.
|Elliott Barker Library