Research on Focused Deterrence
The objective of this technical report is to review the evidence on the effect of focussed deterrence on the involvement on children and young people in crime and violence. Focussed deterrence is a crime prevention strategy which combines deterrence through increasing the swiftness and certainty of punishment along with mobilizing community voices against crime and providing social services to increase protective factors. Focussed deterrence aims to reduce specific types of crime by people who are frequently involved in them, for example, those involved in gang-related offending or drug dealing.
There is ample empirical research that supports the implementation of strategies that can identify and intervene with chronic offenders and effect the crime rate. Findings from several focused deterrence programs such as Boston, Lowell, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and High Point show that targeting these offenders using lever-pulling (Braga et al. 2001; McGarrell et al. 2006) has potential to reduce crime, violence, and drug trafficking. “The theoretical mechanism through which deterrence operates is fundamentally at the individual level, as increased monitoring and sanctioning of chronic offenders should alter their perceptions of the costs–benefits associated with participation in criminal activity” (Uchida et al. 2019: 195). Evidence has established that at least some offenders do alter their conduct for fear of getting caught and punished (Decker et al. 1993; Piquero and Rengert 1999), which provides reasoning for the use of focused deterrence approaches with individual chronic offenders in contrast to the original model which focuses on groups or more precisely, gangs.
However, several studies have reported that focused deterrence strategies applied to individual chronic offenders were not successful in their jurisdictions with reducing recidivism. Chermak (2008) found no difference in treatment and control groups of probationers after conducting an experiment in Indianapolis to determine whether focus deterrence program elements would reduce recidivism. Lattimore et al. (2016) also studied probationers in programs similar to HOPE across four different states. The results of their analysis did not show any significant differences in the average number of arrests or in the time to arrest between treatment and control groups. However, other studies have found that focused deterrence principles are successful in reducing recidivism in probationers (see Hawken and Kleiman 2009; Wallace et al. 2016).
As noted by several researchers, there is a need to understand the salient features of focused deterrence programs and the context in which they are implemented in order to discern the viability of such a program, particularly in strategies targeting chronic offenders rather than groups. The failure of the strategy may be due in part to the dosage applied by the agency to the selected groups of offenders (Chermak 2008). The availability of social service providers to collaborate with the strategic goals and provide resources to the participants may also impede project integrity (Schnobrich-Davis and Gardner 2017). Schnobrich-Davis and Gardner (2017) found that many of the service providers could not prioritize focused deterrence offenders over other clients, and many of the services needed by the participants had waiting lists.
1.1.4 Creating Certainty and Swiftness Focused deterrence programs attempt to create a more certain and swift sanction environment through the creative application of existing enforcement capacity and legal authority (Kennedy, Kleiman, & Braga, 2017). The approach does so by separating the application of legal sanctions from the formal case processing activities of the criminal justice system, and separating the larger notion of deterrence from a reliance on the criminal justice system alone. The first separation involves discretionary application of existing legal authority in ways not formally connected to the underlying act. A person known to have committed a homicide, when that homicide cannot be prosecuted, can be subjected to legal attention for, for example, drug trafficking, a separate assault, receiving stolen property, and so on. Each member of a violent group not legally open to a collective legal response under conspiracy statutes can be subjected to individualized drug dealing or other charges. Such actions are of course not unheard of in criminal justice: the famously violent American gangster Al Capone was imprisoned by federal authorities on tax evasion charges. Focused deterrence had given that old insight theoretical foundation and practical systematization.
Careful collection and analysis of intelligence and crime data provides the interagency working group with a clear understanding of who is doing what and aids the process of communicating appropriately focused sanction prospects. There are obvious and important due process, accountability, and justice concerns in launching such as strategy (Stuntz, 2011). However, the partnership structure, visibility, and transparency included in focused deterrence strategies can be protective assets that can manage these concerns (Thacher, 2016). It is also important to note that focused deterrence deliberately sacrifices the severity of sanctions in preference for the swift and certain application of sanctions. Economizing on punishment reduces harm to the offender. The working group charged with implementing the strategy searches for the “minimum effective dose” of a sanction that is needed to create compliance (Kennedy, Kleiman, & Braga, 2017). In theory and practice, group-focused deterrence is based on the premise that it is not the severity of individual sanctions that produces violence reductions, but the knowledge on the part of group members that violence will produce some, often relatively low-level, cost to a critical mass of group members, which then drives changes in group dynamics.
Focused deterrence strategies represent a new approach to generating deterrent impacts as it attempts to make the prospect of sanctions more legitimate by bringing in individual norms, values, and informal social control (Kennedy 1997, 2009; Kleiman, 2009). Consistent with the views of many deterrence scholars (e.g., Zimring & Hawkins, 1973; Wilson, 1975; Cook, 1980; Nagin, 2013), a central component of the approach involves a shift away from severity and toward the swiftness and certainty of punishments. Clumsy, unfocused, and excessive punishment risks offender and community resistance and, as a purely practical matter, it is impossible to deliver more sanctions in an environment where overly harsh sanctions are routinely handed out in a nonstrategic manner. This results in both high violations rates and large volume of punishment—a result that is both toxic and routine in many high-crime urban neighborhoods (Kleiman, 2009).
Nevertheless, there remains a clear need for more randomized experimental evaluations of focused deterrence programs. Future evaluations of focused deterrence programs addressing individual offender and drug market problems could draw on existing randomized experimental designs such as those used in the Hawaii Opportunity with Probation Enforcement (HOPE) evaluation (Hawken & Kleiman, 2009), Jersey City Drug Market Analysis Program evaluation (Weisburd & Green, 1995), and other randomized controlled trials.
Key findings include:
• Between January of 2018 and November of 2019, 87 men and women under probation or Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR, or “parole”) supervision were identified as high-risk and required to participate in a call-in meeting or were “custom” notified (i.e., met with at their home). Those chosen were largely men (98%) and black (82%), with the largest proportion on MSR (64%). Ultimately, 74 participants attended either a call-in meeting (59 individuals) or custom notification (15 individuals), and of those, 66 met with the Navigator to complete an intake.
• A key component of the Rockford Focused Deterrence Intervention was conveying the deterrent message of “swift, certain and fair” punishment to participants. Analysis of video-recordings of the call-in meetings reveal that an average of 23.5 deterrent statements were made per call-in meeting, though there was large variation between meetings. In one meeting there were 15 deterrent statements, while another meeting had 32.