The criminal justice system typically houses seriously delinquent youths together despite evidence that the practice encourages more crime, say a group of experts who are preparing a report on the phenomenon known as “deviant peer contagion.” Sociologist Wayne Osgood of Pennsylvania State University described a “feedback loop of negative influence among already delinquent youth” yesterday in Washington, D.C., to the annual crime research conference sponsored by the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. Osgood and other speakers are members of a group convened by Duke University to recommend solutions to the problem.
Among reforms urged by Osgood were housing delinquents in small residential units rather than large “training schools,” more staff training, and a more structured daily life for imprisoned youths. California-based criminologist Peter Greenwood, another panel member, said teen offenders can be sent to community-based programs and boot camps that have been judged effective. Sending youths to wilderness camps and “scared straight” programs has been proved not prevent crime, Greenwood said. He argued that even if agencies must pay $25,000 to train staff members on scientifically established ways to get delinquents off a path of crime, it would be a cost-effective way to prevent crime and save imprisonment costs.