Social Development

Certain childhood experiences – such as living in poverty, living in concentrated areas of disadvantage, and inadequate parenting – are consistently linked with a higher likelihood of criminal activity later in life.1


Youth living in these conditions are considered to be "at risk." Teens who are repeatedly in trouble with the law – accounting for 50% to 70% of all juvenile offences2 – often have had one or several of these life experiences.

The effectiveness of social interventions is impressive:

  • In the United Kingdom, a program which provided 10 hours of activities a week to the 50 youth most at-risk in 70 of the most difficult neighbourhoods helped reduce youth arrests by 65% and reduced school expulsions by 30%.3

  • In Canada, home visits to assist "at-risk" mothers with parenting skills helped decrease the percentage of children who were later handed over to child protection authorities from 25% to just 2.3%;4 As well, a parent training program produced a 67% reduction in the number of teen arrests.5

  • American research found that incentives for youth to complete high school decreased arrests by 72%.6

The University of Colorado has identified 11 social development projects that produced large reductions in crime.7 The American government has since provided funding for the implementation of these projects throughout the United States.

The International Centre for the Prevention of Crime has also compiled a list of 100 crime prevention programs around the world that have demonstrated significant reductions in crime.8 Many of these are social development programs delivered by educational, health, housing or recreational services.

Compared to other measures used to control crime, crime prevention through social development is cost-effective. One study found that it costs tax-payers seven times more to achieve a 10% reduction in crime through the use of incarceration than it does by using social development approaches.9 This is not surprising when one considers that incarcerating one offender for one year in Canada costs anywhere from $66,300 to $110,400 – or more.10

Another study calculated that for every $1 spent providing at-risk children with enriched preschool experiences or providing youth with incentives to complete high school, the society will eventually receive $3.50 to $7 in benefits in return.11 That's because these kind of initiatives provide collateral social benefits such as healthy family relationships, socially well-adapted individuals, and well-educated workers.

There is growing support among Canadians for a social development approach to crime prevention, as evidenced in a number of recent polls.

Two Canadian parliamentary committees have recommended that 5% of expenditures on police, courts and corrections be re-routed to planning and funding crime prevention through social development programs. Although this target has not been achieved, the recommendations have led to some major Canadian initiatives in this regard, including the creation of the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). For more on the NCPS and other institutions which implement CPTSD around the world, see the Policies section of this website.

Because of accumulating evidence that well-planned crime prevention through social development initiatives reduce crime, a number of prestigious organizations worldwide have endorsed CPTSD12, including:

  • British Inspectorate of Police, 1998/2001 (UK)
  • Home Office and Treasury, 1997 (UK)
  • International Centre for the Prevention of Crime, 1997/1999
  • U.S. Congress, 1997; revised 2002 (USA)
  • National District Attorneys Association 1999 (USA)
  • White Paper on Safety and Security, 1997 (South Africa)
  • Surgeon General, 2001 (USA)
  • United Nations (2002)

Key Documents