Violent offenders

Are the seemingly inexorably, rising numbers of violent offenders inevitable?

Criminality and violence would always be present in society. The past has witnessed violent offenders, the present is continuously threatened by them and the future would not be spared. Criminality and violence are undeniable factors of human life and world civilization, and they would continuously perpetuate as long as people in the world have differences in beliefs, backgrounds, social status and interests. Thus, people have grown accustomed to crime as a burden of daily existence that has no established reasons or origins (M.A. Ives, 1970, p. 321). Bucklen (n.d.) claimed that there are fifteen types of violence namely group or mob violence; individual violence; hate crimes; institutional violence; multicide which includes mass murders and serial killings; psychopathic violence; predatory violence; interpersonal disagreement violence such as domestic violence, woman battering and child abuse; instrumental violence such as theft and robbery; drug-related violence; sexual violence; gang-related violence; violence caused by mentally-ill persons; and suicides. Krauth (1996) asserted that the contemporary society is marked by three characteristics related to violence: severity of violence, heightening youth violence, and increasing family and workplace violence (p. 5). These realities cause alarm and fear to the public but all societies and governments are positive that violence can be countered by preventive and control measures provided by state legislations, law enforcement bodies, criminal justice system, community awareness and participation, and special behavioural therapies that help offenders develop control over violent behaviours (Maguire, Kemshall, Noaks, Wincup and Sharpe, 2001, p. 1).

Severity of crime can be reflected by crime rates and records. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that there were about 14.4 million recorded rape, murder, robbery, aggravated attacks, burglary, and arson in the United States during the last years of the 1990s until 2000. Statistics for the same period also showed that the country was facing increasing incidents of stranger murders, youth involvement in violence, and rising prevalence of guns and firearms (Barak, 2000, p. 236). In 2001, violent crime rate was at 504.4 percent, homicide rate was 5.6 percent, and property crime recorded 3,656 incidents. In 2003, the records were 475.8 percent, 5.7 percent and 3,591, respectively, for the three categories (Crime in the United States, 2007). In 2004, there were approximately 1,367,009 violent crimes in the country broken down as follows: 62.5 percent aggravated assaults, 29.4 percent robbery, 6.9 percent forcible rape, and 1.2 percent murder (United Crime Reports, 2004, p. 11). In 2005, violent crime comprised 469.2 percent, homicide rate was 5.6 percent, and property crime reached 3,430 (Crime in the United States 2007). Similarly, the United Kingdom recorded a rise in sexual and violent offenses between 1992 and 1997. England had registered about 4.6 million offenses in 1997 while Scotland had 451,956 in 1996 (Barak, 2000, p. 224). A recent survey by Gallup Europe for the United Nations crime prevention agency showed that Britain has the highest rate of assaults and threats in the entire European Union with five percent of the public expressing they have been a victim of assault; three percent saying they experienced home burglary; three percent of the immigrant population have been victims of hate crimes; five percent have suffered theft from their cars; and the country has an above-average rate of pick pocketing and personal theft (Travis and Traynor, 2007). Furthermore, youth violence is an increasing phenomenon in many nations today. As recently as 2001, Great Britain witnessed many children and teenagers joining violent gangs at earlier ages that worsened violent behaviors among the population and added to criminal activity in the country (Duffy and Gillig, 2004, p. 39). The World Health Organization (2005) disclosed that assault was the second leading cause of hospital admissions of young men aging fifteen to twenty-four years old in England, and fifty percent of ten to fourteen years old children have been bullied in school. By 2006, Britain has experienced an alarming rise in violent crimes mostly involving teenagers. These crimes included fatal stabbings such as the case of Kiyan Prince, a football player who was attacked for intervening in a school fight; gun-related violence including the case of a fifteen-year old girl and her eighteen-year old ex-boyfriend who were shot to death in their house; and pre-arranged fights between teenagers sometimes filmed by their friends using mobile phone cameras (Tilles, 2006). The same problem is occurring in the United States. In 2003, 5,570 young people between ten and twenty-four were murdered of which 82 percent were done through firearms and more than 750,000 young people in the same age range were treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries due to violent assaults. In 2004, 33 percent of American youths have been in a physical fight in school while 17 percent have been reported to be carrying guns or knives (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2006). Finally, World Health Organization (2005) reported that the overall costs of intimate partner violence in Britain accounted for about £23 billion in 2005. Also, a survey by the International Labor Organization on British employees in 2000 showed that 25 percent of the respondents said that they were being bullied in their workplaces (Olsen, 2000). In the United States, 588,490 women were victims of non-fatal violence inflicted by an intimate partner and intimate partner violence accounted for 20 percent of violent crime against women in the country and 3 percent for men (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 2007). In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported that there were 551 incidents of workplace homicides and 5,703 fatal work injuries in the United States (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2007).

Crime and violent offense alter societal balance and security as people feel unsecured and unprotected. The government and society have always been the major players in crime prevention and control of violent offenders. Two of the major control measures are through state legislations and law enforcement bodies (Maguire et. al., 2001, p. 1). The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 has been the most prominent crime bill in American history. The Act extended the government's capacity to manage threats and problems posed by people with criminal and violent intents. Specifically, the Act prohibited the production and distribution of some forms of assault and deadly weapons; increased the coverage of the Federal death penalty to sixty offenses including terrorism, murder of any member of the law enforcement body, drug trafficking, shootings, and car jacking; restricted the sales, ownership or mere possession of firearms; intensified the Federal requirements and standards on firearms licensing for dealers; rendered more serious and rigid punishments for gang-related violence and trafficking; enabled the prosecution of grave crimes and violent offenses done by young people aged thirteen and older; mandated the registration of people charged with sexually violent offenses for ten years after release and imposition of criminal penalty for those who fail to do so; doubled the maximum term of incarceration for recidivating sexual offenses and crimes; imposed life imprisonment without parole for offenders with more than three convictions of felonies or violent crimes; required convicted criminals to provide compensation for damage and loss to the victims; and strengthened punishments for violent offenses and grave crimes (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994). Moreover, Barak (2000) claimed that the contemporary crime control practice in the American society is managed by the federal law enforcement, state law enforcement and local law enforcement bodies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the largest agency in American law enforcement at the federal level. Federal agents are responsible for the investigation of all federal criminal law violations such as robbery, theft, kidnapping, and fraud. The state law enforcement body consists of all state-based police forces. The state police departments are responsible for the investigation of criminality and violence in the state, and security of all state institutions and citizens. The local police departments in the United States handle most of the law enforcement responsibilities. There are three kinds of local police agencies namely municipal police, county police and constables. The jurisdiction of the municipal police covers the urban cities and towns of the country. The municipal police departments handle the responsibility of maintaining law and order within the area as well as conduct general arrest and investigations of all forms of crimes. County police agencies which include the sheriff's offices, on the other hand, are found in unincorporated places in the country. The sheriff's office facilitates daily security patrol and crime control, arrest and investigations, oversees the county prison, renders security and support at the county courthouse, and delivers subpoenas, eviction notices and levies. The constables are found in smaller American communities and handle minor law enforcement responsibilities. The police force in the American society is the organized body that manages the daily enforcement of law and apprehension of violations. They have the power to stop and pat down suspects of crime; make arrests on the grounds of articulated evidence; search the suspect's home or vehicles for detection of weapons used for criminal activities; and bring the suspect to court for arraignment. The suspects have to undergo criminal justice proceedings and when proven guilty have to serve a sentence (Barak, 2000, pp. xiv,231,236,239,242,247). The United States government is aware that the future holds new forms of crimes and violence. Thus, its crime control and violence prevention efforts have always been focused on penalizing the criminals. The government also aims to further its efforts in accumulation and dissemination of information about violent offenders, offenses committed, victims, and criminal investigations to facilitate a concerted approach to crime and violence (Barak, 2000, p. 251). In Britain, the Crime and Disorder Bill enacted in 1998 paved the way for consistent Criminal Justice Bills in the country. The bill obliged the police, local law enforcement authorities, and other public and private agencies to collaborate in developing and implementing crime, violence and social disorder strategies. The British government provided prominent focus on juvenile crime and violence through this bill. It required the formation of Youth Offending Teams that pursued anti-social behavior orders against persons, and placed children below the age of criminal responsibility under oversight and supervision. The youth offending teams also permitted orders on the imposition of curfews for those under the age of criminal responsibility; implementation of a mechanism of reprimands and cautions; submission of drug abusers and sex offenders to treatment; and speedy court proceedings for young offenders. Most of the existing British laws today also allow the use of family group conferences on juvenile crime and violence. The Thames Valley Police is the lead agency in this strategy (Barak, 2000, pp. 224-226). Evans (2003) claimed that the police and probation departments in Britain and Wales both possess an established legislative mandate to cooperatively handle the assessment and management of risks brought about by violent offenders to the community. The police force is responsible for the registration of violent offenses committed and for evaluating their threats to community living. Probation services, on the other hand, carry out the tasks of evaluating the risks and threats posed by violent offenders to determine the extent and type of supervision and intervention needed. These services are responsible for identifying the most effective treatment measures to lessen the probability of recidivism risk of violent offenders (p. 114).

Crimes and violent offenses are also paid for in every nation's criminal justice system. According to Simon Hughes, former Home Affairs Spokesman of the Liberal Democrats, prison sentences should specifically cover convicted violent offenders and criminals. Courts should not be lenient in punishing criminals and violent predators. They should adopt the thinking that serious crimes and violent offenses correlate to imprisonment. Furthermore, terms of imprisonment must be rendered to some non-violent offenses including child pornography, reckless driving resulting to death, and bullying witnesses in courts. It is also a necessity that more police and law enforcement officers be assigned on the streets and to put in place a strict community-based supervision on prisoners after release from prison to oversee their habits, behaviors and activities (Hughes, 2002). The idea on community-based supervision was supported by Maguire and his colleagues (2001) when they claimed that criminal laws and law enforcement entities are instrumental in identifying violent offenders and bringing them to justice. However, most of these offenders return to the community after serving their sentences. Thus, governments in the world should also embark on ways to monitor and control the behaviors of violent offenders while serving community sentences, upon their release from prison, and during their re-integration into the community. A major step in this strategy is the development of multi-agency collaborations with emphasis on the role of probation agencies. Local probation officers are mandated to pursue improvements in the procedures of recognizing and overseeing violent offenders who are likely to render risks and threats while they are serving community sentences or after their release on licensee from incarceration. All probation departments adopt a standardized mechanism of risk assessment in the form of pre-sentence report and pre-release statements. These agencies also resort to collaboration, networking and linkages with other entities such as prisons, police departments, social services agencies, and other social institutions. Furthermore, most probation agencies establish a more formal cooperation through panel discussions represented by people from the probation services department, police force, social services department, housing institutions, and health departments for the purposes of information sharing, collective evaluation of the level of threat of violent offenders to the community, and specification of plans and strategies focused on offenders labeled as potentially dangerous (p. 1). Hughes' advocacy on strict punishment for criminals is observed in increasing numbers and rigidity of preventive strategies centered on crime and violent offense in Britain. In 1983, the Home Secretary of the British Home Office in that year hampered parole for prisoners responsible for severe and grave sexual and violent offenses. The Criminal Justice Act of 1991 obliged the imposition of longer sentences for violent offenses on the account of public protection (Maguire et. al., 2001, p. 1). Furthermore, statistics in 1996 showed that there were 302,000 offenders sentenced by British courts for serious crimes and violent offenses. Fines have been the most commonly used sentencing option for all offenses in Britain while indictable offenses were mostly served by community services sentences or probation (Barak, 2000, pp. 224-226). However, the most remarkable penal step made by the British government was the implementation of a mandatory life sentence on the second conviction of a serious violent crime or offense in 1997 (Maguire et. al., 2001, p. 1). Likewise, sentencing options in the American law range from fines, probation, paying for damages or loss to the victims, incarceration, split sentence of incarceration and probation or parole, community service, and admittance to a mental health facility or rehabilitation center (Barak, 2000, p. 239).

The community can also be a powerful weapon in violent offense prevention and control. The community must know that the law does not tolerate crimes and violence. People should be encouraged to be vigilant and to disclose any information pertinent to the occurrence of violent offenses (Krauth, 1996). The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (2006) cited that a number of communities in some parts of the world have attempted to develop community-based crime prevention strategies as supplemental action for the government's efforts. This move towards violence prevention initiated by communities mostly centered on youth and juvenile violence in consideration of their vulnerability. Community effort follows two important steps. First, the community identifies the significant risk factors of violence provided by the community itself, the families that comprise the community, schools and academic institutions in the area, and individual backgrounds of the people. Risk factors at the community level that are likely to increase the probability of juvenile involvement in violent acts are unrestricted presence of drugs and substances, alcohol, deadly weapons like guns, severe poverty, disintegration of the neighborhood, and community laxness to misbehavior. Secondly, the family provides certain risk factors contributory to the development of violent attitudes and behaviors among children such as lack of oversight of children's activities and habits, unfair and severe punishment for any misdemeanors and mistakes, conflicts between parents and children and between siblings, and parental toleration of violent behaviors. Thirdly, negative experiences of children in schools and academic institutions contribute to the development of violent behaviors including academic failure, bullying from peers, alienation, anti-social behaviors manifested by teachers or schoolmates, and lack of attachment with the school. Finally, personal risk factors are those factors that come upon the individual's discretion, choices and tendencies. These factors range from the kinds of friendships and peer affiliations that the children develop, feelings of impulsiveness, depression, stress and mood swings. The community has to thoroughly identify and understand these risk factors so that it can effectively tailor its violence prevention program on the extent of the presence of risk factors in the area. The key purpose of community violence prevention program is to lessen the number of risk factors for violence which confront children and adolescents within the community, and strengthen protective measures. The most potent way of preventing children and teenagers to become exposed to different kinds of risk factors is through the encouragement of solid, positive and meaningful relationships with adults like parents, older siblings, teachers or community leaders who can be the role model of effective interpersonal skills and moral behaviors. The second step in the development of community violence prevention program is the conceptualization and implementation of preventive strategies that are recognized for their effectiveness. Researches have proven that some of the kinds of violence prevention programs that the community can utilize are positive youth development program, approaches to family enhancement and strengthening, skills training, school-centered programs, and counseling services. Positive youth development programs include those activities that render opportunities for children and youth to acquire competence in fostering nurturing relationships with peers and adults, and provide them with an efficient role model who would guide their actions and instill in them discipline and favourable behaviours. Approaches to enhancing and strengthening the family consist of home visitation for new parents and trainings on improvement of parental skills. Skills training activities can be facilitated in schools and other community centers. These activities aim to teach children and youth the appropriate skills in problem solving and responding to complex social situations. School-centered programs are activities that address the issues of children and teenagers relative to academic failure, dropping out, enthusiasm in studies, disciplinary problems, and exposure to alcohol and other vices. Finally, counseling services include family therapy and intensive intervention treatments that target the diverse influences of children and adolescent living such as family, friends, classmates, teachers, neighbors and community (National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, 2006). In addition, employment settings in the community should be the major advocates of harmony in the workplace and prevention of work-related violence. Workplace violence requires the management to identify the probable threats by implementing a grievance system and by adopting humane practices in dealing with termination (Krauth, 1996).

Finally, therapies are also considered as potent measures for crime and violence prevention. Many state laws today allow the commitment of violent offenders to mental health agencies and rehabilitation institutions. Violent offenders undergo several behavioural modification programs and therapies in these facilities that help them manage and change their violent inclinations. The most effective therapy identified for violent offenders is cognitive behavioural therapy. This kind of therapy has four methods namely: anger and emotions management, cognitive skills programs, cognitive-self medications and problem solving approaches (The Evidence, 2006). Bucklen (n.d.) reported that the anger management approach works on the belief that anger is a normal precursor of violence and violence is a consequence of an offender's incapacity to detect and control anger. Consequently, many researchers believe that a future indication of violent offense prevention is to strengthen anger management approaches and supplement them with other programs that would target the common risk factors among violent offenders. One study showed that components like assertiveness training, relaxation therapy, problem solving, moral reasoning and rational emotive therapy are helpful in obtaining lower anger scores and decreasing irrational beliefs among violent offenders. Anger management trains the violent offender to identify the typical causes or level of anger that they experience. The offender has to recognize the circumstances that normally lead him to feel angry and violent, and the degree of anger that each circumstance provides. Once the offender has identified the cause and level of anger, he or she shall evaluate his or her personal response to the stimulation. The offender has to choose the kind of response whether it is negative or positive. He or she should also know the different consequences that the response will bring. Anger management training also allows the offender to experience a relaxation activity that puts him or her in a situation where he or she can clear his mind and emotions in order to choose the best response. The main purpose of the anger management approach is to instill in the offender the ability to analyze his or her personal response mechanism to any stimulants provided by the environment that may trigger him/her to think irrationally and behave violently. Furthermore, the violent offender can be effectively assisted through cognitive skills programs. These programs strengthen the person's ability to understand personal and social situations and confront problems in their daily living. The cognitive skills programs condition the offender to recognize the kind of problem or complication confronting him/her, control the primary impulsive tendency to do something about the problem, think of possible alternatives to solving the problem, analyze each option, foresee the consequences of each alternative, and manifest sympathy to other persons who may be impacted by the choice of alternative in problem solving (The Evidence, 2006).

To summarize, the contemporary landscape of any country in the world is characterized by the prevalence of crimes and violent offenses such as murders, robbery, thefts, inter-human assaults, and mugging. These social ills create fear, among women, men, children and adolescents; challenge societal security; and make daily living a burden. Hence, societies are continuously coming up with measures and strategies that would help manage the problems of crime and violence. It can never be said that the increasing accounts of violent offenses can be stopped or cannot be stopped. Nobody can ever foresee a world without violence as much as nobody can predict that crimes and violence can be eradicated. However, certain measures can be done to facilitate prevention and control of criminality and violence. Violence prevention and control lay in the hands of laws, law enforcement entities, punishment systems, community participation and psychological interventions. Criminal laws can be formulated and consistently assessed to ascertain their effectiveness in addressing the problem. Violent criminals must be allowed to undergo the due process of law and when proven guilty, have to be penalized. The state has to be strict in its punishments systems in order to communicate seriousness in its effort. In like manner, the community has to understand the threats that crime and violence pose on it and therefore must be participative in the government's struggles to control or prevent violence. Above all, criminals and violent offenders are humans too. They can be reformed and disciplined through behavioural modifications and therapies. These therapies assist them in self-evaluation, self-management and instill in them self-discipline. Violence can not be completely avoided but human living can be shed with a little meaning if the society at least does something to manage the problem.

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