Prevention is better than cure

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New research shows that a ‘pro-social’ design of buildings and community space would reduce burglary

Crime Prevention Through Pro-Social Design recognises that the offender is very likely to be part of our community and that enhancing an offender’s emotional or moral attachment to an area through its design may reduce their desire or inclination to commit crimes within the community

A UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield professor has investigated ways in which the design of dwellings and the layout of residential areas can deter offenders.  Now, she aims to discover if better buildings and more sympathetic spaces can prevent people from turning to crime in the first place.  

It was while conducting research with convicted burglars that she was inspired to take this new direction.

Rachel Armitage is Professor of Criminology at the University and one of her key areas has been the field termed Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which has established that buildings and the spaces between them will experience varying levels of crime based on their design, build and management.

Now, Professor Armitage has made what she describes as a significant change in her research and is focussing on what she terms Crime Prevention Through Pro-Social Design (CPTPSD).  She has outlined her new ideas at a major overseas conference and will now edit a special journal exploring the concept.

“CPTED treats offenders as external, as ‘outsiders’, so you protect an area by designing them out.  But Crime Prevention Through Pro-Social Design recognises that the offender is very likely to be part of our community and that perhaps enhancing an offender’s emotional or moral attachment to an area may reduce their desire or inclination to commit crimes within the community,” said Professor Armitage.

Secured by design

As part of her designing-out-crime research, she showed a number of convicted burglars a series of photos of houses and streets, in order to discover the features that made properties and neighbourhoods most vulnerable – such as low fences, or footpaths at the back of a house.  But two of the images elicited a very different response.

“The offenders would say ‘I wouldn’t burgle that house because it reminds me of where I grew up’, or ‘it’s like where my grandma lives’.  These were a kind of moral responses to the features of the area, as if the design sparked a feeling that it would be wrong to commit a crime against something personal to them,” said Professor Armitage.

This was the trigger for her new direction, and she explored the idea when invited to deliver a keynote address at the 2018 Crime Prevention and Communities conference hosted in Melbourne by the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation.  Her well-received paper was titled ‘A more reliable glimpse’: Re-positioning the offender in Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.

“There is a lot of research on how the design of an environment can impact on someone’s mental health – such as their vulnerability to becoming depressed, anxious or to using drugs,” said Professor Armitage.

“All of those factors can increase a person’s risk of becoming an offender, so if we brought the two areas together and designed places which reduced mental illness and which reduced exclusion, then these people may feel less inclined to commit crimes in those areas.”

Professor Armitage has now been invited to edit a special edition of the Journal of Social Sciences.  Due to appear in 2019, it will be titled Crime Prevention Through Pro-social Design.  An international call for contributions has now been made.

“I am asking people to submit papers that explore how design can impact on offending from a very different perspective.  It is a matter of designing in pro-social behaviour,” said Professor Armitage.

“Designing out crime definitely still has a place and we have come a long way towards embedding this into our planning system.  I was involved in that.  But I think CPTED needs to evolve.”

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