Social Policies as Crime Control

Randi Hjalmarsson

Politicians often overlook the possibility of introducing social policies as a way to control crime. Because social policies, like more education, have a number of additional benefits to society besides the reduction in crime, they can be potentially very cost-effective, according to professor Randi Hjalmarsson in the new SNS report Social Policies as Crime Control.

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“Criminal justice policies and social policies are in my view complementary tools that policy makers can use to control crime. Criminal justice policies – like more police or harsher punishments – may be useful to impact crime immediately. But social policies – especially those targeting early childhood environments and youths – can also prevent individuals from entering a life of crime,” says Randi Hjalmarsson.

Statistics in the report show that offenders differ from the rest of the population in several ways, including education, health and mental health, childhood environment, substance abuse, and labor market attachment. In cases where research indicates clear causal links between such factors and criminal behavior, then social policies can be used to reduce crime rates.

The report investigates seven social policy arenas – education, alcohol, early childhood environment, healthcare, employment, welfare, and military conscriptions – as potential crime control channels.

Taking one arena: A large body of research provides causal evidence of the education-crime relationship. In addition to the fact that being present at school reduces the risk of engaging in criminal activities, more education reduces future crime.

“Educational policy can potentially be used to reduce crime by increasing the quality of education – especially in neighborhoods where schools are not performing well. Increasing teacher salaries, incentivizing the best teachers to come to the weakest schools, or providing funding for sufficient staff, such as vice-principals, dedicated to discipline and/or truancy problems are policies to consider,” suggests professor Hjalmarsson.

On a more general note, Randi Hjalmarsson reflects on what policy makers in Sweden should focus on: “In a society like Sweden, with generous welfare benefits and universal healthcare and daycare, one should investigate the extent to which the quality of benefits and the take-up of these benefits is sufficiently high across all neighborhoods. Universal benefits do not mean that the benefits themselves are equal.”

about the author

Randi Hjalmarsson is a professor of economics at the University of Gothenburg, a member of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service’s scientific council, and co-editor of The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization.