U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Pulling Levers: Chronic Offenders, High-Crime Settings, and a Theory of Prevention

NCJ Number
Valparaiso University Law Review Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1997) Pages: 449-484
Date Published
36 pages

This article proposes using the characteristics of chronic offenders, criminal networks, high-crime areas, and other criminal milieus as a route toward the control of selected dimensions of criminal behavior.


The proposed approach emerged from policy analysis recently performed in connection with the Boston Gun Project, which is a research and action project aimed at reducing serious youth violence in Boston. The Boston Gun Project Working Group observed that gangs and gang members left themselves open to a wide range of sanctions precisely because they were so highly criminal. Gang members committed large numbers of crimes that made them ripe for police action; they sold drugs on the street and committed readily observed disorder offenses; they were often the subject of outstanding warrants and were frequently on probation and sometimes on parole. The agencies represented on the Working Group could address the problem of gang behavior by deploying street enforcement; mounting long-term investigations; serving warrants; strictly supervising probation, parole, and bail conditions; removing juveniles under supervision to secure facilities; and reopening "cold" cases. The Working Group viewed its arsenal of authority and sanctions as a source for deterrence if gang members became aware of it. The Working Group thus began a systematic campaign to explain to gang members how it had and would henceforth respond to violence in Boston. It did so through sit-down, formal meetings with certain gangs; by visiting juvenile correctional facilities and speaking with inmates; in assemblies in schools; through individual contacts with gang members; and through the city's gang outreach workers. Although the strategy has not been formally evaluated, homicide victimization, the primary goal of the strategy, decreased substantially after implementation of the strategy. The most important insight from this strategy is that the characteristics of chronic offending and crime in groups make the most worrisome criminal populations vulnerable to being targeted for the full range of law enforcement tactics. Making the targeted offenders aware of the law enforcement strategy toward them can have a deterrent effect. Appended materials used in the Boston Gun Project

Date Published: January 1, 1997