Friday, June 17, 2005

3-year-old criminals and the false positive problem

According to Worldnet Daily (via Ann Althouse),
"A leaked 250-page report on proposed crime-fighting strategies, drawn up on instructions of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, recommends training nursery workers to target children as young as 3 years of age as potential criminals... if the[y] exhibit bullying behavior in nursery school or if there is a history of criminality in the immediate family."
This is a classic example of the "false positive" problem. Yes, looking backward, most of the people in prison today had some early history of antisocial behavior. But there is strong evidence from life course criminology that most antisocial children do not become serious criminals as adults (see, e.g., Gove 1985). Worse still, identifying and treating kids at 3 could worsen their prospects by labeling and isolating them from "normals." Although the report proposed "soft" measures such as education (presumably versus hard measures involving institutionalization), how hard would you fight to keep your kid out of the special class for 3-year old bullies? How long would you want the designation to remain on their school records?

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