A shocking discovery was found about a program which was designed 80 years ago to prevent crime among young people who lived in urban areas of Massachusetts. According to it, those who received counseling, mentoring, and other services intended to steer them away crime were found to have committed more crimes, lead less healthy lives, and died younger than people who received none of those.
The study ran from 1939-1945 and had 506 boys, ages 5-13, all of whom were selected because they had been caught stealing, been frequently absent from school, failed to come home after school, or identified as displaying other antisocial behavior. Half of them received various degrees of counseling and mentoring. The other half, received no such services. They were in the program, on average, for five-and-a-half years. Over the past 70 years, four follow-up evaluations have been conducted to assess it. The first two did not show any difference but the third follow-up, in 1970s, found that those who received counseling and other services were more likely to commit two or more crimes, fall victim to alcoholism and mental illness, have high blood pressure and heart trouble, and die before they turned 35.
Brandon Welsh, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Northeastern University said “The findings in 1978, of a study started in 1939, sent shockwaves through the burgeoning field of criminology, and disturbed advocates of social welfare programs”. Now, Welsh is leading a Northeastern research team following up the longer-term effects of the program. Conducted in Boston, it found that people who received counseling and mentoring had lived just as long, and were no more likely to die of disease, drug or alcohol abuse, accidents, or homicide. This was true for those who died in their 70s and 80s as well as those in their 40s.
According to Welsh, it is not clear as to why his research did not find that the crime prevention program had negative effects on the study’s participants, as the earlier study had found. “The earlier findings on premature mortality might have been a singular event. When the findings of the third follow-up were publicised, there was great concern that they would lead legislators to curb funding and other support for social welfare and mentoring programs. However, as time has passed, the findings have underscored the importance of and need for follow-up studies that examine the long-term effects of crime prevention programs” he concluded.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman