James Q. Wilson, the doyen of consevative scholars of crime and crime control, offered an interesting tidbit at a meeting: boys born to young, poor, unmarried women engage in less crime when they grow up if their mothers, while pregnant, receive home visits from nurses who offer basic child-care advice.
Wilson and I don’t always see eye to eye on policy, but as a collector and evaluator of research results he’s pretty damned reliable: if he says that’s what the studies say, I’m prepared to believe it until someone shows he’s wrong.
The program as described (1) is cheap; (2) isn’t hard to implement; (3) doesn’t have any unpleasant side-effects; and (4) surely must have huge benefits other than crime control.
I vaguely recall that Howard Dean as Governor of Vermont instituted nurse home visitation, in imitation of the Swedish district nurse program. I haven’t heard about any evaluation results, or about replications elsewhere. But if Wilson is right, nurse visitation ought to receive virtually unanimous support.
Still, as I think about it, it doesn’t sound like the sort of program that, if proposed by a candidate, would excite the electorate or get good coverage in the press. That says something sad about the electorate, and about the press.
Steve Teles supplies the citation:
Olds D, Henderson CR Jr, Cole R, Eckenrode J, Kitzman H, Luckey D,
Pettitt L, Sidora K, Morris P, Powers J.
Long-term effects of nurse home visitation on children’s criminal and
antisocial behavior: 15-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial.
JAMA. 1998 Oct 14;280(14):1238-44.