Nurse home visits as crime control

Nurse visits to poor young pregnant women can improve child care enough to reduce crime by the children involved. So why don’t we do it?

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.

Second update:

I’m behind the times. Respectful of Otters had the nurse visit/crime control story months ago, with interesting detail.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: