Crime is one of the major problems that have affected the human society in different parts of the world. The effects of crime can be serious depending on the extent to which it is engorged in the affected society. In response to rising crime rates, numerous crime reduction and prevention strategies have been formulated. These strategies are usually intended to address a particular problem, which depends on the context. Before implementation of the proposed strategies, the program or project needs to take into account all aspects of the problem. In this regard, it is important to conduct critical evaluation of the project outcome in order to ascertain the extent to which it was successful in addressing the problem. This inspires the main objective of this paper, which is to evaluate the outcomes of a specific crime prevention project. To achieve an effective evaluation, the process will be conducted using chosen parameters aligned to the particular project. Hence, the paper will conduct an assessment on the outcome a community based crime and violence prevention project that was implemented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Background of Crime Situation in El Salvador
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The USAID sponsored Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project was implemented in El Salvador, which is one of the most crime ridden cities in the entire globe. The crime situation in El Salvador claims numerous lives in this nation. Part of the reason leading to the high involvement in criminal activity is the poor distribution of resources. The project is motivated by the fact that the crime situation in El Salvador has reached an unmanageable level such that the law enforcement officials are increasingly finding it hard to apprehend criminals. The judicial system of El Salvador is processing a large number of criminal cases (USAID, 2011). The problem in El Salvador has made it impossible for people to accomplish economic activities. According to the national statistics of El Salvador, the country has been reeling from crime problems to the extent that the community is now paying a high price for it. “At best, crime statistics and victimization surveys indicate that the problems have leveled off, and that El Salvador continues to pay a very high price, both in human and economic terms, spending close to 15 percent of its gross domestic product on security” (USAID, 2011, p.9). In this setting, the youth continue to form the greatest number of recruits into the system.
The violence in El Salvador affects different segments of the population. For example, there is a high spate of violence directed towards women, which is exhibited through sex crimes and homicides. In fact, the crime level in El Salvador indicates that crimes directed against women form more than 20 percent of the total national crimes (USAID, 2011). Consequently, El Salvador records one of the highest domestic violence rates in the world. Hence, the Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project by USAID identified crime as one of the most critical elements that are limiting the successful achievement of the country’s economic growth and foreign investment initiatives (USAID, 2011).
The Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project report outlines the main activities that the project intended to capture. The project was launched in the fiscal year of 2011 with an aim of improving the collaboration among stakeholders concerned with the security situation in El Salvador. In this regard, the Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project collaborated with more thirteen inter-institutional working groups that were operating in selected municipalities (USAID, 2011). In total, the project involved more than twelve local governments, community leaders, youth, and national government agencies (USAID, 2011). The aim was to strengthen the already existing framework of handling security, which was proposed by the National Strategy on Social Violence Prevention (USAID, 2011). In addition, the project also intended to support the overall goal of the US government to reduce the crime levels in Central America.
Under the framework of the Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project, youth, municipal authorities, community leaders, and public representatives will combine their efforts to safeguard the safety of citizens who are facing the most risk (USAID, 2011). Training for these members was organized locally before the official activities were launched. The training took three days and it was held in western, central, and eastern El Salvador (USAID, 2011). The aim was to enable the personnel to work effectively with the local stakeholders throughout the cycle of the project. The project conducted an initial baseline study to establish the parameters of crime. This entailed a household survey focusing on police statistics, victimization, and maps showing risk and protective factors (USAID, 2011). The aim of the survey was to provide the program with a good starting point for implementing the program using reliable information.
The final assessment after implementation of the project for the chosen period indicated that the number of crimes reported by police have declined by 49%; homicides declined from 8 to 1; risk factors declined by 30%; protection factors went up by 45%; victimization rate declined by 38%; and respondents interviewed on the perception regarding safe living in the community went up by 31% (USAID, 2011).
Section Outcomes of Project Implementation
The first phase of the program was partially successful in implementing its objectives. The reason for partial success was the presence of structural limitations, which the program could not address effectively. Thus, some activities were fully completed while others were postponed to the next quarter for implementation due to technical and time availability issues. The effect of postponing some activities is known to increase the final cost of the project dramatically (Hendricks, 2005).
First, in the municipal and community led crime and violence prevention section, the project was able to achieve significant improvements in the focal communities in terms protection factors (USAID, 2011). To validate this, the project officials compared the then results with data from the 2009 baseline study, which was implemented before the project started. Using the baseline study to conduct the comparison added significance to the outcome observed.
Second, in some geographical entities such as San Martin, despite the capacity building initiatives that had been proposed by the program, there was lack of cooperation from the municipal authorities (USAID, 2011). As a result, some of the programs could not be effectively implemented because of a general lack of goodwill for the authorities to actively engage community leaders and the youth.
Third, in the national leadership and support for crime and violence prevention section, there was partial success in implementing the proposed collaborative framework among the national program stakeholders (USAID, 2011). However, failure was experienced when governmental authorities faced challenges in attaining a desirable level of citizen safety, especially in areas where there were grave security concerns (USAID, 2011). This was partly as a result of the varying levels of accessibility due to location differences, for example, rural areas could not be sufficiently reached compared to urban areas where there is an efficient communication system. In response to this, the project developed an improved system to track and acquire information from all the selected municipalities (USAID, 2011).
Fourth, under the component of gang prevention, the program attained significant milestones. To start with, the selection criterion that was implemented for the most affected communities successfully identified areas in which gang activities were most prevalent. Among the areas where success was recorded during this phase includes the Zaragova Municipal Council where the community members actively embraced the proposed participatory framework (USAID, 2011). To achieve the public safety component, it is important to assign field monitors who interact closely with the youth; hence, are able to link social service providers within the affected community (Levan & Mackey, 2011).
Fifth, in the community action fund section of the project more coverage was achieved in reaching out to the affected youth. For example, in the areas of San Jan Opico, over 200 boys and girls from nine schools attended the program, which covered activities on violence prevention and safety component (USAID, 2011)
During implementation of the program numerous challenges and limitations were experienced. These mainly arose from complications that were arising in the course of implementing the project. The sources for the complications were stakeholder arrangement, organizational technicalities, community cooperation, and structural challenges. Hence, in as much as the program members made an effort to ensure that the program was achieving its goals, these goal not take place as desire. Nevertheless, there was a positive move to ensure that everything was going according to plan.
First, the local governments showed significant support at the beginning of the project, but as time went by they started patronizing the program (USAID, 2011). Due to this, at one point there were major issues regarding cooperating. The fact that the local government officials were showing support, this commitment seemed to be directed towards delegating roles to other departments, which were not within the jurisdiction of the local government. In this regard, there are situations in which the program officials met resistance from the department officials to which they had been referred.
Second, during the implementation of the program, the elections were around the corner, which meant that the community leaders were at the time involved in political activity. The upcoming 2012 elections in the country implied that the country implied that the youth and leaders had varied interests regarding crime prevention. Hence, initiating an effective participatory framework that could be used in the program was challenging at the time. “These realities have an impact on the degree of interest of mayors and council members in the crime prevention work that is underway” (USAID, 2011, p.28).
Third, instituting an effective youth participatory mechanism was difficult to implement because the program was being implemented using a small grants formula (USAID, 2011). As a result, the meetings and activities scheduled for the crime prevention program could not be effective pattern. In essence, getting the right formula for program depends on the extent to which the program is effective when it comes to the identification of individual risk factors, for example, family, school, or economic (Public Safety Canada, 2011)
Fourth, due to the stakeholder involvement deciding a decision making formula for the project became a major challenge. People participating in the program acknowledged that the program had no clear framework for decision making due to multiple parties being assigned specific areas to attend to, which sometimes led to a class in terms of role assigned to some groups.
Fifth, another major challenge was time ensuring performance objectives are met within the assigned time frame. Hence, because of the short duration assigned for implementing the program, which was initially between February 2010 and September 2011 (a duration of 20 month); thus, some program activities had to be assigned less time (USAID, 2011). The fact was that some of these program activities that were being left out were actually required for the success of the project. Hence, it only made the program to become less effective with reference to the program goals. In addition, the problem was complicated by the fact that more than half of the program activities that were destined to begin in the second half of 2010 started as late as the first quarter of 2011 and consequently, this left only one year for the completion of the remaining activities (USAID, 2011).
Since, the USAID Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project in El Salvador is still undergoing its second phase; it will only be beneficial to provide some suggestions for improvements that can be made to the program. The proposed solution framework is designed to by taking into account the specific contextual issues affecting the program. This includes providing practical situational examples in cities where similar crime prevention projects have been implemented.
First, the second phase of the project needs to incorporate a reliable support mechanism that will be used to improve the program’s participatory framework. In another project implemented among the Aborigine community of Australia christened the Koori Youth Justice Program, local Aboriginal agencies were being used to provide preventive and support measures for the program. These measures were implemented such that it would reduce the offensive orders given to youth members falling under the community’s custody (Noetic Solutions, 2010). In essence, the participatory framework that was initiated by the Koori Justice Program ensured that there was adequate involvement of the local community with an aim of improving ownership of the program once it finally winds up (Noetic Solutions, 2010).
According to Arrington (2006) “such a program should be developed and guidelines created by a committee made up of the law enforcement coordinator and citizens” (p.45)
Second, in as much as the content of the USAID Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project could be up to standard, there is need to conduct a thorough review of the program content to ensure that all activities are in line with the program goals and objectives. This ensures that the number of activities has been reduced by covering only the critical activities while combining others. According to Cameron and MacDougall (2000) “with careful consideration of the content, programs can achieve desired outcomes” (p.5). This mainly arises from the fact that most programs rely on very limited resources; hence, when the program activities are not effectively chunked, the program becomes too robust for effective implementation. Additionally, this affects the efficacy of achieving important elements such as timely completion of activities fixed by the project calendar. In the case of USAID Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention project this is what could have caused some critical activities to be postponed to the next phase of the program, when this should not be happening.
Third, there is need for the Community Based Crime and Violence Prevention Project to restructure its main decision making channels such that there is a better interactive framework between all the stakeholders involved in the project. In any project environment where stakeholders are effectively involved it becomes relatively easy to achieve the best outcomes. When restructuring the program, the project planners need to understand and structure and decision making processes in the community prevention initiative, they need to take into account the community participation framework, and finally, they need to conduct an assessment of the nature and extent to which the existing interagency involvement is utilized for the program’s success (English, Cummings, & Straton, n.d).
Fourth, there is need for the project to establish clear parameters and descriptions of their target group in the affected society. Even though a program may be viewed as an all inclusive program, there are times when the target audience may vary depending on contextual circumstances. These may change the membership of the participating group such that at the end of the program the outcome may either be high or low depending on how this group is receptive. The best measure is to identify neighborhoods or communities in which the main target group can be matched with profiles from a suitable experimental area (Lab, 2010). For example, in a previous research, it was established that the membership of the youth in a gang group varied depending on critical issues such as neighborhood characteristics, presence or absence of social disorganization, the occurrence of mobility, family social status and background, gender, and school/educational factors (Arbreton & McClanahan, n.d)
Fifth, the program needs to take into account the emerging needs and concerns that have been expressed by other projects (Public Safety Canada, 2011). When this is done using the proper method of evaluation, the program will only focus on the most pressing needs in order to avoid widening the scope of the project such that it falls beyond its financial capability. Moreover, there should be an effective and sound analysis of the existing crime activities in the affected setting, especially those expressed by community members so that the program can focus on these special needs.