Safe Ground - Using drama to educate prisoners and young people at risk in the community


Find Your Broken Window…And Fix It!

The broken windows theory is one that most criminal psychologists can relate to. The theory was first introduced in an article written by George L Kelling and James Q Wilson in the March 1982 issue of ‘The Atlantic Monthly’. Kelling and Wilson claimed that ‘maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime’. The example used was a building with a few broken windows (hence the name). If the windows are not promptly repaired, the tendency is for vandals to then break more windows, and possibly even break into the building, inviting squatters and a much more severe situation within the community.  At the time, it was a controversial statement, with conflicting views across the police departments and amongst psychologists. Over the years however, more and more it is being adapted into specialist programmes, and used at the forefront of crime prevention teams in police departments across the world.

We use aspects of the theory in our own Family Man and Fathers Inside training. On a recent Fathers Inside training I attended, I noticed how adamant the Safe Ground coordinators were that the group circle remains neat, tidy and even, with no extra chairs, or backwards/out of place chairs. Over the 3 days, I began to realise how effective this was, as when the circle was ‘broken’ immediately you could notice group members starting to disengage slightly, and bad behaviour starts to form. When working in prisons especially, it is easy for the group’s behaviour to deteriorate, so having a core structure that stays constant, such as the ‘perfect circle’ makes a huge positive impact on the outcome of group sessions.

We all also have our own individual ‘broken windows’. Sometimes it’s easy with theories like this one to let them go over your head and only think about them in the context of big crimes, but they are also very relevant on a personal level. Things that if not fixed in the early stages can accumulate and make you feel out of control. It’s the little things like the pile of clothes you let slowly accumulate in the corner until it gets overwhelming and you find yourself having to spend a full day washing and sorting. The obvious prevention would be to act early and make sure when that first t shirt makes its way to the floor, to pick it up and put it away.

The biggest thing is finding your own ‘broken window(s)’; the thing that over and over again escalates and creates a negative social norm in your life. It could be the dirty dishes, unsorted mail, or even an actual broken window you’ve neglected to fix. Once you find your broken window, fix it. Wash the plate after you use it to stop a possible pile up, open the letter and deal with it as soon as you get it, get the window fixed. All these small steps, in the long run, make a massive impact on not only future behaviour but your general sense of wellbeing and control.



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