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Joan McCord, 73; Criminologist Tested Intervention Programs

March 06, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Joan McCord, a Temple University criminologist who often debunked common wisdom about the effectiveness of many of the most accepted social intervention programs, died of lung cancer Feb. 24 at her home in Narberth, Pa. She was 73.

McCord was the author of many books and dozens of articles. Many of them examined various programs aimed at diverting juveniles from crime, and her results were invariably surprising.

Among other things, she found that boys clubs, summer camps, Scared Straight prison visitation programs and police-led drug education programs in schools often did not make a difference -- and in some cases had a negative effect -- on whether at-risk youths later committed crimes or became alcoholics.

She urged more study of programs that though well-intentioned, did not turn out to be effective.

"Over the years, she was passionate about being sure that programs intended to prevent delinquency or criminal behavior or drug abuse did not actually increase participants' risk," said Ralph Taylor, chairman of Temple's criminal justice department. "She strongly advocated employing true experiments with random assignment of participants in order to guard against pushing programs before we could be sure they were helping as intended."

A native of New York City, McCord received her bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Stanford and did graduate work at Harvard and Stanford. She went to Temple in 1987 as a professor in the department of criminal justice.

McCord was the first female president of the American Society of Criminology and held leadership roles in several other professional societies. She received numerous awards and served on various scientific panels. She also served as a senior research associate at the Center for Research in Human Development on Education from 1990 to 1993.

McCord is survived by two sons; a former ward whom she considered a family member; and four grandsons.

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