Using Environmental Design to Prevent School Violence

environmental design

Creating protective community environments where young people live and play is necessary to help reduce youth violence.  Some environmental features are linked to violence and crime. These features can include the physical design of a space, the number of people in the space, and how the space is being cared for and used.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is an approach that focuses on improving the design of the built environment to help reduce opportunities for disputes and violence and promote positive behavior.

Communities applying CPTED activities reported decreases in gun violence, youth homicide, disorderly conduct, and violent crime. Communities also reported positive impacts on residents’ stress, community pride, and physical health. Some examples of these CPTED activities include:

  • Repairing abandoned building and vacant lots
  • Cleaning and maintaining neighborhood green spaces
  • Upkeep of neighborhood housing

CPTED and School Violence

CDC developed the CPTED School Assessment (CSA) [359 KB, 40 Pages, Print Only].  This tool assesses the use of CPTED principles in three areas of schools: grounds, buildings, and interiors.

CPTED principles that schools can consider include:

  1. Natural surveillance
    This refers to the placement of physical features that improve visibility. Example: The strategic use of windows that look out on the school entrance so students can see into the school and know that others can see them.
  2. Access management
    This includes using signs, well-marked entrances and exits, and landscaping to improve or limit access to certain areas. Example: Landscaping that reduces access to unsupervised locations on the school grounds.
  3. Territoriality
    This involves creating a welcoming environment. Example: Motivational signs, displays of student art, and the use of school colors to create warmth and express pride.
  4. Physical maintenance
    This includes repair and general upkeep of space. Example: Removing graffiti and making repairs to restrooms, light fixtures, and stairways to maintain safety and comfort.
  5. Order maintenance
    This includes addressing and reducing negative behavior. Example: Having an adult present at all times while students move from one location to another.

The principles of CPTED may benefit schools by:

  • Creating a warm and welcoming environment
  • Fostering a sense of physical and social order
  • Creating a sense of ownership by students
  • Sending positive messages to students
  • Maximizing the presence of authority figures
  • Minimizing opportunities for out-of-sight activities
  • Managing access to all school areas

Environmental design alone will not prevent all school violence. However, CPTED is a promising prevention strategy that may lead to safer schools. For more information about prevention strategies CDC’s Youth Violence Prevention Resource for Action [4 MB, 64 Pages], highlights strategies based on the best available evidence to help states and communities prevent or reduce youth violence.