Twelve scholars, most of them previously associated with the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence appointed by President Johnson in 1968, take a new look at the course of violent crime in the US and reevaluate public policy. They report that individual violent crime (murder, assault, rape, and robbery) has soared to a rate far outdistancing all other industrialized nations. This despite an all-out, multi-million-dollar, 15-year ""war on crime,"" the most ferocious and expensive in history, which doubled our prison population and now ranks us with the Soviet Union and South Africa as the most ""prison happy"" countries in the world. During the same period ""collective violence,"" the Commission's term for inner-city riots, almost disappeared, only to be replaced by random street crime, ""a form of slow rioting."" International terrorism, too, though so far aimed mostly at American targets outside American borders, poses a rising threat. Up to now, say the experts, we have gone at these problems in the wrong way, throwing money into the criminal justice system, which cannot prevent but only react to crime, and into more and bigger prisons, though it is clear that ""deterrence,"" the most common justification for imprisonment, doesn't work. What's needed, they say, is careful attention to the ""root causes"" of crime: the poverty and powerlessness of the underclass (now mostly black and Hispanic), the breakdown in family and community support systems, and the ""legitimation of violence"" by war. Both liberal ""welfarism"" and conservative ""law and order"" policies, they say, have missed the point. They recommend that citizens become more involved in their own protection, working through neighborhood organizations in carefully targeted areas to prevent crime by developing extended family support systems and employment for young people. ""Just about anything that improves the overall quality of life in a neighborhood is likely to have a positive effect on local crime rates and fear of crime,"" writes one contributor. Other essays discuss firearms restrictions (needed to reduce fatalities) and the rise and fall of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, cash box of the war on crime, closed in 1981 by Ed Meese for all the wrong reasons. All in all: a serious, unflinching attempt to rethink this immense, ever-growing, and inflammatory national problem.