Document Type

Article

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“Place and Crime” 73 Chicago-Kent Law Review 669 (1998)

Abstract

Although this is a symposium dedicated to the discussion of race and crime, I don't really want to talk about race and crime—at least not directly. I want to talk about crime in places—inner city communities. It is through the lens of place that the question of race and crime, as well as class and crime, is better understood. My discussion of place and crime will take on the connection between race and crime in a very nuanced fashion. Specifically, I will lay out a theory that engages the connections between law and the social sciences. The theory I will explore here helps to explain both the disproportionate numbers of both minority offenders processed by the criminal justice system and minority victims counted by it. The theory does more: it explains why the arguments that both promote and attack current visions of law enforcement are hampered by a myopic focus on individual law breakers that condemns both sides to ineffectiveness.

The relevant theory is a sociological conception of crime first advanced over fifty years ago. In 1942, Clifford Shaw and Henry Mc- Kay, two researchers from the Chicago School of sociology, argued in a seminal work that the structure of communities matters more in explaining the occurrence of delinquency than do the individual characteristics of offenders. According to Shaw and McKay's social organization theory, individual factors often connected with crime—such as low economic status or unemployment—do not themselves significantly impact crime. Rather, community-level structures—such as the prevalence of friendship networks, participation by community residents in formal organizations like PTAs and churches, and community- wide supervision of neighborhood teen peer groups—mediate the impact of these factors on crime. Put another way, the structure of the community in which an individual lives interacts in important ways to either facilitate or retard that individual's criminal or delinquent behavior. Because they promoted the connection between community level structures and crime over the relevance of individual dispositions to offend, Shaw and McKay doubted the efficacy of deterrence models driven by formal state-imposed sanctions.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1998

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