Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Causes of Crime - Explaining Crime, Physical Abnormalities, Psychological Disorders, Social And Economic Factors, Broken Windows, Income And Education

Causes of Crime - Social And Economic Factors

crimes serious broken windows

In addition to studying the biological and psychological causes of criminal behavior, others looked toward society in general for possible causes. In the early 1900s researchers believed social changes occurring in the United States, such as an industrial economy replacing the earlier agricultural economy (industrialization) and the growth of cities (urbanization), as well as the steady flow of immigrants from eastern Europe affected crime levels. A reform movement, known as the Progressive Movement, attempted to solve increasing crime stemming from social causes.

As part of the growing concern, the University of Chicago's Department of Sociology, the first of its kind formed in 1892, focused on how city problems could lead to criminal behavior. By the 1930s and 1940s its pioneering research efforts became known as the "Chicago School" of thought, and influenced research across the nation and abroad. The researchers claimed criminals were ordinary people of all racial backgrounds who were profoundly influenced by the poverty and the social instability of their neighborhoods. They claimed such a poor social and economic environment could produce all types of crime.

Other researchers looked at various ways society can influence crime. Criminologist Edwin Sutherland (1883–1950), influenced by the Chicago School, first published Principles of Criminology in 1939. Sutherland argued that criminal behavior was learned, not an inherited trait. Exposure to crime, either through relatives or peers, gave a youth frustrated with his or her social status a choice to pursue crime. These bad influences could be lessened by good relationships with parents, teachers, an employer, or the community.

Broken Windows

In the 1990s a new idea spread through the criminal justice field concerning the influence of a person's social environment on crime rates. The idea was that general disorder in the neighborhood leads to increased antisocial behavior and eventually to serious crime. For most of the twentieth century, police primarily reacted to serious crimes such as rape, murder, and robbery often with little overall success in curbing crime rates. "Broken Windows," referring to a neighborhood of abandoned vehicles, vacant buildings with actual broken windows, and litter scattered around, is an idea that contends much of serious crime comes from civil disorder. So, the thinking went, if authorities eliminated disorder, then serious crimes would drop.

Disorder creates fear among citizens of unsafe streets; they avoid public areas allowing criminals to gain a foothold. The neighborhood goes into a downward spiral because as crime increases, then disorder increases further. Back and forth the spiralgoes. During the 1990s New York police commissioner William Bratton aggressively applied Broken Windows theory to New York City neighborhoods. His department attacked minor crimes such as public drinking, panhandling (begging for money), prostitution (selling sex for money), and various other kinds of disorderly conduct.

Once minor offenses were significantly reduced in an area, the number of serious crimes decreased as well. Felonies decreased by 27 percent after only two years. One factor they found was that many people committing minor crimes were also the ones committing more serious offenses. For example, by cracking down on people evading subway fares, police found many offenders carried illegal weapons and had outstanding arrest warrants. Subway crimes of all types dropped dramatically after enforcing collection of fares.

Police found Broken Windows a convenient way to control serious crime at less cost. As some critics also pointed out, it was simpler for the city to crack down on minor crimes than address social problems like poverty and limited education opportunities —which probably caused much of the criminal behavior in the Broken Window communities in the first place.

Causes of Crime - Broken Windows [next] [back] Causes of Crime - Psychological Disorders

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago

I believe it is a combination of social factors that produce crime, such as; Travis Hirshi's theory on weak social bonds or Edwin Sutherland's theory on learning criminal behavior through intimate groups. Poor social upbringing will cause criminal behvior, through; lack of an education, unemployment, poor family/peer relationships and etc

Vote down Vote up

almost 4 years ago

I definately agree that crime is not a race thing, but a poverty and an exclusion thing. It is normally hard to reverse the effects of the past on individuals whose ancestors were victims of exclusion and oppression. I hope that Americans can begin to own up to the fact that African Americans and

'their" social problems are a direct result of the centuries long maltreatment and degradation of this people group by America.

Vote down Vote up

about 4 years ago

I am commenting on the remarks about slavery; the atrocity of slavery and the psychological residue of the whole experienxces on African-American is a direct impact on crime, poverty and education. This is not to say that we don't have opportunites Obama's presidency is a true testimony that one can overcome the odds. But we cannot never deny that racism, segregration and oppression are criticial factors to look at when we develop programs for African American. We have a history that we can't ignore. And not too many slave owners, slave traders and whites who lynched countless of African American were ever brought to justice. Unemployment is a direct cause of crime, and so is hatred, rage and injustice.

Vote down Vote up

almost 3 years ago

please miss sandra,help me i am writing my project and a student of university of nigeria nsukka. my topic is socio cultural factors that encourage crime among youths.

Vote down Vote up

almost 5 years ago

If our ancestors did not buy slaves in Africa and bring them to American soil I think things would be different.

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago

The greatest cause of criminal activities is unemployment,as for BURNBULLETS...i can tell the kind of person you are by reading meaning into your name.How on earth will you say that,about your ancestors buying slaves from africa.Who is leading the world today,Obama..an african American,a black man.Please change your conception about africa and blame yourselves for your problems.

Vote down Vote up

22 days ago

please send results to me

Vote down Vote up

almost 7 years ago

Have you ever thought of industrialization being the cause of many criminal activities? Such as internet crimes, or Identity fraud, or hijacking.. what i am saying is that industrialization and capitalism just by being around make many windows for crime open up. The more new inventions, the more laws, the more crimes. Catch my stink?

Vote down Vote up

21 days ago

the sole cause of crimes in the society today is idleness. the word idleness is a bag which contains words or ideas which is triggered by unemployment, laziness, lowselfesteem and what have you.
all these today have lead to loss of innocent lives and properties, destruction of social amenities which causes retardation in the development of a country.