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Alcohol and Crime: Behavioral Aspects

Empirical Evidence On Alcohol And Crime, Studies Of Criminal Events, Types Of Offenses, Biases In Studies Of Events

In nineteenth-century American thought, the link between alcohol and crime was strong and certain. The showman P. T. Barnum was echoing countless other writers when he stated, in a temperance pamphlet published at mid-century, that "three-fourths of all the crime and pauperism existing in our land are traceable to the use of intoxicating liquors." These claims made by the temperance movement spurred research on the alcohol-crime relationship around the turn of the century, including John Koren's sophisticated multifactorial analysis in 1899 of the role of alcohol in causing crimes. Koren sounded a note of caution to those who would assume that alcohol caused crime: "When an offense is committed in a state of intoxication or by a habitual user of strong drink, the causal relations seem unmistakable, even inevitable, no matter how infinitely complicated the problem appears to the criminologist. . .. [But] we are still confronted with the question: Assuming that alcohol had never existed, how many and which of the criminal acts perpetrated during a period would not have been committed?" (Koren, pp. 49, 55).

In the polarized atmosphere of national Prohibition (1919–1933) and after repeal, empirical research on the linkage of alcohol and crime declined, with relatively little advance in research design or in theoretically relevant knowledge until Marvin Wolfgang's influential 1958 study Patterns in Criminal Homicide. In the years since Wolfgang described the frequency with which alcohol use accompanies homicides, the potential linkages between alcohol and crime have been explored by social and behavioral scientists from several disciplines.

BARBARA C. LEIGH

ROBIN ROOM

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law