Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interesting Social Fact on Urban Crime

So, one of the most recognized social facts among criminologists is that violent crime and crimes against property are more commonly found in certain areas of a city and less commonly found in others. This is no surprise, but the interesting thing is that as people who live in the crime ridden sections move out, the crime, by and large, stays. That is, it doesn't move with them. This was something criminologists discovered way back in the 1920s. Today, the reasoning and argument are much more complicated than was the case back in the day. For instance, it's now also widely recognized that some of the high rates of crime in particularly urban areas are also due to the high rates of policy surveillance, so that some of the difference in crime rate is due to the simple fact that some areas of the city aren't crawling with police. Despite this issue of visibility and enforcement on crime rate numbers, the fact remains. As people move out of crime prone areas, the crime tends not to move with them. The reason people believe this is an important social fact is because it make us ask about crime as a function of an individual, where it's due to one's psychological makeup or genetics or a function of conditions/environment. That is, an area as criminogenic, where crime is a somewhat normal reaction to abnormal conditions.

This insight is also important, not only because it sheds light on sources of crime, but because it also points us in a direction for reducing it. If crime stays in areas that share certain characteristics, then perhaps addressing those characteristics might help reduce crime. As opposed to more individualistic approaches. This makes me think about the rational behind prison and jail construction, a particularly relevant issue as the city is currently undergoing the construction of a new jail with several hundred beds. Jail and prison as a means of crime control focuses attention on the individual, punish the wrong-doer. Yet, it does virtually nothing to address the conditions and social characteristics of crime ridder areas.

In fact, one of the characteristics of crime ridden areas is the frequent ebb and flow of residents (there's an elaborate argument here, but I'll spare you the details), and some of the new criminological research is noting how concentrated incarceration where up to 40%-60% of residents in these neighborhoods have gone to jail/prison actually exacerbates the characteristics and conditions that seem to foster crime in the first place. How ironic. We pay about $22,000 per prisoner, per year (though expense increase as one ages in prison and their health care needs increase) to create more crime. This is not just a New Orleans thing, but is certainly pertinent to New Orleanians. We could also ask, if a great majority of those suffering from this great irony weren't black men, would we see greater action to address this issue? We might also ask, if they weren't black, would these conditions be allowed to arise and fester for so long in the first place?

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