One of the biggest issues in America today is crime. It is a large problem that continues to erode our country economically as well as morally. Because of the vastness of the problem, many have speculated what the cause for crime may be in hopes that a solution will be found. Many believe that a bad family life, location of residence, and poverty hold a few of the answers to why an individual becomes involved in criminal activity.
Crime has been a major problem addressed in every presidential campaign for about three decades. This is because the American people are sick of the ever growing problem and seem to be voting for whoever claims to do the most about it. Major criminal justice functions such as correctional facilities, the FBI, and the Judicial branch have all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, had increasing budgets for the past 15 years. The problems persist and we still scream for more crime prevention. Why does America experience such problems? There are many theories.
The theory that holds the most validity is that many criminals have had a bad family life in one way or another. They have had few positive role models while growing up. John J. Dilulio, Jr., a scholar on crime policy, summed it up in one of his articles:
[b]ased on my own reading of these studies plus about fifteen years
of observation and interviews inside scores of prisons all across the
country, I would posit that the hair-trigger mentality, the gang-related
behavior, and the murderous violence itself emerge from the same source,
namely the simple fact that inner-city teenagers have had few, if any, adults in their lives who gave them unconditional love, taught them right from wrong, and reared them accordingly (6).
Dilulio’s article states that Seventy-five percent of the most violent incarcerated juveniles are children who were abused by a family member (6). Dilulio also went on to say that half of all youth in long-term juvenile facilities have had immediate family members incarcerated (6). Almost all other theories can relate to this one.
If individuals grow up in an abusive home there is a greater chance that they will develop a defiant individualist character (Jankowski 23). The main authority figure or figures in their life have mistreated them, which leads the individuals to question everything that all authority figures say. This includes moral standards. Authority figures have not looked out for the individuals’ best interests in the past so the individuals develop a mistrust of authority. They are not convinced that anybody besides themselves knows what’s best for them. These individuals become self reliant at quiet an early age and decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They also learn how to think quite rationally so they can calculate what they are sure will be the best for themselves at that point in their life. They may have been brought up in a family that did teach them right from wrong, but because that family failed miserably in other ways, the individuals
question the morals they were taught and may decide for their economic and social wellbeing that crime is the best route to take.
Place of residence can also make a big difference in the degree that the individual becomes criminally involved when coupled with an abusive family history. If in the event that an individual does decide that crime is the best way for them to get ahead in life, it is a lot easier to get criminally involved in an area that possesses a high crime rate. The tricks of the trade, so to speak, are much more readily available in a city where most crime occurs than in a far off suburb. For example, even if one does figure out how to hot-wire a car on their own, where are they going to take it after the fact? The car is hot (it has either been reported stolen, or soon will be, to the police, who will put out an APB on the stolen car) so one doesn’t have much time to get rid of it. The longer one is on the road, the higher their chances are of passing a police car on its regular route. There are many examples like this. The individual needs to know where one of the many chop-shops (illegally run business of disassembling stolen cars and selling the parts) in the city is. Information like that is not disclosed freely. One must associate regularly with people who know these things. Unless one has quite a bit of criminal experience, their illegal expeditions will be hindered very much if they don’t live in or regularly visit an area that has a large amount of criminals.
Poverty is another issue that can, with the help of family problems, become detrimental to children. Lots of stress is put on parents who live in poverty. In some cases this stress is then taken out on the kids, amplifying the already present conditions of a
dysfunctional family. In an area of poverty there are a scarce amount of resources. Many people work very hard in low-paying jobs that are not going anywhere. The defiant individuals look at the adults around them who are stuck in this cycle and make their own assessment. They may decide that they don’t want that lifestyle and fight to avoid it. In doing so they may see crime as the only way out of their community.
All of these answers lead one to ask the question of what is being done about these problems. It is not as simple as passing a bunch of new laws and strictly enforcing them. According to Gennaro F. Vito, studies prove that enforcing status laws (2) among juvenile offenders can actually cause more crimes instead of preventing them.
Churches and community leaders in areas of high crime have begun to do things to work with kids. An article in Time magazine told a tale of community leaders who are working to improve these by creating workshops for kids, setting up after school programs, and even organizing summer camps. These programs are teaching kids ways to have fun and how to get involved with good things, not bad (Smolowe 1). Above all, the programs involve adults positively interacting with the children of these communities. By giving the kids unconditional love, interacting with them in a socially correct way, and being positive role models, community leaders can help break down the assumptions many of these kids may, or will have, about authority figures. As I discussed earlier, conceptions that a child develops about authority can play a big part in whether or not they develop a defiant character.
Steps, although small, are being taken to decrease poverty as well. One reason for the scarcity of resources in impoverished areas is because the economies there have stagnated. No new money is put back into the communities because banks in these areas, if they exist, are making very few loans to them. Instead, they have been turning the deposits of the poor communities into loans for the suburbs. This is illegal under the Community Reinvestment Act, but according to Mike Shea, executive director of housing for ACORN (Association of Community Organization for Reform Now),it is happening across the country. One example of this is The Market National Bank, located on the south side of Chicago. According to an article by Theresa Puenta, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, The Market National Bank in the fiscal year 1996 collected a total of 560 million is deposits; part of this amount coming from the slums of Chicago’s south side. The article also said that within the same year, over 700 loans were made to mostly white, up-scale suburbs while only 2 were made to the poor areas on the south side that consisted of blacks and Latinos. The number of loans the bank made to it’s surrounding communities did not meet the percentage required by the Community Reinvestment Act. The percentage required was not met so recently ACORN has forced The Market National Bank, by threatening a lawsuit, to put more money into it’s surrounding communities in the from of loans for the fiscal year of 1998 and beyond (Puenta, par.1). This will begin to eliminate the stagnation that the communities economies are experiencing, which may help the crime rate decrease in these areas because eventually,
the future will not look so bleak that individuals living there feel that crime is the only way to avoid the cycle of working hard in low-paying, dead end job.
Some criminologists and sociologists will tell you over and over that crime followers poverty. Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is convinced of this (Dilulio 4).However, it is only one part of the puzzle. Crime can not be directly linked to poverty. In the first half of this century, southern black communities lived in extreme poverty, but they had relatively low crime rates. The many Chinatowns scattered across the country are very poor but have, for the most part, very low crime rates.
Crime in America is still a problem. However, for the last few years we have begun to see a steady drop. Crime has decreased as much as 10% since 1994 (Key). Many criminologist and sociologist are baffled as to exactly how many things are responsible for the decline. Have the old theories that were acted on begun to show results or is it the new steps taken in crime prevention? Nobody knows for sure, but one thing is for certain: we can not abandon our efforts in this study if we hope to unlock the answers to these questions.