Community influences

Offending rates vary systematically with area of residence. For example, the classic studies by Shaw and McKay (29> in Chicago and other American cities showed that juvenile delinquency rates (based on where offenders lived) were highest in inner city areas characterized by physical deterioration, neighbourhood disorganization, and high residential mobility. A large proportion of all offenders came from a small proportion of areas, which tended to be the most deprived. Furthermore, these relatively high delinquency rates persisted over time, despite the effect of successive waves of immigration and emigration of different national and ethnic groups in different areas.

Shaw and McKay(29) concluded that the delinquency-producing factors were inherent in the community. Areas had persistently high offending rates partly because of the cultural transmission of antisocial values and norms from one generation to the next and partly because of the ineffective socialization processes to which children were exposed in deprived areas. Both of these were consequences of the social disorganization of an area, or the poor ability of local institutions to control the behaviour of local residents. However, later work(39 has tended to cast doubt on the consistency of offending rates over time.

Reiss(31 pointed out that a key question was why crime rates of communities changed over time, and to what extent this was a function of changes in the communities or in the individuals living in them. Answering this question requires longitudinal research in which both communities and individuals are followed up. The best way of establishing the impact of the environment is to follow people who move from one area to another. For example, in the Cambridge Study it was found that moving out of London led to a significant decrease in convictions and self-reported offending. This decrease may have occurred because moving out led to a breaking up of co-offending groups, or because there were fewer opportunities for crime outside London.

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