Crime in America

Fabulous article about crime and prisons in modern America by Adam Gopnik in the latest New Yorker.  If you have any interest at all in criminal justice (and our horribly destructive policies towards drugs) you owe it to yourself to read it.   There’s a great part where Gopnik does a really nice run-down on the latest research for our recent decline in crime:

Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes. Close down the open drug market in Washington Square, and it does not automatically migrate to Tompkins Square Park. It just stops, or the dealers go indoors, where dealing goes on but violent crime does not.

And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

Now go read the whole thing!  (I’ll be checking my click-through stats– don’t let me down).

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Crime in America

  1. itchy says:

    “Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either.”

    Yes, yes, yes. There’s something about psychology that makes us want to focus only on the traits of the criminal (traits that we conveniently assign in hindsight). But a crime requires both a person willing to commit it and the opportunity. And even that is a gross oversimplification.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: