Concept of the Month -- December 2004

A Clarification about the Alleged Causal Connection between the Larger Social Environment and Criminal Behavior

Over the years, based on research and clinical experience, I have stated emphatically that the environment does not cause crime. Criminals cause crime. Criminality resides in the mind of the individual. People choose to commit crimes.

However, I have NOT said that the environment is entirely irrelevant. The environment can make it easier or more difficult for a person to commit crimes. From time to time, we read about neighborhoods that enforce anti-loitering laws, fix up property, and increase security with an ensuing decrease in crime. What this means is deterrence to criminal behavior becomes greater in such areas. But the criminal mind is still functioning, and the offender moves on to a different neighborhood. In short, the environment provides greater or lesser deterrence. But the individual still makes choices, whatever circumstances exist.

What about neighborhoods where drugs and firearms are as easy to acquire as cigarettes? Most people in such areas choose NOT to use drugs or firearms. But for the person with a criminal personality, residing in such an area makes crime easier in that he has more immediate access to drugs and guns. The point here is that, over the last 34 years, I have been impressed less by the environment from which a person comes and far more by the choices he makes in dealing with whatever life hands him!

Stanton E. Samenow

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