Concept of the Month -- November 2006

The Social Environment Does Not "Cause" Crime

Criminals come from all segments of society. Crime knows no social, ethnic, economic, or racial boundaries. Most poor people are not criminals, and many who are well to do are. In almost every instance in which I have interviewed offenders from impoverished and otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds, I have found that they have a brother or sister (maybe more than one) who lived in the same home and endured the same problems. They made a different series of choices as to how they dealt with their situations.The environment can produce obstacles that must be overcome. However, the individual makes the choice as to how he or she will cope.

The social environment can provide greater or fewer temptations and greater of fewer deterrents. Even in an area in which drugs and firearms are readily available, most people living in those areas do not use either. If the police presence is beefed up in a particular neighbor in which criminals gather and operate, the crime rate will drop. It is not the criminal who changes. He or she simply moves elsewhere.

If a gun were discovered on a table in a school, most kids would immediately run and tell an adult. A few might out of curiosity look at the gun. A few might handle it. And if a youth were having a "bad day," he might even use it. Of course, this individual would have antisocial traits to begin with. One could argue that if the gun weren't there to begin with, no one could get injured. That is true. However, the issue still comes back to individual choice to use a gun if it is available.

Studies have shown that improving the conditions in a blighted area -- no loitering signs, repairing broken windows, increasing law enforcement presence -- can reduce the incidence of crime. Environmental conditions can make crime more difficult. The criminal remains the same person and will find other places in which to pursue his objectives.

The above is NOT an argument against creating better environments in which people can live. Responsible people, if helped to help themselves, will take advantage of better opportunities. The criminal remains a criminal!

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