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Review the index offenses presented at www.fbi.gov/ucr  Consider theories presented in this chapter that provide an explanation for robbery trends by race, based on the data provided at the site. Discuss the outcomes discovered. Is there more than one theory that applies to the trends that are observed in the data?

Theoretical Perspectives on Race and Crime

Chapter 3

Theoretical Perspectives on Race and Crime

Because of the focus on race and crime, scholars have written more specialized books to cover the subject

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What Is Theory?

Scientific theory is a set of interconnected statements or propositions that explain how two or more events or factors are related to one another

Theories can be categorized as macro theories, micro theories, or bridging theories

Theories help bring order to our lives because they expand our knowledge of the world around us and suggest systematic solutions to problems we repeatedly confront

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Macro theories focus on the social structure and are generally not concerned with individual behavior; conversely, micro theories look to explain crime by looking at groups, but in small numbers, or at the individual level.

Biology, Race, and Crime

Early Developments in Biological Explanations

The linking of biology and crime is rooted in Europe

Phrenology–the study of the external shape of the head

19th-century Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso saw race as a contributor to crime

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Earnest A. Hooton’s two books Crime and the Man (1939) and The American Criminals (1939) also acknowledged race/ethnic differences in crime.

In Lombroso’s first major work, Criminal Man (1876/1911), he made clear the importance of race in explaining crime. He mentioned that some tribes in parts of India and Italy had high crime rates due to “ethnical causes” (p. 140). He added, “The frequency of homicide in Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia is fundamentally due to African and Oriental elements” (p. 140).

Biology, Race, and Crime

In 1985, Wilson and Herrnstein’s Crime and Human Nature pointed to factors that may contribute to the overrepresentation of Blacks in crime

Such constitutional factors “merely make a person somewhat more likely to display certain behavior; it does not make it inevitable”

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Biology, Race, and Crime, cont.

Intelligence, Race, and Crime

With the development of intelligence tests, a link between intelligence and crime was formed

Early literature suggested that criminals were of low intelligence

Critics of IQ tests counter with–If a lack of intelligence is associated with crime, then what explains the fact that persons with high IQs commit white-collar and political crime?

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Henry H. Goddard was one of the early IQ and crime theorists.

In the 1970s, Travis Hirschi and Michael J. Hindelang concluded that race, crime, and intelligence were linked.

Biology, Race, and Crime

In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve

The book was based on intellectual determinism (everything is linked to IQ).

Herrnstein and Murray suggested that low IQ contributed to:

Crime

Poverty

Illegitimacy

Unemployment

Welfare dependency

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Limitations of the IQ and crime thesis:

There still remain questions as to what IQ tests really measure.

Moreover, there have always been questions of cultural and class biases with IQ tests.

Finally, there is also some uncertainty about whether differences in IQ are genetic or related to one’s environment.

Contemporary Biosocial
Criminology and Race

r/K Selection Theory

Created by Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson to explain population growth and the decline in plants and animals

Adapted to humans by Rushton

A gene-based evolutionary theory that links the differences between the races, to migrations out of Africa

Rushton’s theory suggested that aggression, impulsive behavior, low self-control, and low intelligence are associated with those who stayed in Africa

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Limitations:

What explains White aggression across the globe?

Ruston provides little emphasis on sociological factors.

There are very few “pure” races left.

Contemporary Biosocial
Criminology and Race, cont.

Wright’s Biosocial Thesis

John Wright (2009) linked race and the evolutionary basis of race-based patterns of behavior.

Two reasons for race and problem behavior:

Executive functions, which include the key components self-control and IQ are highly heritable

Neighborhoods with high collective social behavior tend to have lower crime rates, while in ghettos and inner cities, there are many individuals who violate social norms

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Limitations

Wright’s (2009) theory doesn’t explain within-race class differences.

If his thesis was correct, shouldn’t all Black communities see this high crime rate and not just “many.”

Many of the current biologically oriented theories either directly or indirectly point to some race and crime linkage this has often been countered with alternative sociological views.

Sociological Explanations

Early Sociological Explanations

Adolphe Quetelet (1833/1984) was among the first to look to sociological factors to explain criminality

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Philadelphia study produced first urban ethnography, suggesting that crime is a phenomenon of organized social life and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment

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Du Bois pointed to factors related to age, unemployment, poverty, and race as contributors to African American offending.

Sociological Explanations

Social Disorganization

Du Bois’s ideas were in line with the concept of social disorganization, pointing to issues related to age, unemployment, and poverty

Du Bois, however, added the sociological variable of discrimination, noting that Blacks were arrested for less cause than Whites, served longer sentences for similar crimes, and were subject to employment discrimination

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The scholars concluded that crime in these areas was caused by social disorganization. Social disorganization refers to areas characterized by:

fluctuating populations

significant numbers of families on welfare

families renting

several ethnic groups in one area

high truancy rates

high infant mortality rates

high levels of unemployment

large numbers of condemned buildings

a higher percentage of foreign-born and Negro heads of families

(Sampson & Groves, 1989; Shaw & McKay, 1942/1969)

Sociological Explanations

Contemporary Social Disorganization Theory

“Racial invariance thesis” of Sampson and Wilson (1995)

Many African Americans live in areas where there are concentrations of poverty

Working- and middle-class African Americans leave impoverished neighborhoods

Social isolation occurs when there is a lack of exposure to mainstream society

Socially isolated people tend to develop their own norms within these isolated areas

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Sociological Explanations

Scholars have also applied social disorganization theory to diverse groups such as Native Americans and found partial or full support for the theory

In the late 1990s, Rose and Clear (1998) posited that mass incarceration actually exacerbated social disorganization in the most depressed communities

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The “Latino Paradox.”

Velez (2006) argues that there is a lower level of social disorganization in Latino communities.

Collective Efficacy

Collective efficacy is defined as social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good

Research has suggested that the impact of collective efficacy is not as significant in communities as more official strategies such as community policing

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Both social disorganization and collective efficacy generally speak to high-crime urban areas.

There have been several persistent criticisms of the theory.

The ecological fallacy.

The theory also does not explain how certain groups, such as Asians and Jewish communities, maintained low levels of crime and delinquency even though they lived in areas that might be categorized as socially disorganized.

Culture Conflict Theory

Certain behavior becomes accepted within a culture (conduct norms)

Powerful members of society can control the conduct norms and decide what behaviors become crimes

Three ways conflicts between various cultural codes arise:

The codes clash on the border of contiguous cultural areas

The law of one cultural group is extended to cover the territory of another

Members of one cultural group migrate to another

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Originally formulated by criminologist Thorsten Sellin in the late 1930s.

Strain/Anomie Theory

Merton’s strain/anomie theory is one of the most cited in criminology

Durkheim first used the term anomie to refer to a state of normlessness or lack of social regulation

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Strain/Anomie Theory

Theory is based on the premise that all societies have:

Culturally defined goal: “American Dream” (material wealth)

Acceptable means of achieving it (education/work)

Limitations of theory:

Anomie theories have a middle-class bias

Does not explain white-collar and government crimes

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General Strain Theory

Robert Agnew (1992) renewed interest in Merton’s anomie/strain theory

Added the removal of positive stimuli

Loss of a boy/girlfriend, death in the family, divorce

Also considered the presentation of negative stimuli

Child abuse/neglect, victimization, negative relations with peers

Despite positive findings, some empirical studies have found only mixed support for the theory as applied to race and offending

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Jang and Johnson (2003) found support for Agnew’s GST looking into African Americans and how the ones who were extremely religious committed less crime due to stronger support systems.

Subcultural Theory

In the 1950s, several theories considered criminality to be tied to subcultures among White middle-class youth

Delinquency was associated with juveniles being unable to achieve status among their peers

Miller’s “focal concerns” theory identified values to which lower-class residents adhered

Cloward and Ohlin suggested that when there are limited opportunities, youth join gangs

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MILLER’S FOCAL CONCERNS:

Trouble: risk taking

Toughness: fearless “handle themselves”

Smartness: street smarts

Excitement: pursuit of thrill seeking

Fate: lives controlled by things they have no control over

Autonomy: resent others having control over them

Cloward and Ohlin’s (1960) Delinquency and Opportunity: Those who cannot find legitimate opportunities join criminal gangs whose aim is to make money through a variety of illegitimate avenues. If, however, there remain few illegitimate opportunities, the youth might join a “conflict” gang. Such gangs primarily engage in violent activities, doing whatever is necessary to maintain their status in the streets. Youth who end up in “retreatist” gangs are what Cloward and Ohlin refer to as “double failures.” Because such youth did not make it in either legitimate or illegitimate opportunities, they retreat to drug usage.

Subcultural Theory

Subculture of Violence Theory

Within groups, subcultures form that normalize violence

Those invested in this subculture are not violent all the time

Although the subculture is found in all age groups, it is most common in late-adolescence to middle-age

Hawkins (1983) provided an alternative theory meant to address the holes in the subculture of violence theory

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The three propositions of Hawkins’ theory meant to address the holes in the subculture of violence theory.

Proposition 1 states, “American Criminal Law: Black Life Is Cheap but White Life Is Valuable.”

Proposition 2: “Past and present racial and social class differences in the administration of justice affect Black criminal violence.”

Proposition 3: “Economic deprivation creates a climate of powerlessness in which individual acts of violence are likely to take place.”

These are five major weaknesses of the theory:

There is an extreme emphasis on mentalistic value orientations of individuals.

The theory is questioned by some empirical findings.

The theory underemphasizes a variety of structural, situational, and institutional variables which affect interpersonal violence.

Subcultural theory underemphasizes the effects of the law on patterns of criminal homicide.

There are other plausible economic, political, and social disadvantages of American Blacks that may produce high rates of homicide.

Subcultural Theory

The Code of the Streets

“The Code of the Streets” theory was formulated in an article by Elijah Anderson (1994, 1999)

Research focused on interpersonal violence in an impoverished Philadelphia neighborhood

Anderson described “street families,” who loosely supervise their children and, in many cases, are unable to cope with them

“Decent families” who tend to accept mainstream values and teach their children to respect authority

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Criticisms of code of the streets theory:

J. Miller (2001) believes that prison, not the streets, is the more powerful contributor to the development of the code of the streets.

Wacquant (2002) expresses concern about the loose and over expansive definition of the “code of the streets.”

There is considerable confusion as to the origins and vectors of the code of the streets.

Common shortcoming of subcultural theories is that they ignore criminality in the middle and upper classes.

Conflict Theory

Focus on struggles between individuals and/or groups in terms of power differentials

Applying conflict theory to race and crime, one would look for discrimination in the following:

Enforcement of laws

Distribution of punishment

Conflict theory is one of the most popular theories used to explain racial differences in offending

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Conflict Theory

Conflict Theory, Race, and Crime

W. E. B. Du Bois (1901) early conflict theorist

Wrote about how states strategically enacted various laws (referred to as the “Black codes”) to control Black labor

Du Bois felt that crime among Blacks was a symptom of the problem (White racism)

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Other prominent scholars would find considerable support for Du Bois’s ideas (Myrdal, 1944; Sellin, 1928, 1935; Work, 1900, 1913). In each case, the authors wrote of the discrimination and economic conditions that were contributing to African American involvement in the criminal justice system–matters that directly speak to conflict theory.

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Conflict Theory

The development of conflict theory over the last 40 years is often credited to the writings of:

William Chambliss (1964, 1969)

Austin Turk (1969)

Richard Quinney (1970)

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“The Negro is not naturally criminal; he is usually patient and law-abiding. If slavery, the convict-lease system, the traffic in criminal labor, the lack of juvenile reformatories, together with the unfortunate discrimination and prejudice in other walks of life, have led to that sort of social protest and revolt we call crime, then we must look for remedy in the sane reform of these wrong social conditions, and not in intimidation, savagery, or legalized slavery of men.”–W. E. B. Du Bois (1901)

Conflict Theory

Much of these writings were class-based analyses that suggested the following were significant contributors to crime:

Capitalism

Class structure

Manipulation of laws

According to Hawkins (1987) considerations usually lacking in conflict theory:

Victim characteristics

Region

Accounting for race-appropriate behaviors

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The Colonial Model

Colonialism traditionally refers to:

The establishment of domination over a geographically external political unit

Most of them inhabited by people of a different race and culture

Where this domination is political and economic

And the colony exists subordinated and dependent on the mother country

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All articulations of the theory note the important role of agents of the criminal justice system (police or military).

The Colonial Model

Colonization also includes:

Caste system based on racism

Cultural imposition

Cultural disintegration

Cultural recreation

Colonized being governed by representatives of the dominant power

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All articulations of the theory note the important role of agents of the criminal justice system (police or military).

The Colonial Model

The colonial model can be applied to racial groups who have been subjected to colonization

Native Americans

African Americans

Mexican Americans

Limitations of theory:

Two people can be exposed to the same oppression yet respond differently

The model is difficult to test

The model does not adequately address class issues

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Although African Americans were not colonized in the sense that Native Americans or Mexican Americans were, according to Tatum (1994), internal colonialism, which is “when foreign control of a state or territory is eliminated, and the control and exploitation of subordinate groups passes to the dominant group within the newly created society,” produced many of the same characteristics of the more traditional colonization process.

Integrated and Nontraditional
Theories on Race and Crime

Structural–Cultural Theory

William Oliver (1984) explored Black males and their “Black compulsive masculinity alternative”

Oliver believes that Black males exhibit this behavior as a response to racial oppression

Black males act this way:

First, to mitigate low self-esteem and negative feelings tied to being unable to “enact the traditional masculine role”

Second, those males who adapt the masculine approach pass it on to other males

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Limitations of theory:

Role of low self-esteem has been questioned.

Whites and other groups also adopt some of these same behaviors.

Integrated and Nontraditional
Theories on Race and Crime

Abortion, Race, and Crime

John Donohue and Steven Levitt (2001) controversially proposed that abortion had a role in the crime dip of 1990s

More than 50% of the crime drop in the 1990s could be attributed to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion

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Three factors support their thesis:

Decline in crime coincided with the landmark decision and the period when those who would have been born would have reached their peak years of criminal activity.

States that legalized abortion 3 years before the Roe v. Wade decision experienced earlier crime drops than the remaining states.

States that have the highest abortion rates have also had the largest declines in crime.

Limitations of theory:

Not supported by replications in the United States and Britain.

Overstatement of role of abortion.

Integrated and Nontraditional
Theories on Race and Crime

Abortion, Race, and Crime

At the core of the theory are two premises:

Abortion reduces the pool of individuals who would later engage in crime

The theory relates to race and crime in that abortion is not random

Those likely to have abortions include:

Unwed women

Teenagers

Blacks

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Three factors support their thesis:

Decline in crime coincided with the landmark decision and the period when those who would have been born would have reached their peak years of criminal activity.

States that legalized abortion 3 years before the Roe v. Wade decision experienced earlier crime drops than the remaining states.

States that have the highest abortion rates have also had the largest declines in crime.

Limitations of theory:

Not supported by replications in the United States and Britain.

Overstatement of role of abortion.

Integrated and Nontraditional
Theories on Race and Crime

Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory (CRT) emanated from the critical legal studies movement during the 1970s

The perspective has two goals:

Understand how the law is used to oppress people of color

Stopping the use of the law to maintain White supremacy

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Critics have concluded that this perspective is unscientific because much of the work is not derived from analysis but rather from personal narratives. Nonetheless, this has become standard legal theory.

Critical race theorists have expressed concern about laws and practices that directly impact racial and ethnic minorities

Critical race theorists are also concerned about White privilege

Integrated and Nontraditional
Theories on Race and Crime

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Conclusion

African Americans (and increasingly Latinos) remain the focal point of theories related to race and crime

There remains a dearth of knowledge regarding minority female offending

Although the research methodologies have become more sophisticated, many of the same ideas presented about race and crime 100 years ago remain popular today

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