Burglars on the Job
Scarce research is available on active offenders due to their unwillingness to corporate with researchers and past and convicted offenders may have changed their perspectives after being convicted or left their lifestyle of crime. The most reliable data on these offenses and their perpetrators may come from active burglars themselves. Richard T. Wright and Scott Decker’s book, Burglars on the Job seeks to explain the reasons why burglars commit the crimes they do. They have taken their research to another level by gaining the trust of active offenders in the St. Louis area and gaining inside knowledge of these criminals’ daily lives and their crimes. This paper will address anomie and bond theories and how it relates to the offenders in this study and the socialization of these subjects into criminality and the street culture in which they live.
According to Robert Merton’s anomie theory, people are not born criminals; they conform to the environment in which they live. Conventional means of reaching a goal are often more readily available to some than others in our society. Merton suggests that crime is a result of this bias due to the anomic culture in America. Our society places great emphasis on the “American Dream” but conventional means of reaching this goal are denied to some unfortunate individuals, placing strain on them. The burglars in Wright and Decker’s book have conventional goals, but lack the capacity to achieve them by conventional means. Burglar #30 Mark Smith says, “I didn’t have the luxury of laying back in no damn pinstriped suit. I’m poor and I’m raggedy and I need some food and I need some shoes… So I got to have some money some kind of way. If it’s got to be the wrong way, then so be it.”(pg.37) This burglar has the conventional goal of buying food and shoes but, as anomie theory suggest, does not have the conventional means of getting what he wants, therefore he commits crime to obtain the money to buy what he desires.
Not every burglar in this study claimed to have conventional goals, drugs were a popular desire among these offenders as well. These burglars want to get high and party continuously, but rather than gain lawful employment to supply their habits, they would rather burglarize a residence to gain the financial means to keep the party going. This is evident in one burglar’s response to why he chooses to commit the crimes he does. Burglar #009 Richard Jackson replies, “You ever had an urge before? Maybe a cigarette urge or a food urge, where you eat that and you get to have more and more? That’s how the crack is. You smoke it and it hits you in the back of the throat and you got to have more…”(pg.39)
The majority of these offenders’ wanted the status and appearance of being successful, the “American Dream”, but lacked the resources or drives to reach their goals conventionally. The book describes the majority of the offenders as having very few resources in which to work with. Wright and Decker write, “Decent employment opportunities are limited for inner city residents and the offenders, who by large are poorly educated, unskilled, and heavy illicit drugs and alcohol users, are not well placed to compete for the few good jobs available.”(pg.50) When field researchers asked them why they chose burglary over other legitimate means some replied that they were unable to gain suitable employment or they just didn’t want a job to infringe on their current lifestyles. Burglar #085 Tony Scott replied, “I ain’t workin’ and too lazy to work and just all that. I like it to where I can just run around…”(pg.48) Some burglars wished to gain lawful employment, Wright and Decker write, “43 of the 78 unemployed subjects who said they did burglaries mostly for the money claimed they would stop committing offenses if someone gave them a good job.”(pg.49)
Since the overall expectation of these offenders’ was...