Social Disorganization Theory

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“SOCIAL DISORGANIZATION THEORY”

Written by Andrew Lien & Henry Nunnery

J201 Section: 23607 Theoretical Foundations of Criminal Justice Policies Tuesdays, 06:00P-08:40P Instructor: Mark T. Berg, Ph.D.

The main assumption of Social Disorganization Theory is the ability to explain why crime committed by lower class communities is more prominent than neighborhoods from communities in better economic areas. This theory is the relationship of the destabilization of urban communities and neighborhoods through Shaw and McKay’s study (Quoted in Siegal, 2010) that used the analysis of Ernest Burgess’s Concentric Zones Model. This model generates ideas that the closer to “zone 2”, individuals in a community have more stress factors that they are burdened with; while individuals who generated higher pay moved further away from the center of “zone 2” and transitioned into “zone 3” leaving behind only those without the means to support a healthy community behind (Siegal, 2010). These factors also can apply to zones four and five. One other assumption this theory is trying to stress, is the concern that the more mobile people are in an area, the more crime it will precipitate. This theory also assumes that when more people located in a geographical area, there will be more problems with crime. Social Disorganization Theory tries to explain why crime is higher in the neighborhoods that tend to be closer to zone one in the concentric zones model than your outer zones. This theory is identifying why street crime or blue-collar crime is more prevalent in the inner zones where there tends to be substandard housing conditions with more underprivileged individuals. It does not take into account individual conditions like age, ethnicity, race or gender. Social Disorganization Theory does not try to explain a particular crime, just crimes committed in certain zones. This theory is not an explanation for white-collar crime because that involves people with above standard houses and communities with higher social economic status. One way this theory is measured is by the census data for a particular neighborhood. This gives them a good explanation for why crime rates are higher in more densely populated areas. By looking at the census, it also shows us the mobility rate of the population in the area. The mobility rate is synonymous to turnover rate. People moving away from and into a particular zone creates and unstable living community because nobody takes the time to familiarize themselves with their neighbors. This in turn creates “social disorganization”. The second resource used to help them measure why the crime is higher in the inner zones is by using past F.B.I. data from the Unified Crime Reports in a specific area. They collect data on what types of crime are being committed in what zones. By finding out where the crime is mostly being committed helps researchers who are testing the Social Disorganization Theory gather results that are more accurate. Social Disorganization Theory is extremely old and can trace its history all the way back to the 1800s. According to (Walker, 2009) this theory began to heat up however, when two men, Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw began doing their research in 1929 and continued to further their research in 1942. They expanded on the ideas of human ecology to study the association between urban ecological characteristics and juvenile delinquency. They explained how there were three variables to measure social disorganization, which includes physical status, economic status, and population status. Their work lasted more than 10 years and generated several replications. They did most of their research in Chicago, but were able to replicate their findings in eight other cities (Walker, 2009). In 1954, Bernard Lander expanded on Shaw and McKay’s research concluding “the use of one mile increments for the zone over-simplified the spatial distribution of delinquency because it obscured the range...
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