Losing Legitimacy: Street Crime and the Decline of Social Institutions in America

Losing Legitimacy: Street Crime and the Decline of Social Institutions in America

Losing Legitimacy: Street Crime and the Decline of Social Institutions in America

Losing Legitimacy: Street Crime and the Decline of Social Institutions in America

Synopsis

In the past 50 years, street crime in the USA has increased eightfold. This work argues that the causes were rooted in social institutions, and that crime increased along with growing political distrust, economic stress and family disintegration.

Excerpt

This book offers an explanation for the dramatic changes in street crime rates that have occurred in America since World War II. Although I didn't know it at the time, the book began in the summer of 1982 when I happened to run across a table showing trends in U.S. murder rates for the postwar years. The table fascinated me. It resembled an alpine range above a broad plain with a rapidly rising slope ending in two craggy peaks and then a series of high serrations. The period immediately following World War II was represented by the broad plain; the 1960s were shown by the rapid and steep ascent; and the late 1970s corresponded to the high, jagged peaks.

In fact, I later found out that in the fifty years following World War II street crime rates in America increased about eightfold. These increases were historically patterned; were often quite rapid; and were disproportionately driven by young, African American men. Much of the crime explosion took place in a space of just ten years beginning in the early 1960s. I gradually became convinced that common explanations of crime based on biological impulses, psychological drives, or slow-moving social developments could not account for the speed or the timing of these changes or their disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

To try to understand what had produced these crime trends, I began to collect information on a wide variety of potential explanations. This proved to be challenging. Although efforts to develop data sets on changes over time are beginning to increase in number, criminology is still overwhelmingly dominated by research that examines relationships at just one time point. Nevertheless, as data began to accumulate and analyses of these data continued, I became increasingly convinced that changing social institutions provided the most plausible explanation for the crime trends observed in postwar America.

Institutions are arguably the most important of all human creations. They are the major mechanisms for regulating human behavior, they are central to our moral values, and they are capable of rapid change. The research presented in this book shows that postwar crime rates were linked especially to changes in political, economic, and family institutions. In . . .

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