Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Rural Youth Crime: A Reexamination of Social Disorganization Theory's Applicability to Rural Areas

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Rural Youth Crime: A Reexamination of Social Disorganization Theory's Applicability to Rural Areas

Article excerpt

Introduction

The vast majority of criminological research has been done in urban areas. Since little attention has been paid to delinquency in rural areas (Kaylen & Pridemore, 2013; Wells & Weisheit, 2004), our portrait of delinquent behavior is incomplete. This neglect of rural areas produces confusion in criminology. Kaylen and Pridemore (2013) explain that many studies treat rural areas as "miniature versions of urban areas, with similar social processes occurring on a smaller scale" (p. 170). As such, criminologists tend to falsely accept that theories and causes of crime are the same for rural and urban areas.

Although social disorganization theory-defined as the decline in the influence of existing social rules on the behavior of individuals-has been applied to rural areas in a small number of studies (Jobes, Barclay, Weinand, & Donnermeyer, 2004; Kaylen & Pridemore, 2011; Osgood & Chambers, 2000), the results of the studies examining the relation between social disorganization theory and rural crime have produced mixed results. Despite the equivocal results, the researchers who tested this relationship have argued that social disorganization theory can be applied to rural areas (Osgood & Chambers, 2000). However, Kaylen and Pridemore (2013) point out studies on rural crime have suffered from problems with data measurement and collection, making any studies of rural crime difficult to compare with those focusing on urban crime. To aid in moving research on rural crime forward, the current analysis builds on Shaw and McKay's (1942) conclusion that rural areas experiencing a high rate of crime are socially disorganized.

Scholars have begun to acknowledge that individuals' motivations for and environmental contributors to crime may be different in urban and rural areas (Deller & Deller, 2010). For example, Wells and Weisheit (2004) examined urban and rural areas across the United States and found that some of the predictors of crime in urban areas were not associated with crime in rural areas.

Kaylen and Pridemore (2013) pointed out that new research is emerging which is studying rural crime, but that rural crime is still an understudied area of criminology. Moreover, Kaylen and Pridemore (2013) explained that many studies treat rural areas as "miniature versions of urban areas, with similar social processes occurring at a smaller scale" (p. 170). As such, criminologists tend to falsely accept that theories and causes of crime are the same for rural and urban areas based on their view that rural areas are just miniature versions of urban centers.

The current study examines the generalizability of social disorganization theory to rural areas by building on Osgood and Chambers'(2000) analysis. We studied 2,011 rural counties across the United States to test the theory's applicability to crime in rural areas. Using a larger sample size than Osgood and Chambers (2000) and following the same methodological approach, the results of the current analysis attempt to provide more generalizability than previous studies using similar dependent variables (Kaylen & Pridemore, 2011; Osgood & Chambers, 2000).

Literature Review

Social Disorganization Theory

Recognizing that the city of Chicago was undergoing drastic structural changes in the 1920s and 1930s, Shaw and McKay (1942) set out to understand the relationship between place and juvenile delinquency rates. Shaw and McKay (1942) demonstrated to criminologists that social ecological factors could impact criminal patterns. After gaining access to juvenile court records, they mapped out where each youth lived within the city of Chicago. They found juvenile crime rates were drastically different from one place to the next. More specifically, they saw that the highest rates of juvenile delinquency were concentrated near the center of Chicago, and the lowest rates of juvenile delinquency were found on the outskirts of the city. …

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