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With specific reference to the work of the Chicago school, discuss whether areas are prone to criminality because of their residents or are those areas naturally criminogenic?

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Introduction

With specific reference to the work of the Chicago school, discuss whether areas are prone to criminality because of their residents or are those areas naturally criminogenic? The work of the Chicago school during the period from the 1910's to the 1930's has become some of the most influential work surrounding area based criminology. This paper will discuss the work of the Chicago school, and examine whether high crime areas are more prone to criminality due to their inhabitants, or are the areas themselves naturally criminogenic. The Chicago sociologists focused particularly on the invasion by business interests of the innermost residential areas around the central business districts of cities. This created what they called the zone of transition. As the inner city became less attractive to residents, those who could move out did so, leaving an area of decline occupied by the poor, and by marginal and deviant groups. As prominent member of the Chicago school, Robert Park stated: "It is assumed that people living in natural areas of the same general type and subject to the same general conditions, will display, on the whole, the same characteristics" Park (1952) The work of Charles Murray will be utilised as an example of how areas may be subject to social breakdown and an increase in the incidence of criminal behaviour, Murray wrote extensively on the emergence of an 'underclass' within the working class population.

Middle

It is argued that there are an increasing number of people, within the working class, who could well be classified as belonging to the underclass. The term underclass relates mainly to those people who make no effort to work or look after themselves. These people prefer to live off the state rather than having to work, and have a tendency to either be criminal themselves or associate frequently with criminals. For example Chiricos (1987) finds in his review, very strong evidence that unemployment is positively correlated with crime, in particular property crimes, although results are stronger for studies in the 1970's than in earlier periods. It is especially important to remember that the term underclass refers only to those groups of poor people who make no effort to help themselves. The people who put forward this explanation accept that there are poor people who are in this state through no 'fault' of their own. Further to Charles Murray's work surrounding the underclass, Albert Cohen, has argued that class difference, especially amongst juveniles may increase the incidence of area based crimes. Albert Cohen (1955) was one of the first sociologists to offer an alternative and more sophisticated explanation of class differences, which attempts to explain apparently motiveless crimes among juvenile delinquents in that often articles of little or no value are stolen, and crimes which are apparently committed simply for the thrill of it.

Conclusion

The case for shifting the focus of attention to the area becomes markedly stronger when attention moves to people who are not themselves poor. Living in a poor area can act to their detriment. It happens, for example, through the lack of community resources, the increased competition for places in the labour market, and the effect of stigmatisation on command over resources. Further, people who live in such areas are less secure than others. The fear of crime is directly associated with perceptions of the physical deterioration of an area (Painter, 1992, p.182), but the problems are not simply a matter of perception. People who are on higher incomes in lower income areas have greater vulnerability to crime than people elsewhere, including burglary, robbery, motor vehicle theft and vandalism (Evans, 1992, pp 42-46). These people are not likely to be made poor in consequence - that would happen only if the effect of living in the area was to bring their level of resources down sufficiently to consider them as deprived - but anyone in this position has lower resources, other things being equal, than others who have desirable, well-maintained environments. The implication of these arguments is plain: where one lives does affect one's command over resources. If this is right, then areas do affect poverty and therefore the incidence of crime.

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