Archive for the ‘National Criminal Justice Reference Service’ Category

National Criminal Justice Reference Service — Special Feature: Youth Violence

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Special Feature: Youth Violence
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

According to data released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juvenile arrests for violent crimes (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) declined 29% between 2006 and 2011 (Juvenile Arrests 2011, December 2013). The number of juvenile court cases involving violent offenses fell 8% between 2008 and 2009 (Juvenile Court Statistics, 2009, July 2012) and 8% between 2009 and 2010 (Juvenile Court Statistics, 2010, June 2013).

The Bureau of Justice Statistics resource, Violent Crime Against Youth, 1994-2010 (December 2012), presents trend data on a number of different points related to the topic. For example, from 1994 to 2010, the rate of serious violent crime occurring on school grounds declined by 62%. Also presented is information on the non-reporting of violent crimes by youth victims. During a 2002-10 period of analysis, the most frequent reasons youth provided for not reporting violence were that the incident was reported to another individual such as a school official (30%), was considered not important enough to the victim to report (15%), or was considered to be a private or personal matter (16%). Another reason youth provided for not reporting the victimization to police was that the offender was a child (7%).

The pages of this Special Feature contain publications and resources on topics related to youth violence and the prevention of such violence.

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Advanced Behavior Recognition in Crowded Environments

September 20, 2013 Comments off

Advanced Behavior Recognition in Crowded Environments (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This program is designed to increase situational awareness in law enforcement and correctional settings and reliably detect and prevent disorderly conduct and criminal behavior. The program stresses developing a robust probabilistic event modeling framework that takes the uncertainty of low-level image evidence into consideration. The event-explanation and scenario-modeling graphical user interface also makes the program user-friendly. The program has led to developing intelligent video capabilities that can help law enforcement and corrections detect many different types of events and, often, can alert operators to the onset of an event, enabling early detection and possible prevention of critical events.

New Approaches to Understanding and Regulating Primary and Secondary Illegal Firearms

September 20, 2013 Comments off

New Approaches to Understanding and Regulating Primary and Secondary Illegal Firearms (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This report confirms previous study results showing the usefulness of trace data in policing illicit firearms. The data show that jurisdictions with gun regulations recover fewer illicitly distributed weapons compared to jurisdictions without regulations. The authors suggest that more regulation will reduce the availability and distribution of illicit firearms.

In, Out, and In Again? A Life Course Understanding of Women’s Violent Relationships

September 12, 2013 Comments off

In, Out, and In Again? A Life Course Understanding of Women’s Violent Relationships (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This research points to two main policy implications. First, it is important to learn whether a woman is leaving a violent relationship or experiences violence across relationships. This will help researchers identify which strategies successfully help women to escape violence. It will also help them develop specific interventions and treatments to help women cope with their violent relationships. Second, given the potentially disastrous effect of childhood victimization, it is important to identify victims of child abuse and address the abuse while the victims are still young and before they enter their own intimate relationships. In these cases, efforts should be made to both prevent child abuse and preemptively address the lifetime effects of such abuse.

A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report

December 6, 2012 Comments off

A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report (PDF)

Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This report is designed to provide a descriptive overview of initiatives targeting the demand for commercial sex in the United States. It describes the process of gathering the information in this (and other) reports, discusses specific initiatives, and highlights selected communities to illustrate how and why their members have endeavored to address prostitution and sex trafficking by combating demand. The report is intended to serve as an introduction for those considering applying antidemand tactics in their communities, and for those at the state government level who are considering policies, statutes, and infrastructure investments supporting local efforts.

Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases

June 27, 2012 Comments off

Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

The federal government has taken a number of steps to facilitate state and local responses to the problem of human trafficking. The DOJ publicly tasked the over 17,000 municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies responsible for carrying out routine policing functions of local communities to “be the eyes and ears for recognizing, uncovering and responding to circumstances that may appear to be a routine street crime, but may ultimately turn out to be a human trafficking case” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004: 5). To support the antitrafficking efforts of this large and diverse pool of local law enforcement agencies, the federal government devoted significant resources to support local law enforcement responses to human trafficking through the funding of multi-agency task forces and police training.

Additionally, in 2004 the DOJ developed the Model State Anti-Trafficking Criminal Statute, which was widely disseminated as the first model state law. The DOJ model legislation covered both “labor,” which absent coercion or force would normally be lawful employment, and “services,” which include unlawful activities such as prostitution. The DOJ model law also criminalized conditions where children are induced into prostitution without the necessity of proving force, fraud or coercion, a departure from most existing state prostitution statutes (Farrell, 2007). However, the model statute included minimal victim service provisions and was confusing for states to implement because it categorized commercial sex acts as “services. These deficiencies prompted human trafficking advocacy groups to develop and publicize alternative model legislation templates (Polaris Project, 2004, 2006, 2010; Freedom Network/Global Rights, 2005), key provisions of which have been adopted by numerous state legislatures.

In the eleven years following the passage of the TVPA, forty-nine states have passed state legislation criminalizing human trafficking and some states have mandated more comprehensive mechanism such as police training, victim services and data collection to improve local identification of victims and response to the crime (Polaris Project, 2011; Center for Women Policy 2011). State anti-trafficking laws differ widely in both the definition of what actions constitute a human trafficking crime and the focus of the state response to the problem. While a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various legal mechanisms in state legislation is beyond the scope of this study (see Richard 2004; Farrell 2007; Tangaho, 2008; Center for Women Policy Studies, 2011, Polaris Project, 2011 for assessments of state human trafficking legislation), Appendix A provides a breakdown of state anti-trafficking laws and their specific provisions.

See also: National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report (PDF)

Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Wrongful Conviction

June 27, 2012 Comments off

Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Wrongful Conviction (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Forensic evidence, particularly fingerprints, has been used for more than a century to aid law enforcement investigations. However, only in the past decade has the use of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing to include or eliminate suspects and exonerate those convicted in serious crimes become relatively common. DNA evidence is said to be individualizing because of its power to link a person to a criminal incident. And unlike fingerprints, the probability that questioned evidence from a crime scene matches DNA from a known person can be calculated. In past decades, the investigation of serious crimes that led to a conviction typically did not use individualizing forensic biological evidence such as DNA. Thus, it is possible that some individuals convicted in serious person crimes (sexual assault and homicide) would have been eliminated by a forensic analysis more discriminating than what was available at the time. To estimate the rate of such possible wrongful convictions and to identify their predictors, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in the U.S. Department of Justice funded retrospective DNA testing of physical evidence in cases where there was a conviction of a sexual assault or homicide and physical evidence was retained.

Classifying Adult Probationers by Forecasting Future Offending

June 17, 2012 Comments off

Classifying Adult Probationers by Forecasting Future Offending (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Random forest modeling techniques represent an improvement over the methodologies of traditional risk prediction instruments. Random forests allow for the inclusion of a large number of predictors, the use of a variety of different data sources, the expansion of assessments beyond binary outcomes, and taking the costs of different types of forecasting errors into account when constructing a new model. This study explores the application of random forest statistical learning techniques to a criminal risk forecasting system, which is now used to classify adult probationers by the level of risk they pose to the community.

The project principally focused upon creating a risk prediction tool within a partnership between University-based researchers and Philadelphia’s Adult Probation and Parole Department (APPD). This report details the model building process, including an explanation of the random forest procedures, and sets out the issues in data management and in policy considerations that are associated with creating a prediction tool. The importance of developing strong researcherpractitioner partnerships, especially with regard to tailoring the prediction tool to real-world concerns, is also considered.

The prediction models developed as a part of this project have been used since 2009 to assess all incoming probation and parole cases. Each risk prediction is then used to assign offenders to risk-stratified supervision divisions. This report discusses the development and accuracy of the three generations of models that have been employed to make these predictions, as well as the salient features of each iteration. For the most recent version of the model, the influences of major predictor variables are discussed, with a focus on those that were most powerful in the Philadelphia sample. Additionally, the predictions of the three models are also validated using a sample of cases from 2001, a cohort not used to build any of the prediction models. The long-term offending patterns of these 2001 offenders, with regard to their assessed risk level, are also considered. Finally, suggestions and step-by-step instructions are offered for practitioners seeking to build a similar prediction instrument for use in a wide variety of criminal justice settings.

As a matter of policy, criminal sanctions that are encompassed under the umbrella of community corrections have become an increasingly prevalent punishment option. Given resource constraints, as well as concerns about public safety, statistical risk assessment tools – such as the one developed here – have begun to take increasingly prominent roles in determining levels of supervision. This report, and the partnership supporting it, highlights the promises and potential of the methodology.

Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Study

June 14, 2012 Comments off

Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Study (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Sexual assault is one of the most serious crimes facing society and, over the past several decades, increasing attention has been paid to the proper collection of physical evidence from victims to document and reconstruct the crime, to identify the assailant, and to aid in the prosecution of the assailant. When victims report such offenses to the police and are examined at hospitals, medical personnel employ sexual assault kits and accompanying protocols to guide the collection of evidence from the victim. Sexual assault kit (SAK) report forms also record important information from the victim about activities prior to, during and after the assault. Given the likely transfer of biological secretions in such crimes, sexual assault kits and DNA evidence have the power to verify the crime and pinpoint the identity of the assailant. The probative value of such scientific evidence, however, depends largely on the circumstances of the particular case, being pivotal in one instance and less important in another.

Although law enforcement agencies and hospitals have greatly improved and expanded procedures to gather sexual assault kit evidence, scientific resources and procedures to test such evidence have not kept pace. The National Institute of Justice staff, researchers and investigative journalists have uncovered the fact that backlogged and untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) are a major problem facing forensic crime laboratories and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. The combined untested SAKs from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reached 10,895 cases in the fall of 2008. As the result of growing public concern, Human Rights Watch undertook a study in Los Angeles to document reasons behind the accumulation of these untested kits and found a number of organizational and resource deficiencies throughout the city and county. They were not crime laboratory backlogs per se but were untested kits held in police property rooms in cold storage, where investigators and prosecutors had not requested that the SAK be tested. In 2009, however, the chief executives of Los Angles city and county law enforcement agencies announced that all backlogged kits would be tested, using outside private DNA testing laboratories.

AMBER Alert — Best Practices for Public Information Officers

May 27, 2012 Comments off

AMBER Alert — Best Practices for Public Information Officers (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

The success of an AMBER Alert is often measured by how quickly and timely a public Alert can be issued. Re­ search has shown that when citi­zens are aware a reliable mecha­nism exists to help locate abduct­ed children, and when they view their role as both worthy and ef­fective, they willingly serve as thousands of additional eyes and ears on behalf of law enforcement (Burns and Crawford, 1999; Zgoba, 2004; Rothe and Muzzatti, 2004).

Additional research has shown that among missing child cases ending in homicide, the murder usually occurs within the first three hours following the abduc­tion (Hanfland, Keppel, and Weis, 1997). The AMBER Alert program works because citizens know what to look for, who to contact, and what is at stake. AMBER Alert pro­vides both a dependable method for helping law enforcement lo­ cate an abducted child and a program goal that is widely per­ceived as both worthwhile and noble. Quite simply, AMBER Alert is a model program for the public.

AMBER Alert systems work best when all component agencies/ organizations function in a smooth and consistent manner. The effectiveness of the law en­forcement agency’s public infor­ mation operations will be enhanced by strong leadership and direction based on clear departmental policies and procedures.

Residence Restriction Legislation, Sex Crime Rates, and the Spatial Distribution of Sex Offender Residences

October 11, 2011 Comments off

Residence Restriction Legislation, Sex Crime Rates, and the Spatial Distribution of Sex Offender Residences (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Residence restrictions are one of the most recent, and most controversial, public policies seeking to protect community members from registered sex offenders (RSOs) reentering society following incarceration. Residence restriction policies prohibit RSOs from living within a given distance of certain places where children might gather (e.g., schools, daycares, parks, and playgrounds). In doing so, the expectation is that RSOs will have a harder time finding and approaching young children whom they can sexually assault, thus driving sexual recidivism rates down. These policies, first passed in 1995 at the state level and in 2005 at the county and local level, have become extremely popular throughout the United States, but without proof that they are effective. To date, the research on these policies has been extremely limited, and has largely focused on the unintended consequences that these policies cause for RSOs, typically as a result of reduced housing options.

This study addresses this lack of research by examining four issues: 1) the characteristics of counties passing these policies, 2) the efficacy of county residence restrictions to reduce sex crime rates in New York State, 3) whether these policies are associated with the spatial distribution (i.e., clustering or dispersion) of RSO residences in upstate New York neighborhoods, and 4) whether this spatial distribution is in turn associated with differences in county-level recidivistic sex crime rates. In doing so, this study draws on a number of diverse literatures, including the diffusion of policy innovations, incapacitation and deterrence theories, reentry and rehabilitation research, and the conceptualization and measurement of the spatial distribution of ex-offender residences.

Results indicate that political competition is very influential in passing a county residence restriction and that a nearby residence restriction may dissuade others from passing their own policies. Further, while these restrictions do not reduce recidivistic sex crimes, they may generally deter some individuals who are not yet RSOs from sexually victimizing adults. Finally, results indicate that while a residence restriction is in some cases associated with the within and between-neighborhood spatial distribution of RSOs, there is no indirect effect on recidivistic sex crime rates.

Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement’s Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security

September 29, 2011 Comments off

Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement’s Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference

This study examined the long-term adjustments that large, urban law enforcement agencies made to accommodate the renewed focus on counterterrorism and homeland security. The researchers present case studies of five major law enforcement agencies in major metropolitan areas to understand their experiences in these areas post-9/11.

National Institute of Justice Visiting Fellowship: Police Investigation of Rape-Roadblocks and Solutions

September 26, 2011 Comments off

National Institute of Justice Visiting Fellowship: Police Investigation of Rape-Roadblocks and Solutions (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This report discusses (1) an exploratory study of the attitudes and experiences of active and experienced police rape investigators and (2) a pencil-and-paper study of active-duty patrol officers. One conclusion from the findings is that most police officers are aware of the basic, well known “rape myths” and the “politically correct” answers that challenge those myths. Still, the findings show that despite many years of training, many police officers still hold attitudes and opinions that undermine their ability to treat rape victims well. Although the objective of this study was to identify best practices in police investigations of rape, the study infers there are no best practices worthy of widespread use. The study recommends that police training in rape investigations be based in solid research and be related to the types of cases most often faced (i.e., acquaintance rapes rather than stranger rapes).

The Role and Impact of Forensic Evidence in the Criminal Justice Process

September 23, 2011 Comments off

The Role and Impact of Forensic Evidence in the Criminal Justice Process (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

For the five jurisdictions analyzed, the study found the collection of forensic evidence from crime scenes and victims was extensive in homicides and, to a lesser extent, rapes. However, the evidence was significantly more limited for assaults, burglaries and robberies. Except for homicides, few of the reported offenses involved forensic evidence sent to crime laboratories (89 percent for homicides; 32 percent for rapes; and less than 15 percent for assaults, burglaries and robberies). The overall percentage was also low for reported offenses that had physical evidence examined in crime labs. Except for homicides (81 percent), it was less than 20 percent for rape cases and less than 10 percent for assaults, burglaries, and robberies. However, examination rates for evidence sent to labs exceeded 70 percent, except for rape cases (58 percent). These findings suggest that criminal justice officials screen much of the forensic evidence to decide which evidence to send to crime labs for analysis, giving them significant discretion in deciding evidence-examination priorities and practices.

Multiple Perspectives on Battered Mothers and their Children Fleeing to the United States for Safety: A Study of Hague Convention Cases

September 18, 2011 Comments off

Multiple Perspectives on Battered Mothers and their Children Fleeing to the United States for Safety: A Study of Hague Convention Cases (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This report focuses on women who experienced abuse overseas and came to the United States to protect themselves and their children, but who then faced civil actions in U.S. state or federal courts for child abduction under international legal agreements. Researchers interviewed mothers around the world, their attorneys and their husbands’ attorneys. The study found that U.S. authorities and courts often send children back to the care of the allegedly abusive fathers in the home country. Mothers and children faced great hardship after a Hague Convention decision, including hefty legal fees.

Risks of Violence in Major Daily Activities: United States, 2003-2005

September 18, 2011 Comments off

Risks of Violence in Major Daily Activities: United States, 2003-2005
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

The purpose of this Ph.D. dissertation is to quantify the risk of violence Americans are exposed to when they visit different places and engage in different activities. To date, there is limited research about how dangerous one type of place is compared to another or how dangerous different activities are. This paper is an application of three closely related criminological theories linked to the ecology of crime: the routine activity approach; the lifestyle perspective and environmental criminology. Using victimization and time-use data from the years 2003-2005, the risk of violence in numerous types of places and activities is quantified. The risk of violence Americans face at home is substantially lower than in other locations. The data also show that an individual’s risk of violence in the home is dependent on the activity. Sleeping is the safest activity; the risk of violence during other activities at home is 12 times higher than it is for sleeping.

Victim Participation in Intimate Partner Violence Prosecution: Implications for Safety

August 3, 2011 Comments off

Victim Participation in Intimate Partner Violence Prosecution: Implications for Safety (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Internationally, intimate partner violence (IPV) is recognized as a major public health problem affecting millions of families and resulting in long-lasting health complications (World Health Organization [WHO], 2009). The intergenerational transmission of violence calls for urgent responses. By the late 20 th century, the United States responded to IPV by criminalizing behavior and redefining the prosecutorial role (Sherman, 1992a; Sherman, 1992b; Sherman & Berk, 1984; Sherman, Smith, Schmidt, & Rogan, 1992). Currently, all 50 states have enacted laws that address IPV through prosecutorial responses that complement aggressive policing responses, such as mandatory and permissive arrest policies. Prosecutors are encouraged to employ evidence-based prosecutions and discourage victims from dropping charges.

This longitudinal mixed-methods study examines to what extent female IPV victim participation in prosecution is associated with their future safety. In essence, we asked, are victims who participate in prosecution safer than those who do not? Given findings that protection orders can reduce future harm to victims (Holt, 2004), it is essential to understand how a victim’s participation along the continuum of calling 911, talking to the prosecutor, and engaging in criminal prosecution, impacts safety. We hypothesized that participation would improve IPV victims’ safety. Subsequent IPV was defined as a future documented IPV-related police incident or an ED visit for IPV or injury. Within a Midwestern county utilizing coordinated community response, we conducted focus groups with survivors and criminal justice agencies and medical providers (Pence & McDonnell, 1999). These focus groups along with in-depth qualitative analysis of a stratified random sample of individual IPV cases, informed our data abstraction and analysis of the administrative data.

In our study victim communication with a prosecutor appears to be protective against future IPV documented events regardless of defendant incarceration. This finding holds across both the pre- and post-disposition periods. Direct contact or communication with the prosecutor’s office may provide victims the sort of legal leverage necessary to “rebalance” power in relationships through the criminal justice system, as postulated by earlier work (Ford, 1983; Ford, 1991). This also suggests that victims have the agency to use the criminal justice system to their advantage, given the continuum of options as to “when” to engage: calling the police, talking to the prosecutor, engaging with the case processing, or seeking redress in the face of future abuse. Findings call into question the issue of prosecutorial frustration with victims who initially press charges and then later want to drop the charges or fail to follow-through with participation in the prosecution process. A victim’s decision to drop charges or to let charges drop through non-participation does not necessarily indicate that the criminal justice system has failed to assist her. Rather, it is likely that the system has served the victim’s needs without prosecution, or that the costs of moving forward with charges outweigh the benefits. Alternatively, it might be that she does want prosecution, and might even consider that prosecution would be more beneficial than dropping charges but other forces inhibit her ability to participate. Our qualitative findings suggest that victims make these decisions after great deliberation and over time may change their mind about the best course of action.

Our key finding is that victim participation in prosecution does not increase her help seeking via police calls for service that generate an incident report, nor the likelihood of future ED visits for IPV and injury. These results are important in light of the current pro-prosecution strategies, which support evidencebased trials that proceed regardless of the victim’s presence or testimony. Based on study findings, special prosecution units, vertical prosecution, continuances sensitive to victims needs, combined with court-based victim advocacy and victim input into prosecution outcomes, should continue to be considered best practices (Ford & Breall, 2003). Policy recommendations include increasing communication between the prosecutor’s office and victims, improving referral to advocacy organizations, and reducing logistical barriers for victims to participate in prosecution.

Spreading the Wealth: The Effect of the Distribution of Income and Race/Ethnicity Across Households and Neighborhoods on City Crime Trajectories

July 25, 2011 Comments off

Spreading the Wealth: The Effect of the Distribution of Income and Race/Ethnicity Across Households and Neighborhoods on City Crime Trajectories (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

This research explores the trajectories of crime rates in 14 similar areas, mostly cities, that have seen dramatic population growth since World War II. It focuses on the composition and distribution of economic resources, race and ethnicity in each area. The areas are Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Orange County (Calif.), Orlando, Phoenix, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Silicon Valley (Santa Clara), St. Petersburg, and Tampa. The data and discussion contribute to the understanding of the effect of race, ethnicity and economic resources on crime rates at the city and county level.

Policing in Central and Eastern Europe – Social Control of Unconventional Deviance, Conference Proceedings

July 20, 2011 Comments off

Policing in Central and Eastern Europe – Social Control of Unconventional Deviance, Conference Proceedings (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service (Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor, Slovenia)

The primary aim of the conference was to engage in an exchange of views, concepts, and research findings among scientists, researchers, and practitioners from across a broad range of criminal justice and security studies, topics, and themes. The conference papers covered a variety of topics spanning all elements of the criminal justice system, as well as other forms of formal, and informal, social control. The diverse coverage of the many topics and themes by criminal justice and related scholars from around the world created an opportunity for scholarly participants from Central and Eastern Europe to present their views and research to their colleagues from this and other parts of the world. Hence, the conference highlighted new ideas, methods, and findings spanning across numerous research topics, and themes, and applied areas relating to the social control of unconventional deviance (e.g., mobbing, phishing schemes, institutional organized crime, suicide terrorism acts, etc.).

As indicated in the proceedings to the conference, the conference was dedicated to discussing, exploring and examining unconventional deviance from a variety of social control perspectives. A total of ninety-nine papers were presented throughout the meeting. The conference proceedings have been recently included in the Conference Proceedings Citation Index. Therefore, we included only peer reviewed papers in this volume while eight plenary papers and a selection of other papers were published in the 2010/4 and 2011/2 issues of the Journal of Criminal Justice and Security (

It is noted that since the majority of the conference participants and contributors to this volume are not native English speaking people, we would first like to thank the authors for all their efforts in preparing their article in English.

The Structural and Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Violence

June 29, 2011 Comments off

The Structural and Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Violence (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Urban ethnographies have for decades revealed the seemingly paradoxical coexistence of law-abiding beliefs and law-violating behaviors in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Our findings suggest that cultural frames such as legal cynicism go a long way towards explaining this paradox. Legal cynicism emerges not as some monolithic set of values, but as an adaptation to neighborhood structural conditions and interactions between neighborhood residents and the law, especially the police. Once emerged, cynical perceptions of the law become solidified through social interaction, whereby neighborhood residents develop a shared meaning of the behavior of the law. In addition to supporting much of the findings of urban ethnography, our quantification of legal cynicism further allows us to compare and contrast the impact of such cultural frames and more traditional structural determinants of neighborhood violence. The strong effect of legal cynicism, net of structural conditions and neighborhood social processes, suggests that “neighborhood effects” research needs to consider both socialstructural and cultural mechanisms in order to fully understand the bases of neighborhood rates of homicide. More traditional structural analyses of neighborhood behavior would do well to bring culture back into deeper theoretical and empirical consideration.


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