Criminal Justice Essay


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You are to write literature review about the topic 

The purpose is to show knowledge of the current literature on your specific topic, also brief discussion of each source that briefly identifies the main point or perspective of the article, you should have at least 15 citations


Criminal Justice Literature Review: The Relationship between Social Disorder and Manifestation of Adult Criminal Behavior


Regarding co-occurrence, a heated debate has emerged in recent literature. At the heart of this debate is the question of whether crime occurs due to the emergence of forces that are beyond the control of the individual or whether it is a matter of free choice (Agnew 2011). The way researchers answer this question greatly influences their view of the role of social disorder in the occurrence of crime. In some cases, social disorder is viewed as a formidable force that contributes to an increase in criminal behavior. In other cases, the idea of free choice may be embraced, thereby creating the impression that crime is a matter of free choice, social disorder notwithstanding.


Most criminologists argue that crime occurs due to forces that are beyond the control of the individual. These forces may be of social, psychological, or biological nature. For example, Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn (2000) argue that social conditions in a neighborhood greatly influence the behavioral outcomes of children and adolescents, and ultimately, even adults. In this study, social order and high socioeconomic status are correlated with achievement and decreased cases of juvenile delinquency while low socioeconomic status and residential instability are correlated with residential instability and increased crime levels (Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

This argument has led to the belief that the best form of crime control is one that involves prevention and rehabilitation programs with a view to alter these forces. This school of thought emerged in response to the classical view of crime, which posited that individuals always freely choose whether or not to engage in criminal behavior, and that this decision is not determined in any way by the presence or absence of social disorder. The explanation for this view is that individuals are assumed to be rational and self-interested. They evaluate various behavioral options before choosing the one that will maximize their pleasure. Although classical criminologists acknowledge the influence of certain factors such as punishment in deciding whether to perpetuate crime, they insist that the ultimate decision regarding criminal behavior is not determined by forces that are beyond the control of the individual. Thus, humans are assumed to possess the power to deliberate on all situations in a rational manner as opposed to being merely slaves to the environments in which they live and their inner urge to pursue pleasure.

To support the idea that social disorder influences crime levels, it is sometimes hypothesized that social cohesion among neighbors, also known as cohesive efficacy, combined with their willingness to intervene in the pursuit of the common good, leads to a reduction in criminal behavior and violence (Sampson, Raudenbush & Earls, 2009). Collective efficacy is considered a powerful force that counteracts the negative effects of residential instability and concentrated disadvantage in specific neighborhoods. It is also a neighborhood structural characteristics that have a negative effect on crime rates (Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000). In some cases, this argument has been extended to cover the different levels through which neighborhood mechanisms work to influence criminal behavior. The most commonly highlighted levels of influence include individual, family, peer, school, and community. Within the wider theoretical framework, a dichotomy of pathways influencing criminal behavior in society has been identified, and it comprises of relationships, institutional resources, and collective efficacy (Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

Having observed that criminal behavior is influenced by neighborhood characteristics, the next crucial question to answer would be whether neighborhoods with more crime tend to be characterized by higher levels of instability at the residential level. This line of argument has led researchers to switch their attention to the issue of direction of causality as far as the relationship between social disorder and adult criminal behavior is concerned (Hipp, 2013).

            Another dominant way in which to look at the society-crime relationship is to assess the impact of social capital on the behavior of members of society. One observation that has been made in literature is that one of the ways of increasing social capital in a neighborhood is community policing, whereby police and communities forge collaborative relationships aimed at tackling crime. It is held that by working collectively and in cooperation with police, residents can ameliorate neighborhood conditions. In other words, an increase in the level of social capital is assumed to trigger a decline in adult criminal behavior. Empirical findings seem not to provide a definite answer to the cause-and-effect relationship between social capital and crime. Some report a definite link between the two variables (Akçomak & Ter Weel, 2008) while others only provide partial support for the view that social capital contributes to a decrease in crime (Scott, 2002). The partial support in terms of the observation that collective social capacity seems to be higher only in neighborhoods where police are perceived to be easily accessible (Scott, 2002). In terms of direct support for the relationship, social capital is linked to lower crime rates. Moreover, historical states of neighborhoods in terms of education, religiosity, and population heterogeneity have an impact on social capital levels (Akçomak & Ter Weel, 2008).

Social capital relates profoundly to how various community organizations come together to fight crime. It constitutes efforts towards community building and the establishment of social cohesion. The view that social cohesion greatly contributes to a reduction in crime levels has been widely supported in literature. This is one of the reasons why the idea of social capital is being promoted by both members of the community and policing agencies. Through social capital, problems that lead to increased perpetuation of crime are resolved. During community building meetings, residents get an opportunity to discuss issues relating to trends in criminal behavior and social disorder.

There is a tendency to equate social capital with community capacity. Community capacity is the extent to which community members are working together to establish and sustain relationships, make group decisions, solve problems, and collaborate in identifying goals and getting work done. A major problem in this line of argument is that it is difficult to measure social capital (Lederman, Loayza & Menéndez, 2002). Fortunately, this difficulty has not hindered the growing vibrancy of the recent debate on how social capital can be used to build social cohesion within the neighborhood setting in order to fight crime (Lederman, Loayza & Menéndez, 2002). Social capital is considered a particularly useful pursuit for societies facing crises such as growing crime levels. The problem of social crisis is particularly predominant in industrial societies, where it takes the form of growing organized crime, rising divorce rates, long-term unemployment, and lone parenthood (Lederman, Loayza & Menéndez, 2002). Under these circumstances, social capital it provides numerous domains for policy action (Lederman, Loayza & Menéndez, 2002).

            A particularly influential perspective regarding social capital is that its decline occurs due to cumulative neighborhood decline. This trend is normally characterized by the disruption and weakening of social networks, an increase in population turnover thereby eroding familiarity and trust, and a growing sense of disillusionment that hinders initiatives aimed at reversing the social decline. Nevertheless, successful outcomes are easily attainable in communities that are “civically engaged”. The qualities that civically engaged communities possess, including trust, mutuality, and self-help initiatives, can greatly contribute to their regeneration. Nevertheless, the issue of social capital and its impact on adult criminal behavior seems not to have received the amount of research attention that is commensurate with its relevance in the debate on the relationship between social disorder and adult criminal behavior. For instance, there is no clarity regarding the nature of the relationship between various aspects of social capital such as the level of trust among members of a community and the prevalence of criminal behavior. In most cases, focus is on how social capital can facilitate the formulation of social policies aimed at fighting crime such as community policing as opposed to the prevention of its occurrence in the first place.


            The issue of fear of crime particularly in neighborhoods that have been severely affected by social disorder has been widely highlighted in literature (Hummelsheim et al, 2011). The fear of crime is often associated with wider social insecurities in a neighborhood. One unresolved issues is in regards to the extent to which this fear drives more people in the affected neighborhoods into engaging in criminal behavior. In many cases, fear of crime is an indicator of failure of national welfare regimes. In this regard, the point of departure is that fear of crime is an indicator of not just insecurity about the level of safety but also far-reaching social anxieties. Explanations that focus on such connections seem to provide justification for the role of social factors such as disorder in the emergence of criminal behavior. An alternative way to explain this connection is to view it as a manifestation of the negative consequences of crime and disorder in society. The main problem with adopting this perspective is that fear is not always a reflection of the true state of affairs as far as the level of crime in a community is concerned.

The process of crime formation also constitutes an important area of inquiry for criminologists who are interested in studying the dynamics of adult criminal behavior. One area of focus in this regard is the family unit, specifically the institution of marriage. Marriage matters because it is correlated with social processes such as criminal involvement. Unfortunately, recent research has focused primarily on the perpetrator of crime as an individual and not as someone’s marriage partner (Porter & Purser, 2010). Before social disorganization begins to manifest itself at the social level, it first emerges at the marriage context (Porter & Purser, 2010). In other words, marriages tend to be affected profoundly whenever there is social disorder in society. In fact, one may argue that there is co-occurrence between growing social disorder and an increase in the number of dysfunctional marriages. However, no empirical study has been undertaken to test this hypothesis.

Although marriage is universally considered a major determinant of numerous adult outcomes, controversy in relation to its causal status continues to persist due to lack of experimental evidence. Nevertheless, a number of findings in relation to this issue have been presented in literature, and all of them support the view that marriages promotes desistance from adult criminal behavior (Sampson, Laub & Wimer, 2006; Schellen, Poortman & Nieuwbeerta, 2011; Zoutewelle-Terovan et al., 2012). One of them is that the likelihood of married individuals engaging in crime is on average 35 percent lower than that of their unmarried counterparts (Sampson, Laub & Wimer, 2006). Assuming these findings are valid, the indication is that states of marriage exhibit a causal inhibitory effect on crime over the course of one’s life. In other words, marriage has a potential to contribute to a situation where individuals choose to desist from criminal activities. One major point worth noting at this juncture is that marriage is widely considered a major source of social order. Thus, if its absence greatly contributes to an increase in crime, then it would be correct to conclude that a major causal factors for adult criminal behavior is social disorder.

Elsewhere, the potential negative effect on crime on the offender’s marital chances has not been highlighted in research (Schellen, Poortman & Nieuwbeerta, 2011). If research findings confirm that offenders’ marital chances are negatively affected by crime, then it would be right to conclude that crime greatly contributes to social disorder. Such an observation would reinforce the view that the direction of causality goes both ways as far as the relationship between criminal behavior and social disorder is concerned. In other words, crime increases when there is social disorder but its perpetuation also leads to the state of social disorder.

Regarding the direction of causality, a dominant view in literature is that disorder is both a cause of crime and one of its byproducts. This in other words means that the relationship between the two variables is reciprocal. To begin with, network ties, which are a major manifestation of social order, play a critical role in reducing crime rates. When residents interact among each other, they easily come together to establish informal social control whose ability to reduce crime levels in a neighborhood should not be overlooked. Moreover, the network structure fosters neighborhood cohesion as well as a willingness to provide a powerful form of social control over deviant behavior.

One of the theories that helps explain the role of social ties in reducing criminal behavior is the routine activity theory (Hipp et al., 2013). This theory is based on the proposition that the presence of guardians plays a critical role in the reduction of crime incidences, suggesting that residents can play a crucial role in combating criminal behavior in their respective neighborhoods. A similar view is expressed in social disorganization theory, which proposes that social ties play an important role of enabling residents to use informal social control as a crime reduction strategy in their neighborhoods (Hipp et al., 2013).


Conversely, literature supports the view that crime also contributes to social disorder (Boggess & Maskaly, 2014; Deflem, 2011). The dominant view in this regard is that whereas disorder contributes to crime levels, criminal activity also leads to an increase in the levels of disorder. These findings are confirmed through researchers’ efforts to control for different factors, particularly those that relate to the social disorganization theory (Boggess & Maskaly, 2014). One specific finding that has been widely highlighted in literature is that higher rates of social disorder trigger significant, but modest growth in violent crime, while only aggravated assaults trigger increases in disorder (Boggess & Maskaly, 2014). Moreover, these dynamics tend to persist over and beyond the influence of geographically proximate neighborhoods and the impact of social disorganization (Boggess & Maskaly, 2014).

This view that crime contributes to social disorder is also supported by disorder theories (Deflem, 2011). These theories focus primarily on deterioration of social conditions in neighborhoods, and are concerned with the various ways in which literal physical dilapidation influences perception and the maintenance of community control. Against this backdrop, crime and disorder are said to be inextricably linked in a developmental sequence of sorts. More specifically, crime is identified as one of the elements that make up social disorder. It is one of the behaviors that residents of a neighborhood can promptly identify as disorderly.

According to disorder theories, signs of neglect and vandalism send a clear signal as to the position of irrelevance that society has conferred upon aspects of esteem and community civility. In a neighborhood where residents feel that community civility is not being upheld, more people are likely to end up engaging in criminal activities. Most of them can make this decision based on the assumption that no one really cares about civility, meaning that criminal behavior is tolerated. A classic example in this debate is the “broken window” phenomenon (Deflem, 2011). When a resident notices a broken window in his neighbor’s house, he must confront the fact that the neighborhood is becoming increasingly unsafe to life. The resulting fear and distrust of residents leads to a breakdown of social cohesion, thereby perpetuating conditions that are favorable to criminal behavior.


Agnew, R. (2011). Toward a unified criminology: Integrating assumptions about crime, people and society. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Akçomak, I & Ter Weel, B. (2008). The Impact of Social Capital on Crime: Evidence from the Netherlands. Discussion Paper No. 3603. Online.

Boggess, L. & Maskaly, J. (2014). The spatial context of the disorder–crime relationship in a study of Reno neighborhoods. Social Science Research, 43, 168–183.

Deflem, M. (Ed.) (2011). Economic Crisis and Crime. London: Emerald Publishing.

Hipp, J. (2013). A Dynamic View of Neighborhoods: The Reciprocal Relationship between Crime and Neighborhood Structural Characteristics Journal Issue: Social Problems, 57(2)

Hipp, J., Butts, C., Acton, R., Nagle, N. & Boessen, A. (2013). Extrapolative Simulation of Neighborhood Networks based on Population Spatial Distribution: Do they Predict Crime? Social Networks, 35(4), 1-40.

Hummelsheim, D., Hirtenlehner, H., Jackson, J. & Oberwittler, D. (2011). Social insecurities and fear of crime: A cross-national study on the impact of welfare state policies on crime-related anxieties. European sociological review, 27(3), 327-345.

Lederman, D., Loayza, N. & Menéndez, A. (2002). Violent Crime: Does Social Capital Matter? Economic Development and Cultural Change, 50(3), 509-539.

Leventhal, T. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The Neighborhoods They Live in: The Effects of Neighborhood Residence on Child and Adolescent Outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 309-337

Porter, J. & Purser, C. (2010). Social disorganization, marriage, and reported crime: A spatial econometrics examination of family formation and criminal offending. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(5), 942–950.

Sampson, R., Laub,J. & Wimer, C. (2006). Does marriage reduce crime? A counterfactual approach to within-individual causal effects. Criminology, 44(3), 465-508.

Sampson, R., Raudenbush, S. & Earls, F. (2009). Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy. Science, 227, 918-924.

Schellen, M., Poortman, A. & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2011). Partners in Crime? Criminal Offending, Marriage Formation, and Partner Selection. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 8, 201-216.

Scott, J. (2002). Assessing the Relationship between Police-Community Coproduction and Neighborhood-Level Social Capital. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 18(2), 147-166.

Zoutewelle-Terovan, M., van der Geest, V., Liefbroer, A. & Bijleveld, C. (2012). Criminality and Family Formation: Effects of Marriage and Parenthood on Criminal Behavior for Men and Women. Crime & Delinquency, 31, 119-130.

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