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Social Disorganization Theory

Social disorganization theory which emerged as the United States entered the 20th century was a vision that suggested that crime like other behaviors was a social product (Lilly et. al, 2011). At that time this was a departure from most criminological theories because it moved away from searching for the causes of crime from within the person by looking at external factors (Beaver).  Their theory was of the belief that neighborhoods, and different areas where someone was brought up within the city would have an impact on whether someone would end up committing crimes. The Chicago School of Criminology believed those who grew up in the city, primarily in the slums that it made a difference in peoples lives (Lilly, et. al,2011). I don’t disagree with this assessment, and I understand why the criminologist at that time started looking at the individual’s environment whenever it came to causes of crime. There is no doubt that criminal behavior is sometimes a byproduct of the environment.  The Progressives were bothered by the plight of the urban poor, and that this population had few prospects of either stable or rewarding lives (Beaver, 2021).  Was this shift to start looking at crime as due to external factors rather than looking at the individual a good idea?

Being in the Bail Bond business I see all types of people who are accused of committing crimes. A lot of my clients come from rough family backgrounds or rough neighborhoods within the city. The Chicago School of Criminology argued that one area of American Society, the city, contained strong criminogenic forces (Beaver, 2021).  I have bonded out many family members, and even their friends for various charges. I see how some of them end up in jail because they grow up seeing members of their family and friends from their social circle committing crimes. Juveniles often were drawn into crime through their association with their older siblings, and sometimes gang members (Lilly, et.al, 2011).  My clients come from all walks of life. Some of them come from wealthy families, and some of come from poor families. The progressives believed that some poor were pushed by their surroundings into lives of crime (Beaver, 2021).  This point of view makes sense to me, and I see this firsthand. Some clients have told me that they committed a certain crime because that is all that they know how to do. It is as though that this lifestyle is normal to them.

I do believe that the shift to start looking at crime based on external factors rather than the individual was warranted at the time that this theory from The Chicago School of Criminology came about. During this time there was an influx of many people moving into the city. During the late 1800’s cities grew at a rapid pace (Beaver, 2021). Obviously with more people coming into an area there typically comes more crime. Especially when many of the people moving in are showing up with next to nothing. Many of those settling in carried little with them (Beaver, 2021). You can see why some of people coming into a situation like this would turn to crime. It also makes much more sense that the Criminologist of that day came up with the Social Disorganization Theory. That said I believe that no matter what environment someone comes from it does not mean they will commit crimes. It certainly has an impact, but human beings can also be unpredictable. Some rich people who came from good homes commit crimes, and some people who come from nothing do not end up committing crimes. Charleston SC Bail Bonds


Lilly, JR., Cullen, FT., & Ball, RA., (2011). Criminology Theory: Context and Consequences 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, Ca.

Dr. Kevin Beaver Power Point Presentation. Social Disorganization Theory. Florida State University (2021).

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