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Crime, Coercion, and Community: The Effects of Arrest and Incarceration Policies on Informal Social Control in Neighborhoods

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2002
40 pages
This report contributes to an understanding of the role of criminal justice policy in building and maintaining communities by directly examining the effects of arrest and incarceration policies on 30 Baltimore, Maryland neighborhoods over a 10 year period.
This work built upon the existing relevant literature by directly addressing the issue of how aggressive arrest and incarceration policies affect community organization and ultimately the willingness of area residents to engage in informal social control or collective action. Data were obtained from four primary sources that are part of a larger study that is examining crime, coercion, and the community. Ralph Taylor collected one data set in his study of Baltimore neighborhoods to examine the relationship between crime and social organization in communities in 1982 and 1994. The data included aggregate community level information on demographics, socioeconomic attributes, and crime rates. In addition, residents were interviewed about community attachment, cohesiveness, participation, satisfaction, and experiences with crime and self-protection. The police data included both the offenses recorded by the police as well as arrests made by the police. The data cover incident-level offenses and arrest data for 1987 and 1992. Other data included all of the admissions to and releases from prison in neighborhoods in Baltimore City and Baltimore County for 1982 to 2000. The model developed explains the effects of arrest policies on community organization and ultimately an individual's decision to engage in informal social control. This decision is influenced by both the attributes of the neighborhood and the attributes of the individual. At the individual level, the willingness of residents to engage in informal social control is driven by the amount of interaction they engage in with their neighbors and the extent to which they have positive attitudes toward the neighborhood and feel as if they belong to the neighborhood. High levels of interaction among neighbors in the daily activity of the area lays the foundation for the more specific mobilization of these networks for activities such as informal social control. Based on the model used and the data collected and analyzed under the model, this study concluded that increasing arrests or incarceration in a neighborhood had a small positive effect on participation in informal social control by residents. When adjustments were made for technical peculiarities in the data, however, these effects became insignificant. Increases in arrest rates were not associated with decreases in neighborhood crime rates, and both arrest and incarceration had negative effects on other aspects of participation in communities. They were associated with lower levels of participation in voluntary organizations and lower levels of attachment to communities. These results suggest that in considering the effect of coercion on communities, the negative effects should also be considered in addition to the positive effects. Before more coercive programs can be prescribed, more work must be done to determine factors related to both the positive and negative effects of coercion on the community. Suggestions are offered for future research. 11 tables, 5 figures, 41 references, and appended offense classification scheme for arrest rates

Date Published: April 1, 2002