Race and crime in the United States

Race and crime in the United States
This article addresses the issue of race and crime in the United States. For treatment of related issues in other countries, see Race and crime and Immigrant criminality.

The relationship between race and crime in the United States has been a topic of public controversy and scholarly debate for more than a century.[1] Since the 1980s, the debate has centered around the causes of and contributing factors to the disproportional representation of racial minorities (particularly African Americans, hence "Black crime") at all stages of the criminal justice system, including arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations.[2]

Many theories of causation have been proposed, most of which assume predominantly social and/or environmental causes; while a few others argue for a reconsideration of the role of biology.[3]


Racial demographics of the US

The racial composition of the US population as of 2008 was 79.79% White American (65.60% non-Hispanic and 14.19% Hispanic), 12.84% African American (12.22% non-Hispanic and 0.62% Hispanic), 4.45% Asian American (4.35% non-Hispanic and 0.10% Hispanic), 1.01% American Indian or Alaska Native (0.76% non-Hispanic and 0.25% Hispanic), 0.18% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander American (0.14% non-Hispanic and 0.04% Hispanic), and 1.69% Multiracial American (1.64% non-Hispanic and 0.05% Hispanic). 15.25% of the total US population identified their ethnicity as Hispanic.[4]

Crime rate statistics

Prisoners of various racial and ethnic backgrounds in the exercise yard of a US federal prison.

Historically, crime statistics have played a central role in the discussion of the relationship between race and crime in the United States.[5] As they have been designed to record information not only on the kinds of crimes committed, but also on the individuals involved in crime, criminologists and sociologists have and continue to use crime rate statistics to make general statements regarding the racial demographics of crime-related phenomena such as victimization, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and incarceration. Regardless of their views regarding causation, scholars acknowledge that some racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the arrest and victimization reports which are used to compile crime rate statistics.[6] There is, however, a great deal of debate regarding the causes of that disproportionality.

Data gathering methods

In the United States, crime data is collected from three major sources: law enforcement agency crime reports, collected monthly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and processed annually as Uniform Crime Reports (UCR); victimization surveys, collected biannually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and processed annually in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS); and self-report surveys.[further explanation needed] The UCR represents the primary source of data used in the calculation of official statistics regarding serious crimes such as murder and homicide, which is supplemented by the information provided through the NCVS and self-report studies, the latter being the best indicator of actual crime rates for minor offenses such as illegal substance abuse and petty theft. These crime data collection programs provide most of the statistical information utilized by criminologists and sociologist in their analysis of crime and the extent of its relationship to race.[7] Another form of data is that regarding the prison population.

Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)

The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program, established in 1927, is a summary-based reporting system that collects data on crime reported to local and state law enforcement agencies across the United States. The UCR system indexes crimes under two headings: Part I and Part II offenses. Part I offenses include: murder and non-negligent homicide; non-lethal violent crimes comprising robbery, forcible rape and aggravated assault; and property crimes comprising burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. Part II offenses include fraud, forgery/counterfeiting, embezzlement, simple assault, sex offenses, offenses against the family, drug and liquor offenses, weapons offenses and other non-violent offenses excluding traffic violations.[8]

There are fundamental limitations of the UCR system, including:[9]

  • Inaccuracy: UCR statistics do not represent the actual amount of criminal activity occurring in the United States. As it relies upon local law enforcement agency crime reports, the UCR program can only measure crime known to police and cannot provide an accurate representation of actual crime rates.[10]
  • Misrepresentation: The UCR program is focused upon street crime, and does not record information on many other types of crime, such as organized crime, corporate crime or federal crime. Further, law enforcement agencies can provide inadvertently misleading data as a result of local policing practices. These factors can lead to misrepresentations regarding the nature and extent of criminal activity in the United States.[11]
  • Manipulation: UCR data is capable of being manipulated by local law enforcement agencies. Information is supplied voluntarily to the UCR program, and manipulation of data can occur at the local level.[12]

As a response to these and other limitations, a new system of crime data collection was established in 1988 as an outgrowth of the UCR system. The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is an incident-based reporting system that will collect more comprehensive and detailed data on crime from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. As it is still under development, NIBRS coverage is not yet nationwide.[13]

National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) program, established in 1972, is a national survey of a representative sample of households in the United States which covers the frequency of crime victimization and the characteristics and consequences of victimization. The primary purpose behind the NCVS program is to gather information on crimes that were not reported to police, though information is also collected on reported crimes. The survey collects data on rape, assault, robbery, burglary, personal and household larceny and motor vehicle theft. The NCVS also includes supplemental questions which allow information to be gathered on tangentially relevant issues such as school violence, attitudes towards law enforcement or perceptions regarding crime.[14]

There are fundamental limitations to the NCVS program, including:[15]

  • Reliability: NCVS statistics do not represent verified or evidenced instances of victimization. As it depends upon the recollection of the individuals surveyed, the NCVS cannot distinguish between true and fabricated claims of victimization, nor can it verify the truth of the severity of the reported incidents. Further, the NCVS cannot detect cases of victimization where the victim is too traumatized to report. These factors can contribute to deficits in the reliability of NCVS statistics.[16]
  • Misrepresentation: The NCVS program is focused upon metropolitan and urban areas, and does not adequately cover suburban and rural regions. This can lead to misrepresentations regarding the nature and extent of victimization in the United States.[16]

Comparison of UCR and NCVS data

According to the NCVS for 1992-2000, 43% of violent criminal acts, and 53% of serious violent crime (not verbal threats, or cuts and bruises) were reported to the police. Overall, black (49%) and American Indian (48%) victims reported most often, significantly higher than whites (42%) and Asians (40%). Serious violent crime and aggravated assault against blacks (58% and 61%) and Indians (55% and 59%) was reported more often than against whites (51% and 54%) or Asians (50% and 51%). American Indians were unusually unlikely to report a robbery (45%), as with Asians and a simple assault (31%).[17]

Despite the differences in the amount of crime reported, comparisons of the UCR and NCVS data sets show there to be a high degree of correspondence between the two systems.[18] This correspondence extends to the racial demography of both perpetrators and victims of violent crime reported in both systems.[19]

Classification of Hispanics

The UCR classifies most Hispanics into the "white" category. The NCVS classifies some Hispanic criminals as "white" and some as "other race". The victim categories for the NCVS are more distinct.

Current crime rate statistics


  • UCR, Arrests by Race, 2009: [3]


Homicide victimization by race, 1976-2005. [1]
  • UCR, Murder Victims by Age, Sex, and Race, 2009: [4]
  • UCR, Murder Offenders by Age, Sex, and Race, 2009: [5]
  • UCR, Race and Sex of Victim by Race and Sex of Offender, Single victim/single offender, 2009: [6]

A United States Department of Justice report which surveyed homicide statistics between 1974 and 2004 stated that of the crimes surveyed, 52.2% of the offenders were Black, 45.8% were White, and 2% were Other Races. Of the victims in those same crimes, 50.9% were White, 46.9% were Black, and 2.1% were Other Races. The report further stated that "most murders are intraracial" with 86% of White murders committed by Whites, and 94% of Black murders committed by Blacks.[20] However, the document does not provide any details concerning what races or ethnicities are included in the designations "White", "Black", or "Other Races".

Victim Survey

  • NCVS, Race data: [7]
  • NCVS, Perceived race of offender, single-offender, 2007:[8]
  • NCVS, Perceived race of offender, mulitple-offenders, 2007:[9]
  • NCVS, Victim rates per 1,000 persons age 12 or older of violent crime, 2009: [10]

In a 2004 United States Department of Justice report which analyzed carjacking trends over the previous decade, carjacking victims identified 56% of the offenders as black, 21% as white, and 16% as members of other races.[21]

Racially motivated hate crime

The federal government publishes a list annually of Hate Crime Statistics, 2009[22]

Also published by the federal government is the Known Offender's Race by Bias Motivation, 2009[23]


According to a 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2007 Latinos "accounted for 40% of all sentenced federal offenders-more than triple their share (13%) of the total U.S. adult population". This was an increase from 24% in 1991. 72% of the Latino offenders were not U.S. citizens. For Hispanic offenders sentenced in federal courts, 48% were immigration offenses and 37% drug offenses. One reason for the large increase in immigration offenses is that they exclusively fall under federal jurisdiction.[24]

Crime trends

Some studies had argued for smaller racial disparities in violent crime in recent times. However, a 2011 study which examined the racial disparities in violent crime and incarceration from 1980 and 2008 found little difference for black share of violent offending. Racial imbalances in arrests vs. incarcerations were both small and consistent across the time period. The authors argued that the prior studies had been confounded by not separating Hispanics from Whites. The number of Hispanic offenders has been increasing rapidly and have violence rates higher than that of Whites but lower than that of Blacks.[25]

Youth gangs

The "National Youth Gang Survey Analysis" (2009) state that of gang members, 49% are Hispanic/Latino, 35% are African-American/black, 9% are white, and 7% are other race/ethnicity.[26]

Prison data

As of 2001, the chances of going to prison in percentages for various demographic groups

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 39.4% of the prison and jail population in 2009.[27] Hispanics (of all races) were 15.9% of those incarcerated in 2009.[27] Hispanics comprised 16.3% of the US population according to the 2010 US census.[28][29] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2000 to 2008 the rate of prevalence of incarceration for blacks declined to 3,161 per 100,000 and the white rate slightly increase to 487 per 100,000[30]. In 2009 American Indians and Alaskan Natives were jailed, paroled, or on probation at 932 per 100,000, 25% higher than for non-Indians/Natives (747), up 5.6% that year and 12% higher than 2007.[31]. However, crime in general declined during this time down to near 1970 levels, an 18% decrease from the previous decade.[32]

For men in their early thirties, African-Americans are about 7 times more likely to have a prison record than whites. They are more likely to have been in prison (22.4 percent) than in the military (17.4 percent). However, more blacks are enrolled in college than in prison. According to the US Census Bureau as of the year 2000 there were 2,224,181 blacks enrolled in college.[33] In that same year there were only 610,300 black inmates in prison according to the Bureau of Justice.[34] 12.5 percent have a bachelor’s degree.[citation needed] The results are highly dependent on education. 30 percent of those without college education and nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts had prison records.[35]

Racial homogeneity of geographic areas

Studies have examined if ethnic/racially heterogeneous areas, most often neighborhoods in large cities, have higher crime rates than more homogeneous areas. Most studies find that the more ethnically/racially heterogeneous an area is, the higher its crime rates tend to be.[36]

Racial composition of geographic areas

Studies examining the relationship between percentages of different rates in an area and crime rates have generally either found similar relationships as for nationwide crime rates or no significant relationships. Most studied is the correlation between proportion of blacks in an area and crime with most of the studies finding a relationship, especially regarding violent offenses.[36]


There are also data from outside the United States on race and crime.

Theories of causation

As noted above, scholars acknowledge that some racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, are disproportionately represented in the arrest and victimization reports which are used to compile crime rate statistics in the United States. The data from 2008 reveals that, though White Americans constituted the vast majority of total arrests made, African Americans were disproportionately represented in all forms of violent crime and property crime, as well as in the three measured forms of white-collar crime, with the average rates of representation 2 to 3 times higher than African American representation in the general population.[37] Such disparities become greater if calculating crimes per person for different races since overrepresentation for one group also means underrepresentation for other groups. The issue of disproportional minority representation in crime rate statistics has thus become a source of debate and controversy.

While most criminologists have traditionally assumed that disproportional representation in crime rate statistics is an indication of disproportional participation in criminal behavior,[38] prominent specialists in the field of race and crime studies have voiced concern over such an assumption. Pointing to the limitations generally recognized as inherent in the UCR and NCVS systems, scholars note that the crime rate statistics derived from them may be misleading.[39] In particular, the racial demographics of crime rate statistics may be tainted or made otherwise unreliable through recognized ambiguities in racial categorization,[40] through misreporting due to personal bias or prejudice,[41] through error in calculation due to local police recording practices,[42] or through bias in the criminal justice system itself.[43]

Defenders of the relative accuracy and reliability of the racial demographic component of crime statistics in the US point to international crime statistics showing remarkably similar results. INTERPOL statistics on homicide, forcible rape and aggravated assault from the years 1984-1996 are reported to show the same racial disproportionality, with Asian and White populations rating consistently lower than Black populations. In 1996, the rates per 100,000 were estimated at 35 for Asians, 42 for Whites and 149 for Blacks, yielding a Black rate more than 3 times the Asian or White rate.[44] See also the Race and crime article.

Regardless of their arguable accuracy, public focus on the disproportionate representation of minorities in violent crime rate statistics has led to both the general racialization of the discussion regarding crime[45] as well as to the emergence of a racial stereotype which characterizes young African American men as "inherently more sinister, evil and dangerous" than the young men of other racial groups, which Katheryn Russell-Brown has dubbed the "criminal black man" stereotype.[46] Research conducted over the last two decades on the public perceptions of crime reveals that 54% of surveyed White Americans believe that African Americans are more prone to violent behavior.[47]

However, this perception of African Americans as inherently violent is not limited to the White segment of the population: the National Race and Politics Survey of 1991 recorded more than half of both White Americans and African Americans as being in agreement with the statement "Blacks are aggressive or violent". Further, a study conducted in 2002 found that the general public holds the belief that African Americans are involved in a greater percentage of violent crime (39.4%) than stated in victim surveys for completed violent crime (29.4%). For burglary the public estimated 38.3% while of those arrested 31.6 were blacks. On the other hand, the public thought 39.8% of robberies were done by blacks when victim surveys stated 48.8% for completed robberies.[47][48]

There is, at present, no consensus as to the causes behind the racial disproportionality in arrests, charges and incarceration of African Americans in the United States. However, scholars agree that more research is needed. Gary LaFree gives an account of how studies correlating race and crime were discouraged from the 1960s on as sociologists developed a sensitivity to research that could be seen as placing blame on those who could be victims of racial discrimination.[49]

He further identifies an urgent need for renewed studies of race differences in crime. John Paul Wright, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati, opines that the connection between crime and race should be studied "honestly and courageously" precisely because it is African Americans who have suffered most from the America's collective failure to understand and control street crime. No other group, says Wright, would benefit more from a "candid examination of race and crime."[50]

Engaging in the direct study of race and crime, however, is not a straightforward matter. Wright observes that researchers who produce findings which identify race as a determining factor in criminal behavior run the risk of "public repudiation, professional exile, and even career death".[51] He writes: "If social security is the holy grail of politics, race and crime is the holy grail of criminology. Touch it and you expose yourself to wrath and fury. For this reason, many criminologists are loath to examine the connection between race and crime outside the modern sociological paradigm that holds that race is a mere social construct - that is, something defined by any given society, ... a 'social invention'."[50] Other scholars have also deplored the current climate surrounding the discussion of race and crime. Professors of sociology Robert J. Sampson and William Julius Wilson of Harvard University describe it as "mired in an unproductive mix of controversy and silence."[52]

School of thought

W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the pioneers in the study of race and crime in the United States.

The relationship between race and crime has been an area of study for criminologists since the emergence of anthropological criminology in the late 19th century.[53] Cesare Lombroso, founder of the Italian school of criminology, argued that criminal behavior was the product of biological factors, including race. He was among the first criminologists to claim a direct link between race and crime.[54] This biological perspective, sometimes seen as racist and increasingly unpopular, was criticized by early 20th century scholars, including Frances Kellor, Johan Thorsten Sellin and William Du Bois, who argued that other circumstances, such as social and economic conditions, were the central factors which led to criminal behavior, regardless of race. Du Bois traced the causes of the disproportional representation of Blacks in the criminal justice system back to the improperly handled emancipation of Black slaves in general and the convict leasing program in particular. In 1901, he wrote:

There are no reliable statistics to which one can safely appeal to measure exactly the growth of crime among the emancipated slaves. About seventy per cent of all prisoners in the South are black; this, however, is in part explained by the fact that accused Negroes are still easily convicted and get long sentences, while whites still continue to escape the penalty of many crimes even among themselves. And yet allowing for all this, there can be no reasonable doubt but that there has arisen in the South since the [civil] war a class of black criminals, loafers, and ne'er-do-wells who are a menace to their fellows, both black and white.[55]

The debate that ensued remained largely academic until the late 20th century, when the relationship between race and crime became a recognized field of specialized study in criminology. As Helen T. Greene and Shaun L. Gabbidon, professor of criminal justice at Pennsylvania State University, note in their recently published Encyclopedia of Race and Crime (2009), many criminology and criminal justice programs now either require or offer elective courses on the topic of the relationship between race and crime.[56]

Sociologist Orlando Patterson has seen the controversy as a dispute between liberal and conservative criminologists in which both parties focus on a single aspect of the causal net, with liberals focusing on factors external to the groups in question and conservatives focusing on internal cultural and behavioral factors.[57]

Modern theories of causation

Conflict theory

Conflict theory is considered "one of the most popular theoretical frameworks among race and crime scholars".[58] Rather than one monolithic theory, conflict theory represents a group of closely related theories which operate on a common set of fundamental assumptions.[59] As a general theory of criminal behavior, conflict theory proposes that crime is an inevitable consequence of the conflict which arises between competing groups within society. Such groups can be defined through a number of factors, including class, economic status, religion, language, ethnicity, race or any combination thereof. Further, conflict theory proposes that crime could be largely eliminated if the structure of society were to be changed.[60]

The form of conflict theory which emphasizes the role of economics, being heavily influenced by the work of Karl Marx and sometimes referred to as Marxist criminology, views crime as a natural response to the inequality arising from the competition inherent in capitalist society.[61] Sociologists and criminologists emphasizing this aspect of social conflict argue that, in a competitive society in which there is an inequality in the distribution of goods, those groups with limited or restricted access to goods will be more likely to turn to crime. Dutch criminologist Willem Adrian Bonger, one of the first scholars to apply the principles of economic determinism to the issue of crime, argued that such inequality as found in capitalism was ultimately responsible for the manifestation of crime at all levels of society, particularly among the poor. Though this line of thinking has been criticized for requiring the establishment of a utopian socialist society,[62] the notion that the disproportionality observed in minority representation in crime rate statistics could be understood as the result of systematic economic disadvantage found its way into many of the theories developed in subsequent generations.

Culture conflict theory, derived from the pioneering work of sociologist Thorsten Sellin, emphasizes the role of culturally accepted norms of conduct in the formation of cultural groups and the conflicts which arise through their interaction. Culture conflict theory argues that the group with the most power in any society ensures that their values, traditions and behaviors, which Sellin referred to as "conduct norms", are those to which all other members of society are forced to conform, and any actions which conflict with the interests of the dominant group are identified as deviant and/or criminal in nature. Sellin's original ideas continued to be developed throughout the 20th century, most notably by George Vold in the 1950s and Austin Turk in the 1960s, and continue to influence the contemporary debate.[63] The recent work of Gregory J. Howard, Joshua D. Freilich and Graeme R. Newman applies culture conflict theory to the issue of immigrant and minority crime around the world. According to their research, while culturally homogeneous groups experience little to no cultural conflict, as all the members share the same set of "conduct norms", culturally heterogeneous groups, such as modern industrial nations with large immigrant populations, display heightened competition between sets of cultural norms which, in turn, leads to an increase in violence and crime. Societies which have high levels of cultural diversity in their population, it is claimed, are more likely to have higher rates of violent crime.[63]

According to conflict theorists such as Marvin Wolfgang, Hubert Blalock and William Chambliss, the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in crime statistics and in the prison population is the result of race- and class-motivated disparities in arrests, prosecutions and sentencing rather than differences in actual participation in criminal activity, an approach which has also been taken by proponents of critical race theory.[64] This line of argumentation is generally seen as part of a wider approach to race-related issues referred to as the Discrimination Thesis, which assumes that differences in the treatment received by people of minority racial background in a number of public institutions, including the criminal justice, education and health care systems, is the result of overt racial discrimination. Opposed to this view is the Non-Discrimination Thesis, which seeks to defend these institutions from such accusations.[65]

At the time it was first proposed, conflict theory was considered outside the mainstream of more established criminological theories, such as strain theory, social disorganization theory and differential association theory.[66] Barbara D. Warner, associate professor of criminal justice and police studies at Eastern Kentucky University, notes that conflict theory has been the subject of increasing criticism in recent years. Recent studies claim that, while there may have been real sentencing differences related to non-legal characteristics such as race in the 1960s, sentencing discrimination as described by the conflict theorists at that time no longer exists. Criticism has also pointed to the lack of testability of the general theory.[62] While much research has been done to correlate race, income level and crime frequency, typically of less serious criminal behavior such as theft or larceny, research has shown there to be no significant correlation between race, income level and crime seriousness. Thus, conflict theory encounters difficulties in attempting to account for the high levels of violent crime such as murder, homicide and rape, in minority populations.[67]

Strain (anomie) theory

Strain theory, which is largely derived from the work of Robert K. Merton in the 1930s and 1940s, argues that social structures within society which lead to inequality and deprivation in segments of its population indirectly encourage those segments to commit crime. According to strain theory, differences in crime rates between races are the result of real differences in behavior, but to be understood as an attempt to alleviate either absolute or relative deprivation and adapt to the existing opportunity structure.[68]

A more recent approach to strain theory was proposed by Steven F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld in the 1990s. In their version of the theory, which they refer to as institutional anomie theory, Messner and Rosenfeld argue that the dominance of materialistic concerns and measurements of success manifested in the American Dream weakens the effectiveness of informal social control mechanisms and support processes, which encourages economic gain by any means, legal or illegal. In those segments of the population which experience the greatest relative deprivation, therefore, there is readiness to turn to crime to overcome inequality and eliminate relative deprivation.[69]

Critics of strain theory point to its weaknesses when compared with actual criminal behavior patterns. Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi argue that strain theory "misconstrue(s) the nature of the criminal act, supplying it with virtues it does not possess." They further point out that, while strain theory suggests that criminals should tend to target people in a more advantageous economic situation than themselves, they more often victimize individuals who live in the same economic circumstances.[70]

Social disorganization theory

Social disorganization theory proposes that high rates of crime are largely the result of a heterogeneous and impoverished social ecology.[71] Proponents of the theory point to the process of urban decay as a major contributing factor to the breakdown of healthy urban communities which would normally curb the spread of many forms of criminal behavior. The diversity of minority cultures present in poverty-stricken neighborhoods prevents the formation of strong social bonds and leaves inhabitants uninterested in maintaining positive community relationships. This has been observed to increase the likelihood of crime in certain urban areas, which can lead to increased policing and a further breakdown of familial structures as a result of arrests, which, in turn, precipitates more crime. Social disorganization theory has been instrumental in establishing the notion that stable, culturally homogeneous communities have lower rates of delinquency and crime regardless of race.[72]

Macrostructural opportunity theory

Phillippia Simmons reports that many of the studies which have investigated intra- and interracial crime seek to explain this through a theory of macrostructural opportunity which states that interracial violence is primarily a function of opportunity and access.[73] According to this theory, intraracial crime rates remain relatively high due to the fact that much of the US remains residentially segregated. She notes that this theory predicts that, if residential areas were more racially integrated, intraracial crime would decrease and interracial crime would increase correspondingly. However, she also notes that not all researchers on the topic of intraracial crime agree with this result, with some pointing to other macrostructural factors, such as income and education, which may negate the effect of race on inter- and intraracial crime.[73]

Anthony Walsh criticizes the attempt to use the macrostructural opportunity model to explain interracial rape as has been done in studies conducted in the past few decades, pointing out that such a defense is directly contradicted by the data related to homicide. Walsh argues that, while the macrostructural opportunity model helps explain why black murderers almost always choose black victims, it does not explain why black rapists choose white victims roughly 55% of the time.[74] However, on the opposite side there is also an elevated incidence of white rapists choosing black victims.[75] This theory has not been tested on this data. There are disparities in rates of reporting rape where victims of some races are statistically less likely or more likely to report their rape, especially depending on the race of the offender. Black women in America are more likely to report sexual assault that has been perpetrated by a stranger.[76][77] White women are more likely to report the offense if the offender is black[78] whereas black women are still more likely to under-report rapes overall as they are more likely to blame themselves, feel they will be blamed or feel they won't be believed.[79]

Social control theory

Social control theory, which is among the most popular theories in criminology,[80] proposes that crime is most commonly perpetrated by individuals who lack strong bonds or connections with their social environment.[81] Based upon Travis Hirschi's Causes of Delinquency (1969), social bonding theory pioneered the notion that criminologists can gain useful insight into the motives behind criminal behavior by examining what normally motivates individuals to refrain from crime. From this it is argued that, in those segments of the population where such motivation is lacking, crime will be more prevalent. Hirshi was explicit in mentioning that he believed his theory held true across all racial boundaries, and subsequent research - both in the US and abroad - seems to confirm this belief.[82] The core idea of social control theory is elaborated upon in several other theories of causation, particularly social disorganization theory.

Subculture of violence theory

As a theory of criminal behavior, subculture of violence theory claims that certain groups or subcultures exist in society in which violence is viewed as an appropriate response to what, in the context of that subculture, are perceived as threatening situations. Building upon the work of cultural anthropologist Walter B. Miller's focal concerns theory, which focused on the social mechanisms behind delinquency in adolescents, sociologists Marvin E. Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti proposed that the disproportionally high rate of crime among African Americans could be explained by their possessing a unique racial subculture in which violence is experienced and perceived in a manner different from that commonly observed in mainstream American culture.[83]

As to the origins of this subculture of violence among African Americans, sociologists promoting the theory have pointed towards their Southern heritage. As noted in several studies conducted throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there is a traditional North-South discrepancy in the distribution of homicide in the US, regardless of race, and this, it was argued, indicates that lower-class Southern Blacks and Whites share the same subculture of violence.[84]

The empirical basis for the subculture of violence theory, however, has been described as "extremely limited and unpersuasive".[84] Very little has been done to attempt an adequate assessment of supposedly criminogenic subcultural values, and several studies conducted in the late 1970s claimed to falsify the assumptions upon which the subculture of violence theory depends.[84] More recently, scholars have criticized the theory as potentially racist in nature as it implies that all African Americans are violent.[85]

Police discrimination

One theory is that racial overrepresentation is due to police discrimination.

Various studies have shown that, in recent decades, there has not been any noticeable disparity in black vs white crime statistics in black-controlled vs white-controlled cities, say Atlanta vs San Diego. In the largest counties, the rates of conviction for accused blacks was slightly less than the conviction rates for whites, for example.[86]

Heaton and Loeffler (2008) state that some scholars and studies have argued that police discrimination is not an important explanation for racial differences in crime. Others that it is the main cause. Some that both discrimination and different real crime rates contribute. The varying results can be explained to a large degree by the methods being uncertain with many possible confounding factors. As such they propose a method that they argue will remove all such observable and unobservable problems. They looked at the arrest rates for assault, robbery, and rape cases where the victims reported a black and white co-offending pair. They argue that differences in arrest rates should only reflect police bias. They found that the blacks offenders were 3% more likely to be arrested. Although this suggests some bias, it is insufficient to explain the large racial crime disparities.[87]


A graph showing the Incarceration rate under state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population 1925-2008. It does not include jail inmates. The male incarceration rate is roughly 15 times the female incarceration rate.
Homicide offending by race, 1976-2005. [2]

The United States incarceration rate has increased dramatically in recent times. The deterrent and incapacitating effects of imprisonment, in particular regarding recidivism, continue to be debated.

IQ theory

IQ theory views the racial disparity in crime rates as a result of IQ difference between races. In his book The g Factor (1998), Arthur Jensen cites data which shows that, regardless of race, people with IQs between 70 and 90 have higher crime rates than people with IQs below or above this range, with the peak range being between 80 and 90.[88] Jensen and others have claimed that the average IQ of African Americans is 85, to be compared with 100 for White Americans and 106 for Asian Americans.[89] According to Jensen, when crime rates are compared between races while adjusting for IQ, they are approximately the same. Thus, Jensen proposes, the disparity in crime rates between races can be explained by the proportions of each group with IQs in the range at greatest risk for antisocial behavior.[90]

Gasper (2009) have argued that the connections between race and IQ, and between IQ and crime, are not well established.[91] Regarding IQ and race, Gasper argued that the IQ gap between White Americans and African Americans has narrowed significantly over the last 30 years and that, if environmental factors such as educational opportunities are taken into account, differences in IQ may eventually disappear entirely.[92] Rushton and Jensen (2006) have argued that the IQ gap remains stable.[93] Regarding IQ and crime, Gasper has argued that current studies correlating the two focus almost exclusively on street crime and violent crime, failing to examine various kinds of white-collar and corporate crime whose perpetrators, it is assumed, are likely to have above-average IQs.[92]

Hormonal theory

One of the most striking differences regarding crime is the difference between males and females. Thus, one proposed explanation is that average racial differences in sex hormones may be one explanation for crime differences.[94]

r/K theory

In the 1980s, sociologist Lee Ellis developed a theory of criminality based on the concept of r versus K selection which enjoyed a degree of popularity in the 1970s among ecologists and evolutionary biologists. In the general theory, there is said to exist a spectrum of reproductive strategies, with the strategy of producing many offspring with little parental care designated as 'r'-type behavior and the strategy of producing few offspring with a great deal of parental care designated 'K'-type behavior. Ellis claimed that, while humans as a group are on the K side of the reproductive strategy spectrum, there are variations within the human population, with some tending towards r and others tending towards K.[95]

This idea was expanded upon by J. Philippe Rushton in his book Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (1995) in which Rushton proposes that r/K selection theory can explain many of the physical and psychological differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians, including brain size, intelligence, speed of maturation, personality, marital relations, reproductive behavior and criminal behavior.[96] In Rushton’s view, Africans tend towards the r end of the spectrum and Asians tend to be more K-strategists, with Europeans somewhere between the two.[97] This, it is argued, explains both the disproportionately high crime rates among African Americans as well as the disproportionately low crime rates among Asian Americans and White Americans.[98]

While some studies claim to have found support for the theory,[99][100][101][102][103] R/K selection theory was abandoned as a valid theory in evolutionary biology in the early 1990'es, as the theory failed corroboration in a large number of empirical studies, and its basic assumptions were found to be unsound. Specialists in evolutionary theory have referred to the application of r/K theory to humans as having no empirical backing, and consider it best regarded as pseudo-science or scientific racism.[104][105][106][107][108][109][110] Also, r/K theory has attracted heavy criticism due to reaching purportedly racist conclusions.[111] Even tentative supporters of r/K theory, such as Anthony Walsh, voice agreement with Rushton's critics that the theory as presented is highly susceptible to misuse in the form of support for racist ideologies.[112]

Household Income Correlation

There is a correlation between household incomes for black households in the lowest/1st quintile [113] and the aggregate violent and property crime rates [114]. The black households are chosen due to the relation of race and crime in the united states and racial segregation. The two charts below show the comparison of the 1st quintile for black household income vs overall crime rates (violent crimes in red, property crimes in green) in the US.

Between 1972 and 1990 there is strong correlation between decreasing real incomes of the poorest US black households, relative to the real incomes of the second highest US household income, and increasing crime rates. In the 90s the relative incomes increase and crime rates decrease. Though correlations appear to be inverse for the 2001 to 2007 period, the change in the crime rate shows positive correlation for this period (see below)

Since the change in the relative income of the 1st black household quintile is tightly connected to the change in the real income a similar, and of course inverse, correlation is observed, i.e. higher income increases correspond to lower crime rates. Though the 2001 to 2007 period appears to reverse the trend, the change in the crime rate shows positive correlation for this period (see below)

The 1971 to 1990 period shows the inverse of the expected relationship between income inequality and changes in crime rates (1st derivative of crime rates), primarily due to the lag in crime rates decreasing and after income inequality began to decrease. The 1990 to 2001 and 2001 to 2007 periods show a positive correlation between increasing income inequality, for the compared groups, and increasing change in crime rates (1st derivative of crime rates).

See also


  1. ^ Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:ix-x); Gabbidon & Greene (2005b:37).
  2. ^ Gabbidon & Greene (2005b:37); Bowling (2006:140). See also Sampson & Wilson (2005:177-178); Myrdal (1988:88).
  3. ^ For a critical overview of the latter, see Tubman-Carbone (2009:50-54).
  4. ^ "2008 Population Estimates: Hispanic or Latino by Race". U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. Retrieved 07 October 2009.
  5. ^ See Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:31-53), Gabbidon (2007:4).
  6. ^ See Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:31-33); Walsh (2004:19-36); Wright (2009:143-144).
  7. ^ Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:42).
  8. ^ Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:35-36). See also Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:35-38). For more information on the UCR program, see: "UCR Data Quality Guidelines" at www.fbi.gov.
  9. ^ For a detailed discussion of the limitations and weaknesses of the UCR program, see Mosher, Miethe & Phillips (2002).
  10. ^ Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:37). See also Myrdal (1988:88-89), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:39), Free (2009:164).
  11. ^ Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:37). See also Mann (1993:27;34), Free (2009:164).
  12. ^ Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:37). See also Mann (1993:28-29).
  13. ^ Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:37-39). See also Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:37-38).
  14. ^ Holmes, Maahs & Vito (2007:39-43). See also Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:38-39).
  15. ^ For a detailed discussion of the limitations and weaknesses of the NCVS program, see Mosher, Miethe & Phillips (2002). See also Mann (1993:30-32).
  16. ^ a b Holms, Maahs & Vito (2007:43).
  17. ^ Hart & Rennison (2003:3)
  18. ^ Holmes, Maahs & Vito (2007:39), Rand (2009:1).
  19. ^ Walsh (2004:29). For a survey of data from 1973-1992, see Zawitz et. al. (1993:23); for 1993-1998, see Rennison (2001:10)
  20. ^ Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006-06-29). "Homicide trends in the U.S.: Trends by race". United States Department of Justice. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/htius.pdf. 
  21. ^ http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/c02.pdf
  22. ^ http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2009/incidents.html
  23. ^ http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2009/data/table_05.html
  24. ^ A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime. Pew Hispanic Center. 2009. Mark Hugo Lopez
  25. ^ Steffensmeier, D.; Feldmeyer, B.; Harris, C. T.; Ulmer, J. T. (2011). "Reassessing Trends in Black Violent Crime, 1980-2008: Sorting Out the “Hispanic Effect” in Uniform Crime Reports Arrests, National Crime Victimization Survey Offender Estimates, and U.s. Prisoner Counts*". Criminology 49: 197–251. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00222.x.  edit
  26. ^ National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. http://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Survey-Analysis/Demographics
  27. ^ a b Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009 - Statistical Tables - US Bureau of Justice Statistics, published June 2010. See tables 16-19 for totals and rates for blacks, Hispanics, and whites. Broken down by year, gender, and age. See page 2 for "Selected characteristics of inmates held in custody in state or federal prisons or in local jails". It has the overall incarceration rate.
  28. ^ Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010 Census Briefs. US Census Bureau. See Tables 1 and 2.
  29. ^ Black population. Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS). US Census Bureau.
  30. ^ Prisoners in 2008. William J. Sab ol, Ph.D., and Heather C. West, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians, Matthew Cooper, BJS Intern
  31. ^ Jails in Indian Country, 2009 from BJS
  32. ^ Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime 1974-2004
  34. ^ Prisoners in 2008. by William J. Sab ol, Ph.D., and Heather C. West, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians, Matthew Cooper, BJS Intern. Pg. 5 Table 5
  35. ^ Pettit, B.; Western, B. (2004). "Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration". American Sociological Review 69 (2): 151–169. doi:10.1177/000312240406900201.  edit
  36. ^ a b Handbook of Crime Correlates; Lee Ellis, Kevin M. Beaver, John Wright; 2009; Academic Press
  37. ^ Compare this with Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:31-33), Walsh (2004:22-23;37-51).
  38. ^ For a review, see Walsh (2004:29).
  39. ^ For an overview, see Mann (1993:32-36), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:39-42).
  40. ^ See Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:40), Mann (1993:32), Walsh (2004:44)
  41. ^ Mann (1993:33-34), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:39).
  42. ^ Mann (1993:34), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:39).
  43. ^ Mann (1993:23-24). For a rebuttal, see Walsh (2004:35-36).
  44. ^ See Rushton (1995:157-160); Wright (2009:145-146).
  45. ^ Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:52)
  46. ^ Russell (2002:354).
  47. ^ a b Welch (2007:278).
  48. ^ Chiricos, T., Welch K., & Gertz M. (2004). The racial typification of crime and support for punitive measures. Criminology, 42, 358-390
  49. ^ LaFree (1995:170).
  50. ^ a b Wright (2009:138).
  51. ^ Wright (2009:137-138).
  52. ^ Sampson & Wilson (1995:177).
  53. ^ See Gabbidon & Greene (2009:xxvii-xxviii).
  54. ^ Bowling & Phillips (2002:57).
  55. ^ Du Bois (2005:5).
  56. ^ Gabbidon & Greene (2009:xxvii).
  57. ^ O. Patterson, Rituals of Blood (1998:ix) as quoted in Walsh (2004:vii).
  58. ^ Gabbidon (2007:171). For an overview of conflict theory in race and crime studies, see Gabbidon (2007:141-177), Henderson (2009:174-175).
  59. ^ For an overview, see Gabbidon (2007:141-177).
  60. ^ See Gabbidon (2007:155;171).
  61. ^ Gabbidon (2007:141).
  62. ^ a b Gabbidon (2007:171).
  63. ^ a b Gabbidon (2007:148-151).
  64. ^ Delgado & Stafancic (2001:113-114).
  65. ^ For a brief overview, see Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:83-84).
  66. ^ Sims (2009:142).
  67. ^ Warner (1989:71-72).
  68. ^ Oliver (2000:283). See also Gottfredson & Hirschi (1990:152).
  69. ^ Oliver (2000:283).
  70. ^ Gottfredson & Hirschi (1990:152).
  71. ^ Guerrero (2009:762).
  72. ^ Guerrero (2009:763).
  73. ^ a b Simmons (2009:398)
  74. ^ Walsh (2004:24-25).
  75. ^ Janet Meyer, M.A. 11/22/00 Page 2
  76. ^ Furtado, C., Perceptions of Rape: Cultural, Gender, and Ethnic Differences. Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. Hickey, E.W., 385-395
  77. ^ Rape and Sexual Assault Statistics. Extracted from Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1994 Report Summarized by Betty Caponera, Ph.D. Director, NMCSAAS
  78. ^ Sexual Assault Myths and Facts
  79. ^ Race, culture, psychology, and law By Kimberly Barrett, William George pg. 396
  80. ^ Higgins (2009:761), Gabbidon (2007:187).
  81. ^ For an overview, see Higgins (2009:759-762).
  82. ^ Gabbidon 2007:187-192).
  83. ^ Covington (1995:182-183). The work referred to is The Subculture of Violence: Towards an Integrated Theory in Criminology by Wolfgang & Ferracuti (1967). See also Hawkins (1983:247-248), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:75-78). For a general review, see Gabbidon (2007:91-100), Clevenger (2009:780-783).
  84. ^ a b c Hawkins (1983:248).
  85. ^ See Gabbidon (2007:99).
  86. ^ Stephan Thernstrom; Abigail Thernstrom (2011-03-29). America in black and white: one nation indivisible. pp. 273. ISBN 9780684844978. http://books.google.com/?id=JTiJK0D18OoC&pg=PA273&lpg=PA273&dq=percentage+of+blacks+accused.+percentage+convicted.+whites#v=onepage&q=percentage%20of%20blacks%20accused.%20percentage%20convicted.%20whites&f=false. 
  87. ^ Paul Heaton and Charles Loeffler. 2008. "Do Police Discriminate? Evidence from Multiple-Offender Crimes" The Selected Works of Paul Heaton
  88. ^ Jensen (1998:569-572).
  89. ^ Jensen and Rushton (2005:235-294)
  90. ^ Jensen (1998:571).
  91. ^ For a review, see Gasper (2009:399:402).
  92. ^ a b Gasper (2009:401).
  93. ^ J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur R. Jensen (2006). "The Totality of Available Evidence Shows the Race IQ Gap Still Remains". Psychological Science 16 (10): 921–922. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01803.x. http://psychology.uwo.ca/faculty/rushtonpdfs/2006%20PSnew.pdf. 
  94. ^ Templer, Donald I. (2010). "Can’t see the forest because of the trees". Personality and Individual Differences 48 (2): 102–103. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.08.011.  edit http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/1292538/998768009/name/Templer+Reply+to+Wicherts.pdf
  95. ^ Kinner (2003:65).
  96. ^ Rushton (1995:259-262).
  97. ^ Rushton (1995:262-263).
  98. ^ Goodison (2009:715).
  99. ^ Goodison (2009:716).
  100. ^ Rushton, J (2004). "Placing intelligence into an evolutionary framework or how fits into the ? Matrix of life-history traits including longevity". Intelligence 32 (4): 321–328. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2004.06.003.  edit
  101. ^ Templer, Donald I. (2008). "Correlational and factor analytic support for Rushton’s differential K life history theory". Personality and Individual Differences 45 (6): 440–444. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.05.010.  edit
  102. ^ Rushton, J. Philippe; Templer, Donald I. (2009). "National differences in intelligence, crime, income, and skin color". Intelligence 37 (4): 341–346. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2009.04.003.  edit
  103. ^ Templer, Donald I. (2010). "Can’t see the forest because of the trees". Personality and Individual Differences 48 (2): 102–103. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.08.011.  edit
  104. ^ "Review: Racialism and Racist Agendas". American Anthropologist, New Series 98 (1): 176–7. March 1996. JSTOR 682972. 
  105. ^ Lieberman L (February 2001). "How "Caucasoids" got such big crania and why they shrank. From Morton to Rushton". Curr. Anthropol. 42 (1): 69–95. doi:10.1086/318434. PMID 14992214.  http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/sloth/lieberman-on-rushton.pdf
  106. ^ Africanist archaeology and ancient IQ: racial science and cultural evolution in the twenty-first century World Archaeology Volume 38, Number 1 / March 2006 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00438240500509918
  107. ^ Peregrine, Peter N.; Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin (September 2003). "Cross-cultural evaluation of predicted associations between race and behavior". Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (5): 357–364. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(03)00040-0. 
  108. ^ Graves, J. L. (2002). "What a tangled web he weaves Race, reproductive strategies and Rushton's life history theory". Anthropological Theory 2 (2): 2 131–154. doi:10.1177/1469962002002002627. http://ant.sagepub.com/content/2/2/131.short. 
  109. ^ Barash D.P (1995). "Book review: Race, Evolution, and Behavior". Animal Behaviour 49: 1131–1133. 
  110. ^ Book Review of Race, Evolution and Behavior
  111. ^ Barash D.P (1995). "Book review: Race, Evolution, and Behavior". Animal Behavior 49: 1131–1133. 
  112. ^ Walsh (1995:195-196). For a review of r/K theory in race and crime studies, see Goodison (2009:713-716), Walsh (2004:138-142), Gabbidon & Greene (2005a:61-62), Gabbidon (2007:40-42).
  113. ^ U.S. Census Bureau; http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/inequality/index.html
  114. ^ Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics - UCR Data Online http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/


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  • Wright, John P. (2009). "Inconvenient Truths: Science, Race and Crime". In Beaver, Kevin M.; Walsh, Anthony. Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-98943-4. 
  • Zawitz, Marianna W. (1993). "Highlights from 20 Years of Surveying Crime Victims: The National Crime Victimization Survey, 1973-1992". Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin: Special Report NCJ 144525. United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bjs/144525.pdf 

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