The great crime decline

As one of my favorite subject at Uni, I love reading about sociology some 20 years after studying it.


For N.Y.U. sociologist Patrick Sharkey calls “the great crime decline.” has most altered the shape of American life. Ironically, though the urban crime wave is over, it still persists as a kind of zombified general terror, particularly in places where it was never particularly acute.

The quality of life changed dramatically, particularly for the most vulnerable. Sharkey, studying the crime decline in six American cities, concludes,

“As the degree of violence has fallen, the gap between the neighborhoods of the poor and nonpoor has narrowed.”

When children take a standardized test shortly after a neighborhood murder, their scores suffer. The price of crime is paid, above all, by the trauma of kids whose parents can’t buy their way out of its presence.

“Local violence does not make children less intelligent,” Sharkey says. “Rather, it occupies their minds.”

Liberal-minded people do not merely want mass incarceration to be the moral scandal it obviously is. We want it to be a practical scandal as well—it won’t and can’t do any good. But, Sharkey reports, the facts suggest that, for some period and to some measurable degree, it [mass incarceration] did contribute to the crime decline. It’s just the most expensive, inefficient, and cruel of all ways to combat the crime wave.

Sharkey’s climactic thesis is that the real challenge for the decades to come is to take advantage of the decline in crime to engineer a parallel decline in incarceration, sending noncareer criminals back to safer streets.