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Study: Neighborhoods Create Crime Opportunities

by | Jul 25, 2018

Physical characteristics of a neighborhood influence the likelihood that parolees living there will commit additional crimes, according to a recent study by Grant Drawve, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Arkansas.

Grant Drawve

Grant Drawve

Research indicates that 77 percent of parolees nationwide are rearrested within five years of being released from prison. Drawve’s findings could help correction agencies to help lower recidivism rates. The study, co-authored by Joel Caplan and Michael Ostermann of Rutgers University, was published in the journal Crime & Delinquency.  

Traditionally, research on recidivism has focused on a specific parolee’s likelihood of reoffending based on the idea that crime is an individual’s choice. Researchers found that demographics such as age, criminal history, gender and race were the strongest predictors of recidivism.

A recent line of investigation in crime research, however, looks at environmental factors, asking how features of an area as small as a neighborhood can create opportunities for crime.

Environmental criminology studies the physical attributes of an area such as lighting, the number of vacant buildings, the location of parks and other public spaces, as well as the types of businesses present. One such methodology, called risk terrain modeling, has been used by police departments to effectively predict where crime will occur in the future.

Drawve’s study applies risk terrain modeling to the issue of recidivism. His study is based on 590 parolees released in an urban Northeast city in 2011. He used risk terrain modeling to create risk of crime scores for the three-block area surrounding each parolee’s address. He also incorporated more traditional characteristics such as age, ethnicity and prior arrests in his study.

“We tried to marry the who with the where,” he said.

Drawve tracked the parolees and found that those released to areas with higher risk of crime scores were more likely to be rearrested. Recidivism increased further when parolees had a greater than average number of prior arrests, the study found.

The findings could help parole officers focus on place-based supervision, reducing the number of criminal opportunities, rather than focusing on individual offenders. Drawve plans future research that will apply similar methods to Arkansas communities.

About The Author

Bob Whitby writes about bioscience, geoscience, physics, space and planetary sciences, psychology and sociology. Reach him at 479-575-4737, or whitby@uark.edu.

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