Environmental Criminology

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Looks at the spatial distribution of offences and offenders.

Shaw and Mc Kay claimed that delinquents were concentrate in zones of transition in American cities. They argued that this was due to high population turnover and cultural heterogeneity which led to social disorganisation. This, in turn, weakened informal social controls.

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Area offender rates in British cities do not reflect the American pattern. Research indicates that the housing of so-called ‘problem families’ in particular estates by local councils can result in a concentration of offenders.

In traditional cities, offences tend to be clustered in and around the city centre. ‘Out-of-town’ shopping malls and entertainment centres can change this pattern.

In residential districts, offences tend to be highest in low-income, inner-city areas, and in high-income neighbourhoods close to areas with high offending rates.

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Opportunity theory states that targets with high attractiveness and high accessibility are likely to be selected by offenders.

Routine activity theory states that the spatial distribution of offences is linked to the routine of offenders. Offenders tend to commit crime s in areas they are familiar with.

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The Brantinghams argue that we have cognitive maps of the areas we are familiar with. To some extent, these maps guide offenders’ selection of places to commit offences.

Wilson and Kelling argue that a neighbourhood ‘tips’ when buildings are left in disrepair and anti-social behaviour is unchallenged. Informal social controls break down and crime becomes widespread.

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Skogan argues that physical and social disorder undermine neighbourliness, increase concerns about safety and stigmatise the neighbourhood. This weakens informal social controls.

A longitudinal study in Los Angeles suggests a three-stage process leading to tipping: a change in land use, a change in the size and make-up of the population, a change in the economic status of the population.


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Critics argue that location studies of offender and offence rates should incorporate wider social and economic factors.

The validity of the data on which location studies are based is questionable.


Many gangs members deal in drugs. At the age of 15, former gang member Luis Rivera was earning $1000 a day selling crack cocaine.

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