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Legal Cynicism and (Subcultural?) Tolerance of Deviance: The Neighborhood Context of Racial Differences, and Law and (Norms of) Order in the Inner City

NCJ Number
Law & Society Review Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: 1998 Pages: 777-838
Robert J. Sampson; Dawn J. Bartusch; Tracey L. Meares; Dan M. Kahan
Date Published
62 pages
The first article presents a neighborhood-level perspective on racial differences in legal cynicism, dissatisfaction with police, and tolerance of various forms of deviance; the second article surveys recent works that seek to enrich criminal law policy analysis by incorporating social norms.
The first article’s basic premise is that structural characteristics of neighborhoods explain variations in normative orientations about law, criminal justice, and deviance that are often confounded with the demographic characteristics of individuals. The study used a multilevel approach that permitted the decomposition of variance within and between neighborhoods to test hypotheses on 8,782 residents of 343 neighborhoods in Chicago. African-Americans and Latinos were less tolerant of deviance-- including violence--than whites. Neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage displayed elevated levels of legal cynicism, dissatisfaction with police and tolerance of deviance unaccounted for by sociodemographic composition and crime rate differences. Neighborhood context is thus important for resolving the seeming paradox that estrangement from legal norms and agencies of criminal justice, especially by blacks, is compatible with the personal condemnation of deviance. The article on social norms used the literature to identify politically feasible law enforcement policies--from curfews to gang loitering laws, order maintenance policing, and reverse stings--that deter as well or better than severe prison sentences but that avoid the destructive effect of those sentences on inner-city communities. Tables, notes, references, figure, cases and statutes