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Losing Legitimacy: Street Crime and the Decline of Social Institutions in America

NCJ Number
G LaFree
Date Published
256 pages
This analysis of factors related to changes in street crime rates since World War II disputes common explanations of crime based on biological impulses, psychological drives, or slow-moving social developments and concludes that changing social institutions provide the most plausible explanation for these crime trends.
The research primarily used national data. It also used a longitudinal approach and considers the relationships between race and crime. Results revealed that changes in crime rates in the postwar period were sometimes extremely rapid, especially from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. The three main postwar crime periods included an early period (1946-60) with stable, low crime rates; a middle period (1963-73) with rapidly accelerating crime rates; and a late period (after 1973) with stable, high crime rates. The analysis indicates that postwar crime rates were linked especially to changes in political, economic, and family institutions. In particular, crime increased along with increasing political distrust, economic inequality, and family disintegration. These changes were especially pronounced for black people. Society responded to the crisis in traditional institutions by investing more in other social institutions, especially criminal justice, education, and welfare. Crime rates finally began to decline in the last few years of the 20th century as traditional institutions stabilized in the 1990s and as spending on new institutions continued to increase. Figures, tables, chapter reference notes, and index


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