To improve safety and justice in the society, it is necessary not only to investigate crimes and prosecute perpetrators but also to pursue crime prevention. There are various approaches to this; one of them is based on the idea that the redevelopment of physical space in a neighborhood can decrease crime rates in it. Another approach is based on the social disorganization theory and suggests that communities should be empowered to detect criminogenic factors and intervene in behaviors to decrease crime rates. The latter approach is better because it demonstrates better political implications, originates from more insightful assumptions, and proves to be more effective.
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First of all, the political implications of social disorganization theory-based crime prevention measures appear to be more beneficial than those of redevelopment. Warner, Beck, and Ohmer (2010) argue that a major purpose of community programs is to provide “political support for low-income communities” (p. 365), and efforts related to restorative justice and peacemaking criminology are aimed at providing this support exactly. In contrast, redevelopment is something imposed on communities by public administrators and other external decision-makers. Crime prevention by redevelopment does not empower communities; on the contrary, the members of communities exposed to it report lower perceived safety (August, 2016, p. 3419). Therefore, engaging communities in crime prevention has better political implications than regarding communities as recipients of crime prevention measures as opposed to agents of such measures.
Further, it is important to examine the underlying assumptions of the two approaches. The redevelopment approach assumes that crime prevention can be carried out “through environmental design” (August, 2016, p. 3406); i.e., it is the environment with its enclosed spaces and secluded paths that causes crime or makes it more probable. However, the redesign of common space was not confirmed to reduce crime. At the same time, the strategy of engaging residents in establishing and enforcing norms with the purpose of maintaining order in communities is based on the assumption that communities are capable of detecting and preventing misconduct in their neighborhoods, and this assumption, according to Warner et al. (2010) is more reliable (p. 356) because crime is a phenomenon that is often directly linked to communities and not external influences.
Finally, there is the matter of effectiveness. August (2016) explicitly states that the residents of the redeveloped neighborhood perceived it as less safe; although, they were not certain if there were more crimes committed or they were just informed better about the crimes of which they had not known before (p. 3419). The study has demonstrated that redevelopment, although beneficial from various perspectives, is not particularly effective in terms of crime prevention. In contrast, Warned et al. (2010) suggest that, although further research on the effectiveness of the approach proposed by them is needed (p. 366), the social disorganization theory-based crime prevention model is rather effective in terms of enabling community control of crime and thus reducing crime rates.
The approach suggested by Warner et al. (2010, p. 366) is better because it empowers communities and allows them to improve cooperation instead of having changes imposed on them without considering their perspectives. Also, this approach is based on more accurate assumptions about basic criminogenic factors. Finally, the application of this approach leads to a higher level of perceived safety. Public administrators should adopt this approach as opposed to expecting lower crime rates after redeveloping the physical environment of neighborhoods.
August, M. (2016). Revitalisation gone wrong: Mixed-income public housing redevelopment in Toronto’s Don Mount Court. Urban Studies, 53(16), 3405-3422.
Warner, B. D., Beck, E., & Ohmer, M. L. (2010). Linking informal social control and restorative justice: Moving social disorganization theory beyond community policing. Contemporary Justice Review, 13(4), 355-369.