Defining the variables that cause crime is a deeply ideological issue. It has been one of the major dividing issues between liberals and conservatives in the US, as is well known. The former tend to stress economic and social factors such as unemployment, while conservatives have the tendency to stress family issues such as divorce.
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Parenting and Family
The Heritage Foundation, using data from all 50 states, argue that there is a close correlation between family breakdown and the crime rate. Its data suggest that for every 10 per cent increase in single parent households, there is a corresponding 17 per cent increase in crime. Even in high-crime urban areas, those neighbourhoods with a low percentage of divorce and parental abandonment have very low crime. The foundation holds that being rejected by parents is a sure root to crime and violence. Domestic violence in the home, the report finds, is also another good indicator of future criminality among the children affected. The FBI holds that the “stability” of neighbourhoods is central. This includes the level of transient residency as well as the stability of families and job opportunities. The FBI makes it clear, however, that “family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness” remain an important indicator of crime.
Religion and Morality
The Heritage Report also claims that those areas with high religious values, even in inner cities, have little problem with crime originating from their own neighbourhoods. The FBI also seconds this assessment, although it is couched in “cultural factors” rather than in religion and that lifestyle per se. "The Freeman," a journal with some libertarian leanings, criticises both conservative and liberal arguments, taking issue with the fact that both schools assume the root causes of crime are outside the individual. For the libertarian school, internal moral restraint is the main variable that turns people away from crime. Even if one lives in an urban, high-crime area, there are people, suffering from the same problems, who do not commit crimes; the journal reasons this is because they are morally attuned to reject criminal behaviour regardless of external factors. According to the journal, this—and this alone—should be the main focus of crime prevention.
The FBI's well-known Crime in the United States report, issued every year (the last being 2008), stresses both the level of urbanisation and access to highways and other forms of rapid transportation as major variables affecting crime. Rural areas away from major highways are generally safe. Parallel with urbanisation is a variable called “youth concentration.” In urban areas where people live in very close proximity, juvenile delinquency should be considerably higher. Heritage holds that although this is true, it needs to be controlled by the variable of family stability in order to be a truly significant indicator of crime.
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