Social Disorganization

Social Disorganization of the Urban Black American CommunityIMG_0421

Despite the declared 1971 war on drugs by President Richard Nixon, crime rates fluctuated while incarceration rates climbed (Clear 2007) until approximately 1991 where we see its continual decline (Clear 2007; Parker 2008) that could be attributed to the “three strikes and you’re out” law. Nevertheless, the Black American community continues to experience increased decay (Massey and Denton 1993; Clear 2007), subpar organization (Roberts 2002; Jensen 2003), and extremely high violent crime rates (Parker 2004). The relationship between race and crime is determined by structural social disorganization and cultural social isolation (Sampson & Wilson 1995). As a result, the Black community loses valuable membership to various forms of formal social control. Where organized communities yield singleness in activities throughout the community at the guidance of family heads, pastors, schools, school organizations and local officials, etc., less organized communities do not (Meares 1998; Jensen 2003).

Available scholarship suggests that the Black community is afflicted to the point of being unable to develop universal consensuses of any set of norms, hence the correlations between less organized communities, physical disorder – signs of community structural decay and social disorder – signs of community behavioral disruption (Skogan 1990), crime, delinquency and other social problems (Massey & Denton 1993, Meares 1998, Jensen 2003). Members of the community who can move away do so resulting in further isolation of stressed communities and those relegated to them (Sampson & Wilson 1995, Meares 1998, Sampson & Raudenbush 2004). I will draw from the social disorganization theory that the combination of poverty, ethnic heterogeneity, and mobility disrupts the Black community (Shaw and McKay 1942) by weakening social processes and cultural continuity (Meares 1998). Shaw and McKay (1942) argue that these conditions of poverty and ethnic heterogeneity incubate intergenerational criminal values. Wherein, there becomes little value in kinship and the community moves toward anomie – normlessness (Conn & Ortiz 2001). The social disorganization theory underscores how critical it is for the community to organize in order to participate in the effective processes of community reentry for the non-violent, drug-addicted offender (Clear, Waring, & Scully 2003).

One type of measure for community disorder is observational. Whereas, observed community decay, high crime, high incarceration, and prison population data systematically collected gives us an aggregate-level measure (Jang & Johnson 2001) of less organized communities and disproportionate exposure Black men of these communities have to the criminal justice system – this study reaches for individual- or micro-level data. For this, I will rely on perceptual measures of the disorders uncovered by observations of current community leaders and stakeholders while conducting focus groups and in-depth interviews. Steering clear of ecological fallacy – “inferring individual-level relations based on aggregate data” (Samson & Wilson 1995), what should be my interesting finds are the interpretations and evaluations of the state (Kelling 1999) of a Black Atlanta community by their pastors, their suggested solutions for interceding (Wilson & Kelling 1982; Skogan 2008), and their state of readiness for intercession.

Excerpt from: “Offender Reclamation Revisited” J.H.Costen, JR


Clear, Todd R. 2007. Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Conn, Harvie M. and Manuel Orttiz. 2001. Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, & the People of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Jang, Sung Joon, & Byron R. Johnson. 2001. “Neighborhood Disorder, Individual Religiosity, and Adolescent Use of Illicit Drugs: A Test of Multilevel Hypotheses.” Criminology. 39:109-142.

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” Pp. 349-359 in Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, edited by David B. Grusky. Boulder: Westview Press.

Meares, Tracey L. 1998. “Social Organization and Drug Law Enforcement.” The American Criminal Law Review.” 35:191-227.

Parker, Karen F. 2004. Unequal Crime Decline: Theorizing Race, Urban Inequality, and Criminal Violence. New York: New York University Press.

Roberts, Omar M. 2002. “Religion, Reform, Community: Examining the Idea of Church-Based Prisoner Reentry.” Working Discussion Paper for the Urban Institute’s Reentry Roundtable. “Prisoner Reentry and the Institutions of Civil Society: Bridges and Barriers to Successful Reintegration.” March 21-22, 2002.

Sampson, Robert J. and William Julius Wilson. 1995 “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime, and Urban Inequality.” Pp. 37-54 in Crime and Inequality, edited by John Hagan and Ruth D. Peterson: Stanford University Press.

Shaw, Clifford R. and Henry D. McKay. 1942. Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Skogan, Wesley G. 1990. Disorder and Decline: Crime and the Spiral of Decay in American Neighborhoods. New York: Free Press.

Skogan, Wesley G. 2008. “Broken Windows: Why – And How – We should Take Them Seriously.” Criminology & Public Policy. 7:195-201.

Wilson, James Q. & George L. Kelling. 1982. “Broken Windows.” Atlantic Monthly. 310:78.


Linking Informal Social Control and Restorative Justice: Moving Social Disorganization Theory Beyond Community Policing
“Much of what is at the heart of social disorganization theory’s approach to neighborhood crime prevention has been ignored in favor of policies that are more closely associated with deterrence and rational choice theories. Specifically, ideas of informal social control and collective efficacy have often been translated into policies of community surveillance and the reporting of suspicious behaviors to the police. While these policies may make neighborhoods less attractive to offenders because they create higher certainty levels of recognition, and subsequently arrest, social disorganization theory, at its heart, suggests crime prevention policies of a very different nature: policies that are more closely associated with restorative justice, re-integrative shaming and peacemaking criminology. These associations are highlighted and provide a conceptual model for a community crime prevention program that is more consistent with the underlying nature of social disorganization theory.”
–Barbara D. Warnera, Elizabeth Beck and Mary L. Ohmer
Linking informal social control and restorative justice- moving social disorganization theory beyond community policing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s