On how to reduce crime

Factors affecting individual propensity to crime include:

  • adverse childhood experiences (Reavis et al., 2013), including
    • chronic parental conflict (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986);
    • family breakdown (Schuerman & Kobrin, 1986);
  • lack of access to education (Lochner & Moretti, 2004);
  • poverty (Anser et al., 2020), both
    • living in absolute poverty (Dong et al., 2020) and
    • living below the country-specific poverty line (Imran et al., 2018);
  • reduced informal social control in an area, including:
    • exclusion of demographic groups from civic life (Sampson et al., 1997).
  • substance addiction (Rafaiee et al., 2013);
  • unemployment (Anser et al., 2020), which is linked to property crime specifically (NZ Ministry of Justice, 2009).

Policy actions we could take to reduce crime, therefore, might include:

  • increasing access to addiction treatment programs (McCollister & French, 2003);
  • increasing access to psychological and psychiatric healthcare (Wen et al., 2017);
  • increasing unemployment benefits (Melick, 2003; Mesters et al., 2015) from their current c. 50% of the Henderson poverty line (Melbourne Institute, 2021) to a point at or above it;
  • making education, all the way up to tertiary vocational and academic education, more accessible (Nordin, 2017);
  • reducing the price of accessing healthcare services (Anser et al., 2020).

Things that do not appear likely to help, or appear likely to make things worse, include:

  • high arrest rates (Brown, 1978);
  • “zero-tolerance” policing (Braga et al., 2015);
  • imprisoning more people (Harding et al., 2019);
  • locking them up for longer (Hoel & Gelb, 2008).


Anser, M.K., Yousaf, Z., Nassani, A.A., Alotaibi, S.M., Kabbani, A., & Zaman, K. (2020, June 5). Dynamic linkages between poverty, inequality, crime, and social expenditures in a panel of 16 countries: Two-step GMM estimates. Journal of Economic Structures, 9, 43. doi:10.1186/s40008-020-00220-6.

Braga, A.A., Welsh, B.C., & Schnell, C. (2015, June 4). Can policing disorder reduce crime? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52(4), 567-588. doi:10.1177/0022427815576576.

Britt, C.L. (1994, January). Crime and unemployment among youths in the United States, 1958-1990: A time series analysis. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 53(1), 99-109.

Brown, D.W. (1978, December). Arrest rates and crime rates: When does a tipping effect occur?. Social Forces, 57(2), 671-682. doi:10.2307/2577689.

Dong, B., Egger, P.H., & Guo, Y. (2020, May 18). Is poverty the mother of crime? Evidence from homicide rates in China?. PLoS One, 15(5), e0233034. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0233034.

Harding, D.J., Morenoff, J.D., Nguyen, A.P., Bushway, S.D., & Binswanger, I.A. (2019, May 13). A natural experiment study of the effects of imprisonment on violence in the community. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 671-677. doi:10.1038/s41562-019-0604-8.

Hoel, A., & Gelb, K. (2008, August). Sentencing matters: Mandatory sentencing. Victorian State Government Sentencing Advisory Council.

Imran, M., Hosen, M., & Chowdhury, M.A.F. (2018, September 25). Does poverty lead to crime? Evidence from the United States of America. International Journal of Social Economics, 45(10), 1424-1438. doi:10.1108/IJSE-04-2017-0167.

Lochner, L., & Moretti, E. (2004, March). The effect of education on crime: Evidence from prison inmates, arrests, and self-reports. American Economic Review, 94(1), 155-189.

Loeber, R., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (1986). Family factors as correlates and predictors of juvenile conduct problems and delinquency (pp. 29—149). In M. Tonry & N. Morris (Eds.), Crime and justice: An annual review of research (vol. 7). University of Chicago Press.

McCollister, K.E., & French, M.T. (2003, December). The relative contribution of outcome domains in the total economic benefit of addiction interventions: A review of first findings. Addiction, 98(12), 1647-1659. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2003.00541.x.

Melbourne Institute (2021, April). Poverty lines: Australia — December quarter 2020. University of Melbourne.

Melick, M.D. (2003, April). The relationship between crime and unemployment. Park Place Economist, 11(1), 13.

Mesters, G., van der Geest, V., & Bijleveld, C. (2015, June 17). Crime, employment and social welfare: An individual-level study on disadvantaged males. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32, 159-190. doi:10.1007/s10940-015-9258-5.

New Zealand Ministry of Justice (2009, March). Strategic policy brief: Social risk factors for involvement in crime.

Nordin, M. (2017, May 19). Does eligibility for tertiary education affect crime rates? Quasi-experimental evidence. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 34, 805-829. doi:10.1007/s10940-017-9355-8.

Rafaiee, R., Olyaee, S., & Sargolzaiee, A. (2013, December 22). The relationship between the type of crime and drugs in addicted prisoners in Zahedan central prison. International Journal of High Risk Behaviors, 2(3), 139-140. doi:10.5182/ijhrba.13977.

Reavis, J.A., Looman, J., Franco, K.A., & Rojas, B. (2013, Spring). Adverse childhood experiences and adult criminality: How long must we live before we possess our own lives?. Permanente Journal, 17(2), 44-48. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-072.

Sampson, R.J., Raudenbush, S.W., & Earls, F. (1997, August 15). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918-924. doi:10.1126/science.277.5328.918.

Schuerman, L., & Kobrin, S. (1986). Community careers in crime. Communities and Crime, 8, 67-100.

Weatherburn, D. (2001, February). Contemporary issues in crime and justice: What causes crime?. Crime and Justice Bulletin, 54. New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Wen, H., Hockenberry, J.M., & Cummings, J.R. (2017, October). The effect of Medicaid expansion on crime reduction: Evidence from HIFA-waiver expansions. Journal of Public Economics, 154, 67-94. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2017.09.001.

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