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36 Criminology 441 (1998)
Incarceration, Social Capital, and Crime: Implications for Social Disorganization Theory

handle is hein.journals/crim36 and id is 451 raw text is: INCARCERATION, SOCIAL CAPITAL, AND
Florida State University
This study is a theoretical exploration of the impact of public social
control on the functioning of local social controls. Set within the
framework of social disorganization and systemic theory, the study
argues that an overreliance on incarceration as a formal control may
hinder the ability of some communities to foster other forms of control
because they weaken family and community structures. At the ecologi-
cal level, the side effects of policies intended to fight crime by control-
ling individual behavior may exacerbate the problems they are intended
to address. Thus, these communities may experience more, not less,
social disorganization.
It is commonly accepted that in the absence of effective controls, crime
and disorder flourish. Controls can operate at the individual, family,
neighborhood, and state levels; and the safest neighborhoods are thought
to be those in which controls work at each of these levels. This study is a
theoretical exploration of the impact of state social control on the func-
tioning of family and neighborhood social controls. We argue that state
social controls, which typically are directed at individual behavior, have
important secondary effects on family and neighborhood structures.
These, in turn, impede the neighborhood's capacity for social control.
Thus, at the ecological level, the side effects of policies intended to fight
crime by controlling individual criminals may exacerbate problems that
lead to crime in the first place.
We recognize that to some readers our argument is entirely plausible,
perhaps even obvious. After all, they might say, everyone knows that
current socioeconomic policy produces structural damages to the poor,
creating a permanent underclass. Yet other readers will find our argu-
ment curious or even counterintuitive. How can it be bad for neighbor-
hood life to remove people who are committing crimes in those very
neighborhoods? We discuss a topic on which today's informed observers
* Special thanks to Robert J. Bursik, Jr., Theodore Chiricos, Gary Kleck, and two
anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Thanks also to
Karen Lepik for editorial and research assistance. An earlier version of this article was
presented at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.


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