CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, November 24, 2008

Experts: Bad Economies Don't Cause Crime Waves

Bonnie There are few outlaws in the United States as famous as Bonnie and Clyde — a young couple, with no jobs or prospects, driving across the country robbing banks and killing police officers to make ends meet during the Great Depression.

It's an indelible image of what people will do during desperate times. For a while, Bonnie and Clyde were almost American heroes.

There's only one problem: The Depression years had very little crime.

With the economy's current troubles, many people assume a crime wave is just around the corner. But criminologists say that's just an American myth.

Just look at the 1920s, says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention at John Jay College of Criminal Studies.

"It was a period of booming economic prosperity, the roaring '20s, and very high crime," he says.

The 1950s and '60s were the same. The economy was great, but crime rates rose every single year.

Experts say there will always be some people who take to robbing liquor stores in tough times. But those people were already likely to rob stores even in good times, making it a statistical wash. And there's something else: When the economy goes bad, many people move in with parents or relatives, and they stay home more — both of which appear to have a calming effect, experts say

But Kennedy warns it's not all good news. [Mark Godsey]

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