Every city seems to have a part of town that is considered to be the “bad” part of town. It is an area where crime and other social problems run rampant. Shaw and McKay ( ) have an explanation for the existence of these high crime areas. Shaw and McKay developed their theories more than 100 years ago. The question is if their arguments still hold true today, or if there are now other explanations for these high crime areas. This research will explore high crime neighborhoods in relation to Shaw and McKay’s theories.

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Shaw and McKay disagreed with the existing theories of crime and juvenile delinquency using theories of personality or biology as the explanation for these behaviors. They support a sociological theory that distinguishes support systems in affluent neighborhoods from poor neighborhoods, where the social system that are in place to protect community values have broken down or have become weak. Social disorganization theories supports the idea that in low crime areas social supports are available to help prevent criminal behavior, and that this organized system of behavioral controls is lacking in bad parts of town. The social network in these areas is disorganized.

Shaw and McKay further explain that this social organization is passed on from one generation in the community to another through interactions in neighborhood peer groups. When considering this statement, one must consider the issue of mobility. In Shaw and McKay’s time, people did not move as much as they do today. This is more than likely true in the more affluent neighborhoods than in poor ones. In poor neighborhoods, many do not have the resources to move, making Shaw and McKay’s argument still relevant for today’s poorer neighborhoods. People are not as likely to have the opportunity to move away from the community as they did in the past. Those that do move out of their old neighborhoods have probably done so by moving up the socioeconomic ladder and will not take their old behaviors with them to their new more affluent neighborhoods. Those that move from the poorer communities into more affluent neighborhoods will quickly try to adapt to their new lifestyle. However, those who remain in the neighborhood will be more than likely to pass social disorganization onto the next generation. Social mobility in the neighborhoods is a determining factor as to whether Shaw and McKay’s theory holds true for today’s communities.

Even in economically depressed neighborhoods, children have the ability to be exposed to other social norms through the mass media. This was not the case when Shaw and McKay proposed their theories in the early 1930s. People in poor neighborhoods in the Great Depression lived in more isolated communities than they do today. This social isolation has been weakened by mass media and social mobility. One can still see evidence of differentiated value systems between affluent and “bad” neighborhoods, but the differences are not as distinctive as they were in Shaw and McKay’s time. Improved public school systems have also helped to alleviate differences in social norms between poor and affluent neighborhoods.

Social inequality still exists, but it is not as “unequal” but there are several factors that have changed. For one, there certain neighborhoods are still culturally racially segregated, but they are not legally separated. When Shaw and McKay developed their theories Jim Crow laws were still in existence. The Civil Rights movement had not come full circle. Today there are fewer barriers to mobility, but one cannot argue that culture and a lack of social structures to curtail crime are still the case in many poor neighborhoods. Lowering crime rates in these communities will take a multifaceted effort that focuses on both individual and community factors in unwanted behaviors.