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Crime in the 1990's

Summarize the key factors leading to an increased fear of crime in the 1990s. In your view, which of these factors was most important and why?

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I can provide you with the factors and based on the information - it is up to you to decide what factor was the most important and why

Fear and gangs were two of the most important factors driving crime policy in the 1990s. Policy makers and the media blamed gangs for much of the violence occurring across the nation and for public fear. This article examines fear of crime and gangs in Orange County, California, as measured by a randomized survey of 1,223 respondents conducted in 1995 by The Orange County Register newspaper. The authors find that the factors predicting fear of crime and fear of gangs are different. In addition, they find that concern about subcultural diversity is a strong predictor of both types of fear.

Television and news
Why has the public persisted in believing that violent crime is a widespread national problem in the U.S. despite declining trends in crime and the fact that crime is concentrated in urban locations? Cultivation theory suggests that widespread fear of crime is fueled in part by heavy exposure to violent dramatic programming on prime-time television. Here we explore a related hypothesis: that fear of crime is in part a by-product of exposure to crime-saturated local television news. To test this, as well as related and competing hypotheses, we analyzed the results of a recent national survey of perceived risk; a 5-year span of the General Social Survey (1990-1994); and the results of a recent survey of over 2,300 Philadelphia residents. The results indicate that across a wide spectrum of the population and independent of local crime rates, viewing local television news is related to increased fear of and concern about crime. These results support cultivation theory's predicted effects of television on the public.

A substantial proportion of the Canadian population can relate to having a fear of crime. The majority of Canadians report feeling "very" or "somewhat" safe when walking alone in their neighbourhoods after dark, but there is a significant percentage of the population who do express some feelings that are the opposite to this. These expressions of insecurity come from a fear of crime and of being victimized. In the 1993 General Social Survey, respondents were asked how safe they feel walking alone in their neighbourhood at night. One in four Canadians 15 years of age or older answered that they did not feel safe. This figure represents four times as many women as men, and twice as many people aged 65 and over as those aged 15 to 24 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), March 1995, p. 1). In 1997, Borooah and Carcach found that women in Britain were six times more likely than men to feel unsafe when walking alone at night (p. 645).

The Angus Reid Report, completed in July and August of 1997, reports that fear is slightly more prevalent in today's society than it was in 1990. In 1997 in Canada, 23% of respondents reported no fear, 56% reported a little fear, 16% reported a fair amount of fear, and 5% reported a great deal of fear (p. 52). In 1990, however, 27% of respondents reported no fear, 53% reported a little fear, 13% reported a fair amount, and 6% reported a great deal of fear (p. 52). While fear among Canadians is increasing, the actual crime rate is decreasing. The crime rate has continued to decrease since 1991, and in 1996, the crime rate fell to a rate of 9,620 federal charges per 100,000 population, which is the approximate level it was ten years ago (CCJS, July 1997, p. 15). The levels of fear that are prevalent in today's society surpass what one would expect given decreasing crime rates.


Gender has been found to be the strongest predictor of fear. Women have a much greater fear of crime than men, but are victimized less than men. Women's fear comes mostly from their vulnerability to sexual aggression: women are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than are men (Crowell & Burgess, 1996). This fear of sexual assault and rape transposes itself onto other types of crimes (Ferraro, 1996). Women do not simply become aware of this fear one day, nor are they born with it; women are socialized into thinking that they are vulnerable to attack if they, for example, go out alone at night. Parents, peers and media emphasize and reenforce this fear, and women are expected to succumb to it.

Other suggestions have been made as to why women are more fearful. These include: irrationality; fewer coping skills in relation to being a victim; a great concern for their children which fuels their fear; and less control over public and private spaces than men (Gilchrist, et al., 1998). There is no one reason why women are more fearful than men; it is likely that numerous reasons exist which play a role.


Age is also a powerful predictor of fear but, unlike gender, with age the fear varies from crime to crime. When it comes to age, it is customary to assume that the elderly are the most afraid, and for many crimes, this assumption holds true, such as in mugging cases and break and enters. When it comes to crimes like rape, sexual assault and stranger attacks, it has been found that younger people tend to be more fearful (Evans, 1995). Elderly people have a high fear level in relation to many crimes because they feel vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from the physical and social limitations that elderly people have which renders them unable to defend themselves or to seek support and help.

When it comes to fear of crime victimization, 18% of those aged 18 to 34, 21% of those 35 to 54, and 26% of those 55 and over express a great or fair amount of fear (Angus Reid, 1997, p. 51). In examining the trends in criminal victimization, the rates of victimization for those over 65 are "too small to be meaningful" (CCJS, December 1994). Elderly people are not the specific targets of most crimes, but their level of fear exceeds their risk of victimization.

Past Experiences with Crime

Many studies have examined whether or not past experiences with crime and criminals have any effect on the level of fear that a person holds, but findings have not been unanimous. Some studies have found no real differences between victims and non-victims, but other studies have documented a difference. In studying the effects of crime on college students, Dull and Wint (1997) found that those students who had been victims of crime had less fear of personal crime, but more fear of property crime, than those not victimized. The Angus Reid Report (1997) found that while 19% of non-victims express a great or fair amount of fear of being a victim of crime, 30% of victims express this fear (p. 54).

Certain crimes generate more fear for victims than others. Being a victim of a robbery, for example, generates a high level of fear because it contains elements that cause a greater amount of fear to be instilled in its victims. Robbery usually involves a stranger, weapons, physical assaults and the loss of a fair amount of money (Skogan & Klecka, 1997). Burglary, because of its invasion of privacy and substantial amount of loss, generates a high level of fear. The victims who express the most fear of walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark are victims of sexual assault, followed by victims of robbery, break and enter, assault, vandalism, motor vehicle theft, household theft and personal theft (CCJS, March 1995). Victimization can have differing impacts on fear, depending on the type of crime. Sprott and Doob also showed that the highest level of fear for victims and non-victims were found in cases of break and enter with the victim at home (Sprott & Doob, 1997, p. 286). Similarly, it was concluded that "victims - even victims of violence should not be treated as a homogenous group " (Sprott & Doob, 1997, p. 287). In addition, these authors reported that the higher the fear of crime (amongst victim and non-victim respondents)tended to be, the more punitive they were towards offenders. Furthermore, as fear of crime increases, the more the police and courts are evaluated in negative terms (p. 288).


Fear of crime also varies according to where one lives. People who live in cities tend to hold higher levels of fear because cities and other urban areas tend to have higher crime rates than rural areas. In 1993, in relation to household victimizations alone, the rates were 222 per 1,000 urban households and 133 per 1,000 rural households (CCJS, 1996, p. 175). Furthermore, twice as many people (60% versus 30%) in large cities as compared to small towns fear walking alone at night (Horton, 1988, p. 26).

Ethnicity and Culture

Studies have found that fear levels vary according to ethnic background. While white respondents tend to show the least amount of fear, the question of who has the most fear has not been unanimously agreed upon. A 1994 British Crime Survey found that in relation to crimes of harassment, burglary, rape and mugging, the 'Asian' group expressed the most fear. The 'Black' group showed the next highest fear level in relation to these crimes, while the 'White' group showed the least amount of fear. This survey also found that for the crime of theft from car, the 'Black' group showed a slightly higher level of fear than the 'Asian' group, and the 'White' group once again had the lowest level of fear. In relation to simply feeling unsafe, the 'Asian' group was the highest, and the 'White' group had only a slightly higher level of fear than the 'Black' group (Hough, 1995).

Walker (1994) also found that Asian groups had the most fear, followed by black groups, and then white groups. Other studies have found that Black respondents were the most fearful (Evans, 1995; Silverman & Kennedy, 1983). Although studies do not agree upon which group has the greatest amount of fear, it is generally agreed upon that the 'White' group has the least amount of fear in relation to almost every crime.

Other Variables

There are several other variables which have been examined in order to see if they have an effect on fear of crime. These variables are not as prominent as the ones listed above, but their effects are still worth noting. Factors such as low income levels (Evans, 1995; Silverman & Kennedy, 1983), and low educational levels (Evans, 1995) tend to increase levels of fear.

In examining who is afraid of crime and why, virtually every study has come up with the conclusion that women and the elderly fear crime the most, and this fear is not justified by their victimization rate.

The Young Offenders Act (YOA) has been amended three times since its implementation in 1984, and again the YOA is being scrutinized in 1998. When the YOA was amended in the past, aspects of it became harsher. For example, the 1986 amendments focussed on technical and procedural changes such the allowance of a judge to reveal the identity of a youth who poses a danger to the public, and the 1989 amendments dealt with court related issues including the extension of the maximum disposition to five years less a day. The youth justice strategy that is coming about in 1998 has taken a harsh view towards youth crime by allowing for the transfer of violent youths 14 and over to adult court, and allowing the names of all those transferred to adult court to be published. Calls for harsher measures against young offenders are coming from the public, the government, correctional agencies, and policing agencies.

The majority of the public gets the perception that youth crime is an immense problem from the media. The media report mostly sensational and terrible crimes. This creates fear in the public and this fear transposes itself into calls for harsher laws and penalties.

Numerous discussion groups have formed, petitions have been created, and rallies have been held, all in the name of convincing the government to toughen up the YOA (Barrett, 1994; Dolik, 1998). The government proposes changes be made largely in response to these forceful calls from the public who perceive youth crime to be on the rise (Journal News Services, 1994; Ovenden, 1998). For example, in 1994, the Tory party released recommendations which were said to "reflect the wishes of Albertans," who are calling for the "protection of society" (Gold, 1994).

These calls are not entirely justified: "the public's demand for harsher penalties in order to discourage offenders is rooted in misconceptions about what the YOA does, and what any piece of legislation is able to do" (Faulder, 1998). From 1992-1993 to 1995-1696, youth crime decreased by 6.5% (CCJS, July 1997, p. 1), and is still decreasing to date. Harsher penalties and laws are not needed. Continuing cries for harsher penalties, and sporadic changes to young offender legislation demonstrate that even though legislation is made tougher, people continue to fear youth crime.

Bill C-36

Bill C-36, enacted in 1992, contained provisions that relate to detention to warrant expiry. Detention to warrant expiry means that offenders are held in custody until the end of their sentence. Society is afraid of particular offenders being released into society. The Solicitor General of Canada (1991) stated that "public safety is an important issue to Canadians, who have sent a strong message to the government that they are concerned about how Canada's corrections system deals with certain kinds of criminals" (p. 1). In response this public concern, Bill C-36 was developed to force certain offenders to remain in prison for their entire sentence rather than being released at their two-thirds date on statutory release.

By keeping these offenders incarcerated longer, society is not assisting the offender in community reintegration. Normally when an inmate is released, the offender will be ordered to stay at a halfway house or report to a parole officer. When an inmate serves their whole sentence, they are simply released back into society with no further control, support, or aid from the correctional services. This leaves the responsibility of reintegration on society, and society is unwilling to take on such a task because of their fear of these offenders.

Knowing that these offenders have no control or support upon release may instill even more fear in society. This legislation does not promote public safety: the offender does not receive the programs or services that aid reintegration, which inmates released on statutory release receive (Pemberton, 1995). The inmates do not leave prison having found work and having made other support connections.

Bill C-45

Bill C-45, an Act introduced in 1994, was another attempt to respond to the public's concern about high-risk offenders. The public's fear of high-risk offenders was growing at the time and in an effort to reduce this fear, the Canadian government introduced this legislation. The government intended to restore public confidence and increase public safety as well. The Solicitor General of Canada (1994) stated that the Canadian government does "share Canadians' concerns that more must be done to better protect society from repeat sex offenders" (p. 1).

Bill C-45 introduced provisions that made it more difficult for high-risk offenders to be released into society. In essence. Bill C-45 delays the release of high-risk offenders into society, alleviating some of the fear the public holds about high-risk offenders being released back into the community.

With this bill though, the release of these offenders ...

Solution Summary

What lead to increased crime in the 1990's