Physical Environment and Crime in Kentucky Schools

Pamela Wilcox, University of Kentucky
Michelle Campbell Augustine, University of Kentucky

Ecological theories of crime suggest that both social and physical characteristics of a community affect crime by altering the administration of resident-based social control. Scholars in the social disorganization tradition purport that community structural characteristics such as poverty, ethnic heterogeneity, and residential mobility diminish the coehesiveness among neighbors thereby affecting their supervision and intervention behavior. Others emphasize the role that the physical environment plays in social control, suggesting that facets of physical space such as street layout, building-street proximity, level of lighting presence of physical decay, and presence of boundary markers can affect informal crime control. In short, aspects of the physical environment indicating territoriality, l surveillance, and image/milieu are thought to affect the ability of residents to supervise and intervene in crime. To date, ecological approaches--particularly those emphasizing the role of the physical environment--have been studied primarily at the community level. This paper tests this theoretical approach with regard to crime in Kentucky schools. More specifically, we estimate OLS models using data on the physical environment in approximately 75 Kentucky schools in order to discern the extent to which measures of territoriality, surveillance, and image/milieu affect school-level rates of crime. Observational data are used to supplement quantitative results.

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Updated 05/20/2006