One for the xenophobes: Immigration can drive up crime

Immigration: America’s nineteenth century “law and order problem”?
by Howard Bodenhorn, Carolyn M. Moehling, Anne Morrison Piehl

Abstract:

Past studies of the empirical relationship between immigration and crime during the first major wave of immigration have focused on violent crime in cities and have relied on data with serious limitations regarding nativity information. We analyze administrative data from Pennsylvania prisons, with high quality information on nativity and demographic characteristics. The latter allow us to construct incarceration rates for detailed population groups using U.S. Census data. The raw gap in incarceration rates for the foreign and native born is large, in accord with the extremely high concern at the time about immigrant criminality. But adjusting for age and gender greatly narrows that observed gap. Particularly striking are the urban/rural differences. Immigrants were concentrated in large cities where reported crime rates were higher. However, within rural counties, the foreign born had much higher incarceration rates than the native born. The interaction of nativity with urban residence explains much of the observed aggregate differentials in incarceration rates. Finally, we find that the foreign born, especially the Irish, consistently have higher incarceration rates for violent crimes, but from 1850 to 1860 the natives largely closed the gap with the foreign born for property offenses.

http://papers.nber.org/papers/W16266

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, Politics - international, Politics - national. Bookmark the permalink.
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dorinny
11 years ago

Interesting. I can see how population growth in urban areas (most likely due to increased immigration) could drive up crime rates, but I don’t think that it is the immigrants themselves driving up the crime rates. Definitely would need more substantial evidence than a paper based on US census data.

A major factor contributing to crime is mental health, and in my opinion, as already high density urban areas grow in population, this puts a significant strain on the public sector services and infrastructure (such as educational institutions and more importantly, health care), and this would naturally perpetuate the rising occurrence of mental illness, and therefore crime.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“A major factor contributing to crime is mental health, and in my opinion, as already high density urban areas grow in population…and this would naturally perpetuate the rising occurrence of mental illness”

Actually, this all depends on the type of mental health you are interested. Young male like suicide is highest in country areas with no growth and low populations. Alcoholism amongst older females is highest in rich well-off suburbs that don’t have especially high densities.

dorinny
11 years ago

Alcoholism amongst older females is highest in rich well-off suburbs that don’t have especially high densities.

Ah yes, the Rich Princess Syndrome.

Conrad, I don’t disagree with you, but I think the point I was trying to make is that mental health may be higher in high-density areas, and this largely contributes to incidents of crime. More so than just the xenophobic view that immigration is driving up our crime rate.

I’m also sure that there would be countless occurances of suicide and alcoholism in urban areas (as opposed to rural) which are not reported, while these things happening in small towns are quite significant events and have a larger impact on small communities.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“but I think the point I was trying to make is that mental health may be higher in high-density areas” (I assume you mean lower).

I’m still not convinced — if it was true, countries like Japan and Singapore would be a nightmare, but they arn’t. Even within countries and with places with similar cultures, I don’t know any strong evidence of it — is New York a nightmare and Buffalo great? I don’t think so. Or if you’re just taking density into account and not overall population, then is NY worse than LA? I don’t think so either (NY has less crime). Even in Australia, is Ballarat better than Melbourne? or is Newcastle better than Sydney? I imagine at least for the crime statistics, the real answer to this should be easy to find out, although I’m not sure that there are great databases about this and mental health. There must be other things going on in big cities also — better access to services etc. so there are probably factors that occur that are both positive and negative for some things (e.g., stress).

dorinny
11 years ago

I could be completely wrong, and I certainly don’t have the empirical evidence to back up my thoughts, I did mention though, that it was just my opinion…

However, just a quick google link came up with this paper (although I’m obviously not going to pay for the full article):

We examined the relationship between measures of mental health and residential locations with differing population densities in a large sample of New Zealand adolescents. There were no significant differences across residential locations in the prevalence of DSM-Ill disorders, poor social competence and level of help-seeking behaviours. However, adolescents from larger population centres reported more life event stresses. Those adolescents who experienced more frequent changes of residence were at risk for mental health problems.

This article actually doesnt have much to do with what I suggested, that growing populations in cities put a strain on public infrustructure and services – and actually, the more I think about it, the weaker this argument seems, so I accept that its a pretty poor statement..

But there certainly is a lot more homelessness in cities rather than small suburban areas. And there is a very strong link between homelessness and mental illness.

dorinny
11 years ago

Oops.. I meant to say, “google search”

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

[1]

There must surely be oodles of issues involved here in linking incarceration rates to migration. E.g.

*lack of acculturation
*ghettoisation/marginalisation
*unemployment
*family breakdown
*educational attainment
*homelessness
*mental illness
*drug abuse
*sentencing procedures
*inaccessable support services

Then there is the tricky matter of establishing causal links between salient features.

Maybe, e.g. (in an effort to include everything just for the hell of it), for migrant families:

At parental level: lack of acculturation -> social marginalisation -> unemployment &/or family breakdown -> property &/or violent crime + differential sentencing procedures -> incarceration –> At youth level: lack of acculturation -> social marginalisation -> homelessness &/or mental illness &/or drug abuse &/or low educational attainment -> unemployment -> property &/or violent crime + differential sentencing procedures -> incarceration.

Put in “+ inadequate/inaccessable support services” at each point.

[2]

As to how important mental illness is to violent crime, the jury seems to be out – perhaps in part because it depends on what kind of mental illness is being discussed. Schizophrenia seems to be a favourite of researchers. The same goes for immigration and mental illness. This one is a beauty for xenophobes because one can always throw ‘genetic predispositions’ into the mix in order to get to a favourite conclusion: genes -> mental illness -> criminal behaviour, therefore, e.g. Moroccans are born mad and bad. (Note: I choose Moroccans because some extremely white citizens of Holland have ‘an issue’ with Moroccan youths.)

[3]

As to how important homelessness is to non-violent crime (e.g. theft & protitution & drug abuse), again it seems tricky. For youths, perhaps. For adults, maybe not so much. (I have no evidence for this except personal experience: every middle-aged homeless person I’ve met is perfectly harmless and quite friendly, albeit usually mentally disturbed; homeless youths on the other hand are sometimes a worry.)

[4]

As for the link between homelessness and mental illness, from what I’ve read and seems anecdotally, yes, there are definitely reinforcing feedback loops. Although its useful to sub-divide:

a) Obviously people with severe pre-existing mental illness end up homeless as soon as close, rigorous supervision & support is removed. No surprises there.

b) As for those without pre-existing conditions who end up homeless – e.g. poor youths and adults who have been evicted or kicked out of home or have run away, and think they have no-where to go – those who can’t ‘get it together’ within a year often seem to end up in a homeless ‘way of life’ … and then they start to slowly but surely deteriorate psychologically (delusions, nervous ticks, introversion). And that then pretty much ‘cements them in’ as homeless for life.

dorinny
11 years ago

At parental level: lack of acculturation -> social marginalisation -> unemployment &/or family breakdown -> property &/or violent crime + differential sentencing procedures -> incarceration –> At youth level: lack of acculturation -> social marginalisation -> homelessness &/or mental illness &/or drug abuse &/or low educational attainment -> unemployment -> property &/or violent crime + differential sentencing procedures -> incarceration.

This is a sad little flow chart, and I couldn’t agree with you more – but I think this can just as easily be applied to non-immigrants. And in many cases, does.

e.g. Moroccans are born mad and bad. (Note: I choose Moroccans because some extremely white citizens of Holland have ‘an issue’ with Moroccan youths.)

I must admit, I found some moroccans (in morocco) to be seriously scary, but have never met a moroccan immigrant that was “mad and bad”. Maybe all those scary ones only move to Holland. What does an extremely white person look like? I assume you are not referring to albinos?