Socio-Economic Reform: Reducing Tennessee’s High Crime Rate

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Abstract

The intent of this paper is to provide a solution for the high crime rates in the state of Tennessee, through careful and extensive examination of official government reports, statistical analysis, and scholarly journals. Research of current crime trends in the United States, with special focus on the state of Tennessee, helped to better understand why the state ranks so high on the list of states by crime rate.  Additionally, research of methods used in areas with noticeably low crime rates was applied to help consider new approaches that could potentially help lower Tennessee’s very high rate of crime.  After gaining a better understanding of the amount of crime as well as the types of crime that occur in Tennessee, and through research of crime-lowering methods applied elsewhere in the United States, this paper proposes a solution for lowering Tennessee’s crime rates through a government reform in the state.  

Reducing Crime in Tennessee Through Education Reform

In the United States, Tennessee possesses one of the highest crime rates among all 50 states.  The state consistently ranks among the top 10 states with high crime rates each year, usually ranking towards the top of this list. When considering possible solutions that could be used to lower the states overall crime rate, it is imperative to develop an understanding of the reasons high crime rates occur in certain areas.  While it would be easy to assume that law enforcement agencies in Tennessee are responsible for this ranking—either through lack of funding or personnel, poor leadership, or even poor job performance—the truth is that the cause and occurrence of crime rates in states like Tennessee has very little to do with law enforcement agencies.  Crime itself, and subsequently high crime rates, is influenced much more by socio-economic and even demographic factors such as living in African American communities, neither of which are the responsibility of law enforcement agencies (Bukenya, 2006).  These socio-economic and demographic factors include areas such as education, location, and unemployment, meaning that the government agencies in Tennessee that are over for these areas are actually the responsible party in terms of the state’s very high crime rate.  For conditions to improve and eventually help lower the overall crime rate in Tennessee government reform in multiple areas, such as education and unemployment, is the only solution.   

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) 2018 report “Crime in the U.S. 2017” produced by the Uniformed Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which publishes a yearly review compiled of data received by the FBI from 16,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, Tennessee ranks as the state with the third highest crime rate in the United States, only surpassed by Alaska, and New Mexico (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2018).  In the FBI’s yearly report crime rates are depicted as number values and are developed by counting the number of incidents that occurred in each state per every 100,000 people.  Tennessee’s crime rate in 2017 was 651.5 which earned it the number three spot on the list of states ranked by crime rating.  For crime rates by state, the national average for 2017 was 394, meaning that Tennessee saw numbers that were close to almost double the number of numbers experienced nationwide. Moreover, this number has been steadily increasing each year since 2011, making its 2017 crime rate the highest the state has seen in eight years (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2018).  This continued increase shows that, in terms of efforts to reduce crime, Tennessee needs to find a better approach, and some researchers would argue that approach should come in the form of socio-economic reform produced by examination of the factors that cause crimes to occur. 

The study of crime and its causes, on individual and social levels, is not a new practice. Scientific approaches to understanding crime began as early as the late 18th century.  Eventually, the scientific approach to studying crime emerged as the field of Criminology and it can be very useful in not only understanding what makes crime occur.  Also, and equally important, it can be a great aid in deciding what approaches are necessary to reduce crime in different areas with different contributing factors. As Tennessee’s crime rate continues to rise while the national average lowers, the application of Criminology in the quest to find a solution is on the rise. 

Many studies in the field of Criminology have been conducted based on theories that unemployment can be a factor when considering why people commit crimes, especially property crimes (i.e. robbery and burglary).  These theories stem from the idea that lack of employment can cause desperation, due to a lack of or extremely low income, resulting in individuals turning to criminal activity as a way to provide some sort of income.  In the 2016 study conducted at Florida State University “What Kind of Joblessness Affects Crime? A National Case-Control Study of Serious Property Crime” researchers split unemployment into four different categories: those that are unemployed but are actively seeking employment, those that are unemployed for legitimate reasons (retirement, disability, etc.), those that are underemployed (can only find part-time work when they actually need full-time work), and those that are unemployed and are not actively seeking any form of employment, while also considering the age of all individuals in the study (Kleck & Jackson, 2016).  Not surprisingly their findings show that those who are under the age of 30 and are underemployed or unemployed but not seeking employment are more likely to commit crimes than individuals over 30 in those respective categories or individuals of any age that fall into one of the other two categories of joblessness (Kleck & Jackson, 2016).  These results mirror the results of a similar study “Examining the Generality of the Unemployment–Crime Association” from 2013 which states that, “unemployed young males commit less crime while participating in active labor market programs when compared with periods during which they receive standard unemployment benefits” (Aaltonen, MacDonald, Martikainen, & Kivivouri, 2013). This information is important when considering possible solutions to lower the crime rate in Tennessee, because according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2019 Tennessee’s unemployment rate is at 3.2%, therefore, with a statewide population of almost 7 million people, this means that close to 250,000 are considered to be unemployed (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2019).  While bringing more jobs to Tennessee would help with the unemployment rate, it may not deter crime because a large portion of those likely to commit crimes due to unemployment are those that are not seeking employment at all.  

Here we must question why someone, that is able to work, would make the decision not to?  The simplest explanation is demographics.  Often these individuals are raised in rural areas where lack of education and unemployment rates are high amongst adults. They literally become a product of their own environment, deciding that their future will be no different than those before them, and eventually turn to crime as a means to live.   Research in recent years is showing that if these individuals are given a better opportunity at a young age, they are less likely to commit crimes in the future.  For those able to receive an education, it has proved beneficial in affording them better opportunities as adults, which has led to research that questions if there is a link between a lack of education and crime.

In 2010 at the London School for Economics, this question was answered through the research provided in the discussion paper “The Crime Reducing Effect of Education.”  The contributing authors, Stephen Machin, Olivier Marie, and Sunčica Vujić realized that while there was much research on ways to fight crime, a gap existed in the area that seeks to understand criminal characteristics, and even further which of those characteristics, if any, “are more connected to higher criminal participation.” (Machin, Marie & Vujić, 2010)  Education and lack of education in relation to crime rate was the main focus of their research and they hypothesized that lower education completion rates would directly relate to higher crime rates and found that, “policies that affect these characteristics can, if implemented successfully, be used to counter crime” (Machin et al, 2010).  For Tennessee, which according to the National Center for Education has a high school dropout rate of 13% (higher than the national average), this paper provided vital information that could be used to significantly lower the states continuously high crime rate. 

The researchers give three main reasons as to why the level of education can be a factor in whether or not someone commits a crime.  The first factor of focus was on how income levels play a part in criminal offenses.  This relates to education because typically those that complete their education receive better wages and stand to make much more money in their lifetime than those without an education.  The research found that those that did not complete their education were more likely to commit crimes while higher wages earned from receiving an education made people much less likely to engage in criminal activity.  Next, was the time available factor, which showed that time spent in school provided less time for criminal activity, again showing education as a crime deterrent.  Dropouts have far more time on their hands than those attending and are much more likely to engage in criminal activity with that extra time.  Finally, they focus on how education has an effect on patients and risk aversion and how “future returns from any activity are discounted according to one’s patience for waiting for them.” (Machin et al., 2010) Research proved that dropouts tended to focus more on immediate benefits again making them more likely to engage in criminal activity, while those that stayed in school learned patience through education and because of this they were far less likely to commit crimes (Machin et al., 2010).   

The most important fact to be taken from this paper is found in the conclusion, which explains that government policies enacted to provide better education have a “significant potential to reduce crime… Hence, improving education amongst offenders and potential offenders should be viewed as a key policy lever that could be used in the drive to combat crime” (Machin et al., 2010).  It must be noted that the results of this study are based research done in the United Kingdom, regardless the same is true in the United States.  This is pointed out by Johanna Burnstein in her thesis “Examining the Relationship between Crime, Economic, and Government Policy And Crime and Recidivism Rates” in which she states that in her study of “the relationship between crime rates within the state and crime policy, economic policy, and government policy, The only significant variable on crime rates is high school education. Every time the number of high school graduates goes up by 1%, the crimes committed per 1000 goes down by 18” (Burnstein, 2017).  

The responsibility of lowering the crime rate in Tennessee falls on the government and policy makers of the state.  Research shows that education reform is the key to accomplishing this task.  Such reform would lower the unemployment rate, provide wage increases, instill important values such as patience, and provide opportunities for those that are less fortunate.  Each of these have been proven, through important and extensive research, to be huge factors in lowering crime rates.  Therefore, if Tennessee wishes to find ways to lower its high crime rate, Education Reform is by far the best option.

References

Aaltonen, M., Macdonald, J. M., Martikainen, P., & Kivivuori, J. (2013). Examining the generality of the unemployment-crime association. Criminology, 51(3), 561-594. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12012

Bukenya, J. O. (2005). Crime trend and socio‐economic interactions: A county‐level analysis. Criminal Justice Studies, 18(4), 365-378. doi:10.1080/14786010500451265

Burnstein, J. (2017). Examining the relationship between crime, economic, and government policy and crime and recidivism rates (Unpublished master's thesis). Duke University.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Crime in the U.S. 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr

Kleck, G., & Jackson, D. (2016). What kind of joblessness affects crime? A national case–control study of serious property crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32(4), 489-513. doi:10.1007/s10940-016-9282-0

Machin, S., Marie, O., & Vujić, S. (2011). Crime reducing the effect of education. The Economic Journal, 121(552), 463-484. Retrieved April 18, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/ej/article/121/552/463/5079723.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Fast facts. (n.d.). NCES. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=27