BOOK REVIEW: CRIME
Edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia.
ICS Press, San Francisco, 1995. Cloth $69.95, Paper $34.95.
It couldn't have come at a better time. Or -- as one reads the chilling statistics -- at a
worse time. James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia and 26 other nationally recognized
authorities on crime have combined their knowledge and talent to produce CRIME --
650 pages of a comprehensive and up-to-date look at the central issues in today's crime
Wilson taught for 26 years at Harvard. He is the author or co-author of 13 books,
including THINKING ABOUT CRIME (1983), CRIME AND HUMAN NATURE (1985),
and CRIME AND PUBLIC POLICY (1983). He chaired the White House Task Force on
Crime in 1966 and the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention in
1972, and was on the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime in 1981.
Petersilia is a professor in the School of Social Ecology, UC-Irvine. She has served as
president of the American Society of Criminology and of the Association for Criminal
Justice Research in California. In 1994 she received the American Society of
Criminology's Vollmer Award for outstanding contributions to criminal justice policy.
Petersilia has authored over 20 major studies on crime.
The 21 chapters, each written by a separate set of authors, include subjects such as
Traits, Biomedical Factors, Juvenile Crime and Justice, Social Context, Schools, Labor
Market, Community, Gangs, Crime Control, and the Federal Role.
There are compelling statistics showing the seriousness of the situation, and many
pages of research references (120 just for the Biomedical chapter) documenting critical
factors such as the link between crime and low IQ, genetic factors, and biological
insults. Conversely, the authors present substantial evidence suggesting that some
factors commonly blamed for high crime rates -- for instance, poverty and TV violence -
- have surprisingly little influence.
Wilson notes in CRIME that six percent of boys account for half of all serious crimes. If
we can reduce crime and violence in this six percent alone, the savings in lives,
monetary costs, misery and sadness would be phenomenal. This book, by helping to
clarify the risk factors for violence and criminal behavior, is a step in the right direction.
Quotes from CRIME:
"What we can understand, we can often improve. This has been the lesson learned from
biomedical research in mental illness, substance abuse, and learning disabilities; it may
in time be the lesson of research on delinquency and criminality."
James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia
"The magnitude of involvement in crime is such that analysts who once dismissed
criminal behavior as a peripheral issue to employment or poverty can do so no longer.
No other advanced society has as large a proportion of its potentially productive
workforce involved in illegitimate activities, nor as large a proportion incarcerated."
Richard B. Freeman
"In studies... it has been established that about six percent of the boys of a given age
will commit half or more of all the serious crime produced by all boys of that age.... But
a puzzle arises: if six percent of the males cause so large a fraction of our collective
misery, and if young males are less numerous than once was the case, why are crime
rates high and rising? The answer, I conjecture, is that the traits of the six percent put
them at risk for whatever criminogenic forces operate in society. Magnify those forces
and the at-risk boys will respond in exaggerated fashion, though all of us will respond
to some degree."
James Q. Wilson
"Current biological research suggests that treatment as benign as increased nutritional
supplements for prisoners may reduce their future rates of aggression....
There is a fear that biological causes must be treated with radical medical interventions
such as heavy psychopharmacological agents or even psychosurgery. This is simply not
Patricia A. Brennan et al.