The Public Interest

Crime-fighting and urban renewal

Eli Lehrer

Fall 2000

FOR most of the past 35 years, conventional wisdom has held that poverty causes crime. “Warring on poverty, inadequate housing, and unemployment is warring on crime,” wrote the members of the 1967 Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice. In college sociology courses, such thinking still dominates discourse: Steven R. Donziger’s The Real War on Crime, an influential book published in 1996, concludes that “a program to reduce poverty levels ... will reduce levels of crime and violence and make the country safer.” In 1999, a widely publicized report from the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation came to much the same conclusion, arguing that well-run social programs for everyone, from at-risk youth to recently released prisoners, would mitigate the effects of poverty and, thus, reduce crime.

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