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Criminology and Penology
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Environmental Criminology
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See also Wikibooks:Social Deviance

Environmental criminology focuses on criminal patterns within particular built environments and analyzes the impacts of these external variables on people’s cognitive behaviour. It forms a part of the Positivist School in that it applies the scientific method to examine the society that causes crime.


The criminal event has five dimensions: space, time, law, offender, and target or victim. These five components are a necessary and sufficient condition, for without one, the other four, even together, will not constitute a criminal incident (Brantingham & Brantingham: 1991). Despite the obvious multi-faceted nature of crime, scholars and practitioners often attempt to study them separately. For instance, lawyers and political scientists focus on the legal dimension; sociologists, psychologists and civil rights groups generally look to the offenders and victims, while geographers concentrate upon the location of the event. Environmental criminologists examine the place and the time when the crime happened. They are interested in land usage, traffic patterns and street design, and the daily activities and movements of victims and offenders. Environmental criminologists often use maps to look for crime patterns, for example, using metric topology (see Verma & Lodha: 2002).

Environmental criminology is the study of crime, criminality and victimisation as they relate, first, to particular places, and secondly, to the way that individuals and organisations shape their activities spatially, and in so doing are in turn influenced by place-based or spatial factors.1 The study of the spatial patterning of crime and criminality has a long and continuous criminological history, and is now entering a new phase with the use of computerised crime mapping systems by the police and researchers.

Environmental criminology would be of little interest - either to scholars or those concerned with criminal policy - if the geographical distribution of offences, or of victimisation or offender residence, were random. In fact this is very far from being the case, and the geographical concentration of crime and criminality parallels other skews in criminological data (for example, the fact that a relatively small number of persistent offenders commit a very disproportionate amount of crimes).

It is no accident that environmental criminology was born in the nineteenth century, the century par excellence of industrialisation and urbanisation in most Western societies. Crime seemed, to many observers, to be integrally and obviously linked to these developments in modern society. Whilst there is strong empirical support for a higher crime rate in cities, especially large cities (see e.g. Cressey 1964 ch 3, Braithwaite 1989 ch 3) research has not always shown a direct or simple temporal link between urbanisation and crime (see e.g. Gillis 1996). Furthermore, a significant group of scholars now argue that the social transformations of the late twentieth century have already projected us from ‘modern’ to ‘late modern’ societies, a transformation that may have as profound an influence on social life as the original arrival of industrialisation and urbanisation. We shall return to this thesis, and its criminological implications, after discussing the more orthodox literature of environmental criminology.

Traditionally, the two central concerns of environmental criminology have been explaining the spatial distribution of offences and explaining the spatial distribution of offenders. Hence, sections on these topics will feature prominently in this chapter. These central sections will be preceded by an historical introduction and some methodological comments. They will be followed by a discussion of the relationship between the areal distribution of offences and offenders, and a short theoretical section. Finally, these ‘static’ analyses will be supplemented by a review of the relevance of social change for environmental criminology, both at meso and macro levels. For reasons of space, some aspects of environmental criminology will not be covered, in particular a consideration of perceptions of crime and fear of crime at neighbourhood level; and the important, but specialised, topic of crime prevention through environmental design.


  • Brantingham, P. J. & Brantingham, P. L. (1991). Environmental Criminology. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
  • Verma, Arvind & Lodha, S. K. (2002). "A Typological Representation of the Criminal Event." Western Criminology Review 3(2). [1]
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