16. Environmental Criminology

16.1 The Origins of Environmental Criminology

Antonio Robert Verbora

This chapter will introduce you to a field of criminology referred to as environmental criminology, which was born out of a particular approach to the study of crime (Andresen, 2014; Bottoms & Wiles, 2020). That is, it can be broadly described as spatial criminology (Andresen et al., 2010; Bruinsma et al., 2018; Hipp & Williams, 2020). Spatial criminology concerns the relationship between physical spaces and crime. This spatial approach to the study of crime has three distinct phases: “a European phenomenon (early nineteenth century), a North American phenomenon (early twentieth century), and a North American and British phenomenon (late twentieth century)” (Andresen et al., 2010, p. 2). For the purposes of this chapter, a particular focus will be given to the North American and British phenomenon.

In 1979, C. Ray Jeffery coined the term environmental criminology. This new school of thought incorporated elements of the classical school of criminology, such as the deterrence of crime before it occurs; however, it also focused on the environment within which crime occurs. (Andresen et al., 2010, p. 6). The environment consists broadly of (1) the physical design of places (architecture), (2) the built environment (types of buildings, roadways, land use etc.), and (3) legal and social institutions. Jeffery (1979) posited that we must also consider ourselves part of that environment, because we respond, adapt, and change as a result of the environment we inhabit. In essence, criminal behaviour is only one form of adaptation to an environment.

Oscar Newman (1972), whose discussion on this topic is similar and connected to that of C. Ray Jeffery, discussed defensible spaces. For Newman, defensible space “is a model of environments that inhibit crime through the creation of the physical expression of a social fabric that defends itself. This environment is dominantly created through changes in architecture” (Andresen et al., 2010, pp. 7-8). Notwithstanding, both these authors produced a large volume of literature that investigates the role of the environment in crime, which rangs from changes in social conditions, to the constraints imposed by the built environment, to the choice of structure (i.e., the ways an environment can be structured) that also constrains the environment (Jeffery, 1979; Newman, 1972). With that said, most of what we call “environmental criminology” today seeks to understand crime through the perspective of our ever-changing environment. Although theoretical advancements have been made since Jeffery (1979) and Newman’s (1972) publications, their significant contribution to the field remain influential (Sidebottom & Wortley, 2016).

Works from these authors—and the theoretical frameworks we will discuss in the subsequent sections of this chapter—were developed mainly by White, educated, male scholars who held predominantly Western assumptions about the nature of crime, people, society, and reality. These underlying assumptions that criminologists make have wide-spread implications, especially if we look at Indigenous peoples’ experiences of colonization and systemic oppression, including crime and victimisation. There is something to be said about being cognizant of the original habitants of the land you occupy within a settler state. Colonisation, systemic racism, and the imposition of a settler state have failed to incorporate Indigenous principles and legal traditions and this has had far-reaching implications for the study of environmental criminology.  This has left Indigenous peoples across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States in a position of profound social, economic, and political marginalisation (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019). This plays a significant role in the contemporary over-representation of Indigenous peoples in settler-colonial criminal justice systems. If we rely too heavily on Western theorising, not much will change in how Indigenous peoples experience the criminal justice system (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019).



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Antonio Robert Verbora is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book