Review: ‘Alternative Perspectives on Crime and Crime Prevention: The Wilson-Currie Debate.’

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Book Review

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Publication Source

Justice Quarterly


The public and scholarly debate over crime has intensified once again as a result of many different factors, not the least of which is the rise of crack, other new illegal drugs, and drug-related crimes. Since the 1960s, much of the scholarly debate about crime and crime prevention could be classified as falling into one of two categories: conservative or liberal. Simply (perhaps simplistically) stated, the conservative model proposed increasing penalties on criminals to reduce crime, while the liberal approach proposed social programs aimed primarily at reducing crime by reducing poverty. This essay examines, compares, and critically assesses two major works that significantly advance the scholarly and policy debates on crime control. In 1983, James Q. Wilson published the second edition of Thinking about Crime; in 1985, Elliott Currie wrote Confronting Crime. These two books provide alternative ways of examining and dealing with the problem of street crime in the United States.

Wilson argues for a focus on a policy perspective that is largely independent of traditional social scientific theories of crime. His analysis and recommendations center primarily on the criminal justice system. He examines the effects on crime of various traditional and innovative strategies in policing, sentencing, and correctional programs. Wilson also challenges social scientists to conduct better research on what programs will affect crime rates.

Currie critiques both traditional conservative and liberal arguments and proposes programs and policies based on careful research on the causes of crime. His most critical barbs are directed at the conservative approach, as found primarily in the writings of Wilson but also in the work of Travis Hirschi and Ernest van den Haag.

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Book citation information:

  • Wilson, James Q. Thinking about Crime. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
  • Currie, Elliott. Confronting Crime: An American Challenge. New York: Pantheon, 1985.