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Community Risk Factors
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Availability of drugs (substance abuse). The more easily available that drugs and alcohol are in a community, the greater the risk that drug abuse will occur in that community (Gorsuch and Butler, 1976). Perceived availability of drugs in school is also associated with increases risk (Gottfredson, 1988).

Availability of firearms (delinquency, violence). Firearms, primarily handguns, are the leading mechanism of violent injury and death in the United States (Fingerhut, Kleinman, Godfey, and Rosenberg, 1991). The easy availability of firearms in a community can escalate an exchange of angry words and fists into an exchange of gunfire. Research has found that communities with greater availability of firearms experience higher rates of violent crime, including homicide (Alexander, Massey, Gibbs, Alterkruse, 1985; Kellerman, Rivara, Rushforth, et al., in review; Winternute, 1987).

Community laws and norms favoring drug use, firearms, and crime (substance abuse, delinquency, and violence). Community norms - the attitudes and policies a community holds concerning drug use, violence, and crime - are communicated through laws, written policies, informal social practices, the media and the expectations that parents, teachers, and other members of the community have for young people. Laws, tax rates, and community standards that favor or are unclear about substance abuse or crime put young people at higher risk of delinquency.

One example of a law affecting drug use is the taxation of alcoholic beverages. Higher rates of taxation decrease the rate of alcohol use (Levy and Sheflin, 1985; Cook and Tauchen, 1982). Other examples of local rules and norms affecting drug and alcohol use are policies and regulations in schools and workplaces.

Media portrayal of violence (violence). There is growing evidence that media violence can influence community acceptance of violence and rates of violent or aggressive behavior. Both long- and short-term effects of media violence on aggressive behavior have been documented (Eron and Huesmann, 1987; National Research Council, 1993).

Transitions and mobility (substance abuse, delinquency, and school dropout). Even normal school transitions can predict increases in problem behaviors. When children move from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school, significant increases in the rates of drug use, school dropout, and antisocial behavior may occur (Gottfredson, 1988).

Communities with high rates of mobility appear to have increased drug and crime problems. The more frequently people in a community move, the greater the risk of criminal behavior (Farrington, 1991). Whereas some people find buffers against the negative effects of mobility by making connections in new communities, others are less likely to have the resources to deal with the effects of frequent moves and are more likely to have problems.

Low neighborhood attachment and community disorganization (substance abuse, delinquency, and violence). Higher rates of juvenile drug problems, crime, and delinquency, as well as higher rates of adult crime and drug trafficking, occur in neighborhoods where people have little attachment to the community, where the rates of vandalism are high, and where there is low surveillance of public places (Murray, 1983; Wilson and Hernstein, 1985).

Perhaps the most significant issue affecting community attachment is whether residents feel they can make a difference in their lives. If the neighborhood's key players - such as merchants, teachers, police, and human and social services personnel - live outside the neighborhood, residents' sense of commitment will be less. Lower rates of voter participation and parental involvement in school also reflect attitudes about community attachment. Neighborhood disorganization makes it more difficult for schools, churches, and families to pass on prosocial values and norms (Herting and Guest, 1985; Sampson, 1986).

Extreme economic and social deprivation (substance abuse, delinquency, violence, teenage pregnancy, and school dropout). Children who live in deteriorating neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty, poor living conditions, and high unemployment are more likely to develop problems with delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and school dropout, and are more likely to engage in violence toward others during adolescence and adulthood (Bursik and Webb, 1982; Farrington, Lowber, Elliott, Hawkins, Kandel, Klein, McCord, Rowen, and Tremblay, 1990). Children who live in these neighborhoods and have behavior or adjustment problems early in life are also more likely to have drug abuse problems as they grow older (Robins and Ratcliff, 1979).

 


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