In addition to studying the biological and psychological causes of criminal behavior, others looked toward society in general for possible causes. In the early 1900s researchers believed social changes occurring in the United States, such as an industrial economy replacing the earlier agricultural economy (industrialization) and the growth of cities (urbanization), as well as the steady flow of immigrants from eastern Europe affected crime levels. A reform movement, known as the Progressive Movement, attempted to solve increasing crime stemming from social causes.
As part of the growing concern, the University of Chicago's Department of Sociology, the first of its kind formed in 1892, focused on how city problems could lead to criminal behavior.
By the 1930s and 1940s its pioneering research efforts became known as the "Chicago School" of thought, and influenced research across the nation and abroad. The researchers claimed criminals were ordinary people of all racial backgrounds who were profoundly influenced by the poverty and the social instability of their neighborhoods. They claimed such a poor social and economic environment could produce all types of crime.
Other researchers looked at various ways society can influence crime. Criminologist Edwin Sutherland (1883–1950), influenced by the Chicago School, first published Principles of Criminology in 1939. Sutherland argued that criminal behavior was learned, not an inherited trait. Exposure to crime, either through relatives or peers, gave a youth frustrated with his or her social status a choice to pursue crime. These bad influences could be lessened by good relationships with parents, teachers, an employer, or the community.
Once minor offenses were significantly reduced in an area, the number of serious crimes decreased as well. Felonies decreased by 27 percent after only two years. One factor they found was that many people committing minor crimes were also the ones committing more serious offenses....