Statistically speaking, a substantial gap exists between the cities of San Jose and Oakland in California. San Jose is one of largest cities of the state with a land area of about 176.5 sq. mi., while Oakland is one of the smallest cities in the state with an area of about 55.9 sq. mi. Aside from the land size difference the population of the two cities also places a marked distinction between them: San Jose has a population of 998, 5437 as of 2013, while Oakland has only 406,253 persons officially residing within its jurisdiction (US Census Bureau 2015). Despite its bigger size in terms of area and population, San Jose’s juvenile crime rate is lower than that of Oakland - a city with a comparatively smaller land area and lesser population. This report will explain the underlying reasons why a smaller city such as Oakland can have a higher juvenile crime rate than a much bigger city as San Jose. The theories of both Disorganization and Strain and Sub-cultural Theories, which together constitute the social structure theories, are both applicable to the Oakland and San Jose paradox because of they rely on socio-economic issues that characterized the gap between these two cities.
Social structure theories essentially suggest that crime is generally underpinned by forces within society and the economy that operate in the lower strata of society. These forces particularly affect the youth who are susceptible to them and although not all offenders in this age class persist in criminality up to adulthood, those who are more exposed to the declining inner-city neighborhoods are likely to become adult criminals (Siegel 187). The use of social structure theories is suitable for threshing out the underlying reasons for the higher juvenile crime rate of Oakland than Jose despite the latter’s bigger population and bigger land area because social structure theories tend to be “macro-theories” in that they suggest poverty and deteriorating conditions as underlying rationale for criminal behavior. Thus, such theories are often dependent on group level data (Brown et al 2015), such as juvenile crime rates of specific regions. Moreover, these theories look into defects in social and economic structures and seek to correct them to diminish criminality.
Structure theories can be divided into two types: the social disorganization theory and the strain theory. A third classification may be a combination of these two theories – the cultural deviance theory (Siegel 187) – but this research will focus only on the first two in the application to the case of San Jose and Oakland. The primary difference between these two theories is that the former stresses environmental conditions, while the latter concerns itself with the clash of goals and means to reach those goals. In applying these theories to the Oakland-San Jose issue, it is, thus, important to look into the social and economic conditions of these two California cities.
The disparity between the socio-economic statuses of these two cities may explain their underlying disparity of juvenile crime rates, according to the strain theory. The strain theory generally assumes that all people want the same goals in life, which can be summarized as the American Dream – economic, family and social stability. However, not all are able to reach the same goals because economic deprivation hinders some. The poor cannot afford to send their children to higher educational levels and so it is assumed that when they grow up they cannot compete employment-wise with those who have gone to complete higher degrees in education. A look into the economic statistics for both cities shows that San Jose is more economically sound than Oakland. This is evident from, among others, the comparative per median household income of both cities as of 2013. San Jose’s figure had $81,829, while Oakland had $52,583. California’s median household income average for 2013 was $60,190, which means that San Jose had a higher average household income than all of California and Oakland had a lower income than all of California. More tellingly, Oakland had more people below poverty level at 20.5% to 12.2%. Similarly, San Jose had a lower figure and Oakland a higher rate than the entire state, which had a poverty level rate of 15.9% (US Census Bureau 2015).
Thus, the higher juvenile crime rate in Oakland as compared to San Jose may be partially explained by the fact that there are more people living below the poverty level in Oakland than in the latter city. Many young people probably turn to criminality out of desperation believing that there is nothing to look forward to in the future. The problem is compounded by the fact that minorities living below poverty line are very much higher in Oakland than in San Jose. For example, the rate for Black or Africans is 26.4% as compared to San Jose’s 18.9%; for American Indians and Alaskan natives 25.2% as compared to San Jose’s 18.3%; for Asians 21.9% as opposed to San Jose’s 9.7%, and; some other race at 25.8% as compared to San Jose’s 22.0% (US Census Bureau 2015). Being a member of the minority is an additional strain and poses an additional hindrance to attaining the American Dream.
In the social disorganization theory, communities that have no organization and, therefore, do not have stability are associated to the prevalence of crime. These communities, according to the theory, do not have established social control and other forms of control that could have regulated behavior in the neighborhood, including the youth. The reason for this is the quick and high turnover rates of their residents whose first instincts are to flee the neighborhood because of their inability to provide basic services and their susceptibility to criminality. In these communities, there are no lasting neighborhood kinships because of the temporariness of residency and the fear of people to go out to the streets and expose themselves to crimes and other bad elements. As a result, gangs become prevalent in these communities adding to their disintegration and deterioration. Oakland has been named as one of the five cities that are most notorious for violence, particularly homicide, by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It cited a 12.5% gang homicide rate that is related to drugs with Hispanics as the most targeted victims (CDC 2012). The notoriety of gangs in Oakland was encapsulated in a recent news article, which reported that a housing complex in Oakland has been taken over by a gang. The complex, which housed about 100 residents and a stone throw from a high school, is apparently in such a state of disorganization that even its owner has stopped collecting rent and the tenants do not bother to pay rent anymore. A gang is now controlling the complex toting their guns with them to stamp fear on the residents. Drugs and stolen vehicles are out in the open as if there are no authorities higher than them (Johnson 2014).
The paradox involving a higher juvenile crime rate for Oakland as compared to the bigger, more populated San Jose can be explained using the social structure theories of criminological behavior. Both strain theory and disorganization theory rely on socio-economic conflicts and deprivation, which characterize the relationship between San Jose and Oakland. A scrutiny of statistics shows that San Jose is more economically well-off than Oakland and the gap between the rich and poor is narrower than that in latter as indicated by the average household income, poverty rates and employment levels. Both cities have substantial number of minorities as residents, but the rates of unemployment for these minorities are higher than in San Jose heightening the strain already felt by the youth because of poverty. Moreover, Oakland is more prone to gangs as can be gleaned from the CDC report. The presence of gangs, according to the disorganization theory is a manifestation of deteriorating communities. These theories, thus, partly explain the disparity of juvenile crime rates in San Jose and Oakland.
Brown, Stephen and Finn-Aage Esbensen, Gilbert Geis. Criminology: Explaining Crime and Its Context. Routledge, 2015. Print.
CDC. CDC study explores role of drugs, drive-by shootings, and other crimes in gang homicides. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 26 January 2012. Web. 15 July 2015. www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2012/p0126_gang_homicides.html.
Johnson, Chip. Oakland’s worst housing complex taken over by a notorious gang. SF Gate.30 September 2014. Web. 15 July 2015. http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Oakland-s- worst-housing-complex-taken-over-by-a-5789051.php
Siegel, Larry. Criminology: Theories, Patterns, and Typologies. Cengage Learning, 2015. Print.
US Census Bureau. State and County Quick Facts. 2015. Web. 15 July 2015. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF