The Effects of School Desegregation on Crime
One of the most striking features of crime in America is its disproportionate concentration in disadvantaged, racially segregated communities, which has long raised concern that segregation itself may contribute to criminal behavior. Yet little is known about whether government efforts to reduce segregation can reduce crime. We address this question by studying the most important large-scale policy to reduce segregation in American life - court-ordered school desegregation. Our research design exploits variation across large urban school districts in the timing of when they were subject to local Federal court orders to desegregate. We find that for black youth, homicide victimization declines by around 25 percent when court orders are implemented; homicide arrests decline significantly as well. We also find evidence for spillover effects on other age and race groups, consistent with data indicating a sizable amount of offending across groups and with the fact that offending by different groups is also linked through the police budget constraint. Economic models for a "market for offenses" suggest the influence of this second mechanism should attenuate over time as victims respond to a shift in the supply of offenses by reducing investments in crime prevention. Consistent with this theory, we find police spending declines several years after court desegregation orders are enacted. The only detectable life-course-persistent effects are found among birth cohorts that attended desegregated schools.
An online appendix is available for this publication.
This paper was revised on December 5, 2011