Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Jeremy Porter

Committee Members

Brian Lawton

Preeti Chauhan

Karina Christiansen

Subject Categories

Criminology | Social Justice | Social Policy | Social Statistics


criminology, redlining, geospatial


Background – The practice of redlining involved the US government categorizing certain communities, often those inhabited by people of color, as too risky for private investment. Because of the resulting disinvestment, many of those neighborhoods deteriorated throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. It also fostered conditions in redlined neighborhoods, such as high concentrations of poverty, joblessness, and racial segregation that the criminological theory of Social Disorganization identifies as correlates of violent crime.

Research Objectives – This study sought to determine whether redlining influenced levels of social disorganization operationalized as high levels of poverty, unemployment, family disruption, and racial isolation, and whether that effect on social disorganization led to higher rates of violent crime in redlined neighborhoods. In addition, the study sought to determine whether redlining was associated with other potentially harmful government funding decisions such as the construction of public housing and highways, and whether those decisions mediated the effect between redlining and social disorganization. Finally, the study examined whether there were any protective factors, such as proximity to employment, community development spending, high rates of homeownership, waterfront adjacency, or historical neighborhood designation that helped to protect some redlined neighborhoods from said harmful effects.

Methods – This analysis used the city of Chicago as a case study. A custom spatio-temporal dataset was created by aggregating data from a variety of sources in unique ways, and included measures of redline status, homicide rates, social disorganization indicators, other government funding decisions, and protective factors. This dataset allowed for empirical tests of the following relationships: 1) The direct relationship between redlining and social disorganization, harmful government funding decisions, protective factors, and homicide rate. 2) The mediating/moderating effect of harmful government funding decisions and each protective factor on the relationship between redlining and social disorganization. 3) The mediating effect of social disorganization, potentially harmful government decisions, and protective factors on the relationship between redlining and homicide rate.

Results – The study found that redlined neighborhoods indeed saw elevated social disorganization scores. And, while the relationship diminished over the decades, redlined neighborhoods continued to see higher indices of social disorganization as recently as 2010. Redlined neighborhoods were also significantly more likely to have public housing and highways constructed in their borders, and the existence of public housing at least partially mediated redlining’s positive effect on social disorganization. Several of the protective factors analyzed also influenced the effect of redlining on social disorganization. For instance, the effect strengthened as commute time increased. In addition, high levels of homeownership, waterfront adjacency, and landmark status were all negatively correlated with social disorganization. Finally, redlining was positively related to increased homicide rates across the study period. And, this relationship was almost completely mediated by redlining’s effect on social disorganization.

Conclusions – This study provides evidence that differential rates of urban homicide may be a result of discriminatory government policies designed to benefit certain segments of the population at the cost of disadvantaging others. And, while many of these policies were enacted decades ago, their harmful effects can still be seen today. The policy implications of these findings are that violence reduction strategies should focus less on traditional punitive criminal justice measures, and more on helping strengthen communities that have been disadvantaged from decades of government sponsored discrimination.