“My Neighborhood Is Watching Me”: The Role of Neighborhood Processes in the Offending and Self-Control–Crime Nexus

AuthorMatthew Kafafian,Ekaterina Botchkovar,Olena Antonaccio,Lorine A. Hughes
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2023, Vol. 50, No. 3, March 2023, 330 –350.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548221140367
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
The Role of Neighborhood Processes in the Offending
and Self-Control–Crime Nexus
Northeastern University
University of Miami
University of Colorado Denver
Using survey data from a sample of 1,435 Ukrainian and Russian adults, this study examines the interplay between collec-
tive processes, individual-level self-control, and offending. Multilevel regression models estimate the direct effects of
neighborhood-level self-control, perceptions of sanction risks, and strain on criminal behavior, showing how these contex-
tual factors condition the association between individual-level self-control and offending. Findings suggest that collective
self-control and perceived sanction risks are important moderators of the self-control–crime relationship at the individual
level, highlighting the protective effect of high self-control on offending in neighborhoods with strong collective self-con-
trol and sanctioning climates. Overall, the study stresses the importance of exploring the role of neighborhood processes
beyond social disorganization in the self-control–crime nexus.
Keywords: criminological theory; self-control; criminology; criminal behavior; global criminology
Self-control theory (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) argues that individuals possessing
characteristics such as impulsivity, risk-taking, and self-centeredness share the trait of low
self-control and that the inability of weakly controlled individuals to appreciate the long-
term effects of their actions makes them particularly likely to engage in crime. Although the
instigating effect of low self-control on crime has been confirmed in multiple studies (see
Burt, 2020; Vazsonyi et al., 2017), research suggests possible weaknesses in self-control as
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew Kafafian,
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115;
e-mail: kafafian.m@northeastern.edu.
1140367CJBXXX10.1177/00938548221140367Criminal Justice and BehaviorKafafian et al. / My Neighborhood Is Watching Me
a hegemonic predictor of crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). For instance, studies have
documented a number of individual-level factors that condition the relationship between
self-control and crime, including perceived costs of offending (Tittle & Botchkovar, 2005),
strain (Botchkovar et al., 2009; Turanovic & Pratt, 2013), and criminogenic exposure
(Botchkovar et al., 2009; Desmond et al., 2012; Grasmick et al., 1993; Hirtenlehner et al.,
2015). There is also evidence that the effect of self-control on crime is influenced by various
neighborhood characteristics (e.g., A. M. Jones, 2017; Zimmerman, 2010; Zimmerman
et al., 2015).
To date, most research investigating the interactive relationship between self-control and
neighborhood characteristics has done so through the lens of social disadvantage (e.g.,
Gibson, 2012; Vazsonyi et al., 2006). Fewer studies have evaluated the role of neighbor-
hood-level social processes in the relationship between self-control and crime. Drawing on
theorizing by Agnew (1999, 2006), Tittle (2007, 2011), and Wikström et al. (2012), this
study introduces several underscrutinized neighborhood social processes—collective self-
control, perceptions of risk, and strain—to investigate how they affect the relationship
between self-control and crime. Three aspects of this study highlight its contribution to the
literature: (a) simultaneous focus on the processes of collective self-control, collective per-
ceptions of sanction risks, and collective strain; (b) assessment of possible multilevel rela-
tionships between these processes, personal levels of self-control, and crime; and (c) data
from a random sample of adults elicited in the contexts of Ukraine and Russia.
Despite Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990, p. 117) claim that self-control should explain
“all crimes at all times,” the relationship between self-control and crime has been found to
be conditioned by a number of different individual characteristics (Desmond et al., 2012;
Grasmick et al., 1993; for example, Tittle & Botchkovar, 2005) and structural conditions at
the neighborhood level (e.g., Meier et al., 2008; Pratt et al., 2004; Vazsonyi et al., 2006,
2017; Vogel & Van Ham, 2018; Zimmerman, 2010). Regarding structural moderators, some
research indicates that the effect of low self-control is magnified in disadvantaged neigh-
borhoods (Gibson, 2012; S. Jones & Lynam, 2009; Lynam et al., 2000), whereas other stud-
ies report that the effect of self-control on crime is heightened in neighborhoods of higher
socioeconomic status (Zimmerman, 2010). Still other studies suggest the effect of self-
control on criminal behavior is invariant across neighborhoods (Vazsonyi et al., 2006).
Only two studies explicitly have integrated community processes into the logic of self-
control theory. Zimmerman and colleagues (2015), using data from Russia and Ukraine,
found that the crime-preventive effect of self-control was particularly strong in neighbor-
hoods with lower levels of morality (Zimmerman et al., 2015). In a different study, A. M.
Jones (2017) drew on a social learning perspective in arguing that higher levels of aggregate
self-control effectively diminish opportunities for “modeling” impulsive behavior. Using
two parts of the PHDCN survey, he found that the positive effect of low individual self-
control on self-reported delinquency was amplified in neighborhoods with low levels of
aggregate self-control. The focus of the study on younger respondents precluded further
theorizing about the generalizability of findings to adult community residents.
Overall, the literature concerning the association between contextual factors, individual
self-control, and criminal activity is scant. Using a sample of adults of all ages, we expand

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