Black Churches Play Key Role in Reducing Crime, Study Says
African American youth who regularly attend church services get into less trouble than those who don’t, according to a recent study by Byron Johnson, director of the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Johnson’s findings are compiled in a report entitled “The Role of African American Churches in Reducing Crime Among Black Youth.”
Johnson examined whether involvement in religious institutions buffers African American youth from the effects of living in “bad neighborhoods.” He found that when Black youth are involved in the church, the negative effect of living in an environment of neighborhood disorder is reduced by 22 percent. His research shows that church-going youth are less likely to hang out and drink on street corners, use illicit drugs and create a sense of danger on the streets.
“This study’s overall findings show that the contribution of the church to potentially reduce Black youth crime should no longer be an overlooked or ‘invisible institution’ among criminologists,” Johnson says.
The study examined data from the National Youth Survey, a longitudinal study of a national probability sample of 1,700 persons ages 11 to 17, originally surveyed in early 1977. Johnson analyzed the fifth wave of data collected in 1981 when the respondents were 15 to 21 years old.
An unexpected finding in the study was that youths from “bad neighborhoods” with high levels of community church involvement have lower rates of serious crime than youths from “good neighborhoods.” Thus, says Johnson, it is possible that Black youngsters who are highly involved in churches located in decaying neighborhoods rife with disorder may still live in more “moral” communities than their counterparts in better neighborhoods.
The study was co-sponsored by Penn’s Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society and the Center for Innovation at the Manhattan Institute.
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