Young sad boy at school

A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial listed some conditions that contribute to the high crime rate in some areas of St. Louis. These conditions include concentrated poverty, low performing schools, lack of jobs, lack of adequate city services.

As a long- time sociologist who has made many analyses of human social behavior and taught sociology and criminal justice for 30 years at Lewis & Clark Community College and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, it became clear to me that these issues do indeed contribute to criminal behavior.

What they tend to do is to create within individuals a fatalistic outlook about life or a feeling of hopelessness. As a result, life does not mean very much to them, because they tend to develop a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness, and they do not look forward to a promising future.

Therefore, they tend to focus on the here and now and have little concern about their future because tomorrow may never come. They attempt to get what they can when they can and do not worry about tomorrow.

As a result, they tend to have little concern about the consequences of their behavior.

Unfortunately, there are not enough programs that can help them overcome this fatalistic outlook.

Most crimes are committed by school dropouts and most prison inmates consist of those who dropped out of school as well.

To deal with this situation would require a long-term effort and commitment to keep students in school. It would involve dealing not only with students but their teachers and parents as well.

This current situation requires another approach to deal with those who are not in school.

There are several programs that help with this situation to some extent but not nearly enough. One is the Save Our Sons program sponsored by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Girls and Boys Club, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization and others.

The program helps individuals strive for excellence by focusing on unemployment, crime and poverty by helping economically disadvantaged African American men in the St. Louis area find jobs and earn livable wages.

This program helps to some extent, but it does not reach enough individuals. It deserves more support from the community.

The Boys and Girls Club attempts to build character, leadership, educational career development, health, and life skills.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program has existed for approximately 100 years and works with parents, youth, teachers and mentors to help young people see what is possible.

Mentors meet with youth, building relationships, and maintaining contact with them on a regular basis to help them in various ways.

This may mean contacting them once a day and just talking with them to maintain the relationship. This may also mean meeting with them periodically. The program tends to mostly benefit students who are still in school, but also those who have been involved with the juvenile justice system.

Although programs such as these are helpful, they are far from adequate to deal with the conditions that so many individuals in our cities. 

In order to deal with the current situation, other programs are necessary that will encourage those with fatalistic outlooks to receive training to prepare them for employment and help them change their outlook about life. It might be necessary to provide financial stipends or to pay them to encourage them to undergo training.

Upon completion of the training, there needs to be job placement programs. Of course, this would be expensive or cost a great deal of money, but the alternative — crime — is even more expensive and more undesirable.

During this time of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions, some people are feeling more frustration, tension and helplessness, and more uncertainty about the future. This tends to make those who feel fatalistic engage in more even more undesirable behavior.

In any case, if we hope to deal with the rapidly increasing crime rate, we have to make changes and get these individuals involved to improve their conditions by helping them develop the feeling of hopefulness and the possibility of a better future.

Rance Thomas is a professor emeritus of sociology and criminal justice.

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