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Beggars & Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals

NCJ Number
Mark S. Fleisher
Date Published
346 pages
This book presents a description of the lives of chronic teenage and adult “hustlers,” with a focus on the familial factors that impacted their lives as criminals.
The author contends that the nature of an individuals’ family environment is a central component affecting the life histories of chronic criminals. Rather than focusing on crime itself, this book examines how familial and other environmental factors during childhood contribute to the creation of chronic criminals. Also examined are the relations between chronic criminals and their neighborhood companions, teachers, and schoolyard acquaintances. Data were gathered through participant observations and informant interviews. The key role of socialization in the creation of America’s criminals is illustrated as the author charges that national crime control policies completely miss their mark by ignoring the socialization of children. The ethnographies presented here offer a holistic vision of the chronic street criminal, taking into account the cultural, social, psychological, and environmental factors that influence cognition and behavior. The ethnographic data illustrate the way in which street hustlers live relatively mundane lives and are opportunistic in their criminal behavior, moving between different types of crime depending upon what is available. Chapter 1 presents an overview of ethnographic methodology, while chapter 2 focuses on the socioemotional factors of early family life and how they impact the lives of chronic street criminals. Chapter 3 reviews the teenage stage of the street criminal, focusing on social networks and survival strategies. Chapter 4 analyzes the way in which jails and prisons become sanctuaries for chronic street criminals, while chapter 5 focuses on the return of hustlers to the street following a term of imprisonment. Chapter 6 shows how older street criminals are ruled by their addiction to drugs and alcohol and chapter 7 critiques current crime policies. Notes, glossary, references, index