Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Criminal Justice

Degree Program

Criminal Justice, PhD

Committee Chair

Higgins, George

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Andreescu, Viviana

Committee Member

Vito, Gennaro

Committee Member

Marcum, Catherine

Author's Keywords

Social disorganization; violent crime; rural crime; lead; nonmetropolitan crime; Appalachia


This macro-level study examines the effects of social disorganization predictors on violent crime registered in nonmetropolitan areas of Kentucky from 2012 to 2016. The study intends to expand the line of research interested in verifying the applicability of the social disorganization theory (Shaw & McKay, 1942), including its new theoretical developments, to non-urban settings and plans to contribute to the literature willing to provide a better understanding of violent crime in rural areas. In response to Narag et al.’s (2009) call for a theoretical integration of environmental contaminants among the ecological factors that influence variations in crime, the study also examines the effect of potential exposure to lead, seen here as an additional structural disadvantage, which may affect interpersonal violence. The results of a parallel mediation analysis show that for the most part, social disorganization theory has the ability to explain variations in violent crimes occurring in rural areas. Consistent with the theoretical predictions, residential instability, ethnic heterogeneity (percent Blacks), and family disorganization predict higher levels of violent crime. Yet, although poverty has a significant positive indirect effect on violent crime via family disorganization, the total effect of economic disadvantage on violent crime is negative. Exposure to lead contamination in water has only an indirect significant positive effect on violent crime, while potential exposure of lead in old housing does not impact violent crime, as it has been anticipated. Moreover, different from the theoretical expectations, social capital (i.e., church adherence) predicts higher and not lower violent crime rates. The study limitations and the policy implications of the findings are further discussed and recommendation for future research are presented.