Persons of sense have known for a long time that the primary "root cause" of crime is culture. Kids growing up are subject to influence from parents, peers, schools, and popular media. These influences instill in the growing kids either an attitude that (1) they should "do the right thing" in obeying rules (in all but extreme circumstances) and respecting the rights of others or (2) it's every person for himself and they should take whatever they can get away with.
Empirical validation of theories is difficult in social sciences because we generally cannot do controlled experiments. That is why, for example, much of the "evidence" touted for rehabilitation programs is tainted by selection bias, as noted in posts last February here
Every once in a while, though, we get a "natural experiment" where a comparison becomes available between two groups that do or do not receive some "treatment" or "intervention" selected in a way that gives us increased confidence that the "treatment" and not the selection of the groups is the reason for the difference in outcomes.
One such "natural experiment" is forthcoming in the next issue of Pediatrics
. It is titled, "Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents." The abstract is here
and is copied at the end of this post. The AAP press release is here
. AP has this story
The thrust of the story is that kids randomly selected to go to better schools have a variety of better outcomes, including reduced gang membership.