Get access

Catholic Schools and Broken Windows


  • Both authors acknowledge the support of the law school and gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Alison Curran, Peter Reed, and Michael Wilde. The article was presented to meetings of the American Law and Economics Association and the 2010 Yale Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, as well as at workshops at Notre Dame Law School, the Notre Dame Applied Economics Roundtable, and the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity. The empirical section was boosted enormously by the work of Michael Clark and Melissa Petrelius of the Center for Social Research, University of Notre Dame. Colleagues providing helpful suggestions (in addition to anonymous referees) include Robert Ellickson, William Evans, Jeffrey Fagan, Lee Fennell, William Fischel, Richard Garnett, Michael Heise, Daniel Hungerman, Daniel Kelly, Mark McKenna, Tracy Meares, James Ryan, Timothy Scully, and Avishalom Tor. The authors are also indebted to Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, O.P., Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, for her generous assistance and support.

Margaret F. Brinig, Fritz Duda Family Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, IN 46556; email: Garnett is Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School.


Our previous work has suggested that the closure of Catholic elementary schools generates disorder and suppresses social cohesion in urban neighborhoods—findings that support the conclusion that Catholic elementary schools create neighborhood social capital. We extend our inquiry here by asking if Catholic school closures might also affect crime rates. Using factors independent from neighborhood indicators, specifically school and parish leadership characteristics, we created an exogenous factor that predicted which Catholic schools might close in urban Chicago, and used that factor, with sociodemographic variables, to predict police-beat-level crime rates. We find that Catholic school closures slow the rate of decline of crime in a police beat compared to beats with no Catholic school closure. We also find that higher perceived disorder predicted higher initial levels of crime. Our findings provide insight into which policing policies are effective and the benefits of involving religious institutions in crime-prevention efforts. They also lend support to “school-choice” mechanisms, such as vouchers or tax credits, that would provide financial resources to students attending urban Catholic schools.