America’s Safest City

Delinquency and Modernity in Suburbia

320 pages

15 b/w photos, 9 graphs, 8 tables

October, 2014

ISBN: 9780814760802



Also available in


Simon I. Singer is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Previously, he was Professor of Sociology at the University of Buffalo, SUNY. He is the author of Recriminalizing Delinquency: Violent Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice Reform (1996), winner of the American Sociological Association's 1999 Distinguished Scholar Award in Crime, Law and Deviance.

All books by Simon I. Singer

Winner of the American Society of Criminology 2015 Michael J. Hindelang Book Award for the Most Outstanding Contribution to Research in Criminology
Since the mid-1990s, the fast-growing suburb of Amherst, NY has been voted by numerous publications as one of the safest places to live in America. Yet, like many of America’s seemingly idyllic suburbs, Amherst is by no means without crime—especially when it comes to adolescents. In America’s Safest City, noted juvenile justice scholar Simon I. Singer uses the types of delinquency seen in Amherst as a case study illuminating the roots of juvenile offending and deviance in modern society. If we are to understand delinquency, Singer argues, we must understand it not just in impoverished areas, but in affluent ones as well.

Drawing on ethnographic work, interviews with troubled youth, parents and service providers, and extensive surveys of teenage residents in Amherst, the book illustrates how a suburban environment is able to provide its youth with opportunities to avoid frequent delinquencies. Singer compares the most delinquent teens he surveys with the least delinquent, analyzing the circumstances that did or did not lead them to deviance and the ways in which they confront their personal difficulties, societal discontents, and serious troubles. Adolescents, parents, teachers, coaches and officials, he concludes, are able in this suburban setting to recognize teens’ need for ongoing sources of trust, empathy, and identity in a multitude of social settings, allowing them to become what Singer terms ‘relationally modern’ individuals better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of modern life. A unique and comprehensive study, America’s Safest City is a major new addition to scholarship on juveniles and crime in America.


  • "America’s Safest City is an impressive book.  It adds an inspiring theoretical idea to the criminological literature….The material is eminently well organized, and the manuscript reads exceedingly well.  This is one of those rare academic books which is hard to put down before reaching the end.”


  • “[…] Singer has a very different notion of relationality.  He highlights the importance of complex relationships for supporting young people and shepherding them through the risky period of adolescence.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • "Using a wealth of ethnographic research and detailed data, noted juvenile justice scholar Singer details how the occurrence of delinquency is effected and affected by where people live. . . . This volume is packed with solid, illuminating findings.”


  • "No one should write about delinquency, juvenile justice, or suburban youth for that matter, without referencing this book! Singer takes on a personal journey into America’s Safest City—one that is not far removed from his earlier award winning book, Recriminalizing Delinquency. This time he provides a fascinating look into the suburbanized lives of adolescents, and how they are able to avoid the criminality of less affluent, inner-city youth. But Singer has accomplished even more by drawing on a relationally modern theory of offending and its control, and in so doing he has moved criminology beyond its early 20th-century inner-city focus into today’s contemporary world of safe city youth."

    —John Hagan, author of Who Are The Criminals? and Structural Criminology

  • "This book presents a thought-provoking and very readable account of why some (mostly affluent suburban) cities are relatively safe, while other (mostly impoverished inner) cities are not. Singer describes how adolescents in safe cities benefit from many sources of social support that help them to make a successful transition into young adulthood."

    —David P. Farrington, author of of Saving Children from a Life of Crime: Early Risk Factors and Effective Intervention

  • "Traditional delinquency theory is steeped in the world of impoverished inner cities and tough street corners. Yet today the sprawling suburbs are the setting for millions of adolescents struggling to make their way in a complex and technologically advanced world.Even in America’s ‘safest’ suburban enclaves—typically showered with wealth and social services—the landscape is challenging and does not conform to popular stereotypes. Combining a rich set of original observations, detailed personal interviews, and surveys, Singer shows that while violent crime is rare, many a suburban teen is faltering. Delinquency and drug use are rampant and suicide tears at the social fabric. Simon Singer’s nuanced data and conceptualization of relational modernity provide a fresh perspective on the sources of delinquency in contemporary society."

    —Robert J. Sampson, author of Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect