Criminology Residential Burglary
Trevor Bennett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0069


In the United Kingdom and the United States and in several other countries in the Western world, residential burglary (also known as burglary dwelling or domestic burglary) is not a separate offense in law, but is part of the general offense of burglary. The details of the law vary from country to country, but typically include the elements of entering a building as a trespasser and the intent to commit certain kinds of crime therein. The most common types of offenses mentioned are theft, damage, arson, assault, and rape. The main variations in law concern the type of building deemed to be residential (e.g., whether it includes mobile homes or garden sheds), the method of entry (e.g., forced or unforced), and the types of offenses committed (e.g., property crimes or crimes against the person). In most countries, burglary is treated as a serious offense and the culprits can receive substantial prison sentences. In some countries, such as the United States, residential burglars can, under certain circumstances, receive a life sentence. Residential burglary as a topic has been studied by lawyers, sociologists, criminologists, geographers, and psychologists, to name but a few. The main research interests are the motives of burglars, what is stolen or damaged, the methods of selecting targets, the location of the offense, the impact of burglaries on victims, and what can be done to prevent the offense. The study of residential burglary has contributed substantially to the broader study of crime mapping, crime hot-spot analysis, repeat victimization, offender decision making, and deterrence theory and research.

General Overviews

The main body of publications on residential burglary emerged in two batches. The first came during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s and included the broader-based studies, such as Reppetto’s 1974 research on residential burglary and robbery in the United States and Brantingham and Brantingham’s 1975 publication on residential burglary in urban areas, also in the United States. This early period also saw the publication of research by Cromwell, et al. 1991 and Wright and Decker 1994 on the characteristics of burglary in American cities. The main early research in the United Kingdom was Maguire and Bennett’s 1982 publication Burglary in a dwelling: The offence, the offender and the victim, which gave an early focus to the victim of burglary, and Bennett and Wright’s 1984 book Burglars on burglary, which looked more closely at the offender’s perspective. The second batch of studies emerged during the later 1990s and early 2000s. These tended to be more specialist in orientation and covered selected aspects of the offense, such as offender mobility patterns, target selection, and the geography of the crime, as well as features of the offense of the kinds discussed in the sections below. This second phase also included the work by Rengert and Wasilichick 2000 on burglary in suburban areas. The most recent overviews of research on residential burglary can be found in Bernasco 2009 and Maguire, et al. 2010.

  • Bennett, Trevor, and Richard Wright. 1984. Burglars on burglary: Prevention and the offender. Aldershot, UK: Gower.

    This book presents the findings of an early piece of research on the perceptions and decision making of convicted burglars and includes accounts of offenders’ motives and their attitudes to being caught and punished.

  • Bernasco, Wim. 2009. Burglary. In Oxford handbook on crime and public policy. Edited by Michael Tonry, 165–190. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This is one of the most recent summaries of the current state of knowledge about burglary, which is published as a chapter in the Oxford Handbook series.

  • Brantingham, P. L., and P. J. Brantingham. 1975. Residential burglary and urban form. Urban Studies 12.3:273–284.

    DOI: 10.1080/00420987520080531

    One of the earliest studies on the spatial patterning of burglary and the influence of geography on target selection.

  • Cromwell, Paul F., James N. Olson, and D’Aunn Wester Avary. 1991. Breaking and entering: An ethnographic analysis of burglary. Newbury Park,CA: SAGE.

    One of the earlier published research studies on the perceptions and attitudes of offenders.

  • Maguire, Mike, and Trevor Bennett. 1982. Burglary in a Dwelling: The offense, the offender and the victim. Cambridge Studies in Criminology 49. London: Heinemann.

    This book provides a useful general overview of the state of knowledge about burglary in the early 1980s and makes a useful contribution to knowledge on the impact of burglary on victims.

  • Maguire, Mike, Richard Wright, and Trevor Bennett. 2010. Domestic burglary. In Handbook on crime. Edited by Fiona Brookman, Mike Maguire, Harriet Pierpoint, and Trevor Bennett, 3–25. Uffculme, Devon, UK: Willan.

    This is the most recent of the reviews of the literature on residential burglary and covers what is known about patterns and trends in the offense, offenders’ perceptions, the effect on victims, and methods of prevention.

  • Rengert, G., and Wasilchick, J. 2000. Suburban burglary: A tale of two suburbs. Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas.

    A modern classic that covers the time and location of burglaries as well as target selection and techniques used to commit burglaries.

  • Reppetto, T. A. 1974. Residential Crime. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

    One of the earliest and most frequently cited studies of both residential burglary and urban robbery. The work follows the tradition of crime-specific analysis and provides a thorough overview of the characteristics of burglary.

  • Wright, Richard, and Scott H. Decker. 1994. Burglars on the job: Streetlife and residential break-ins. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

    This book can be viewed as the US counterpart to the research conducted by Bennett and Wright 1984 in the United Kingdom and covers offender decision making in general as well as target selection, modus operandi, and attitudes to sentencing.

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