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Crime and Violence in Society
The concept of deviance in sociology is a broad one, encompassing many forms of behavior, legal and illegal, ordinary and unusual. Crime is one form of deviance, specifically, behavior that violates specific criminal laws. School violence, shootings in the workplace, drive by shootings: these are the images of violence in America. Violence is growing more rapidly among youth than any other groups - both as victims and as perpetrators. (Becker, 2004) What can be done about violence?
Sociologists emphasize that violence is a social context. It is higher in some regions than others namely in the south and in urban areas. Violence is also more likely against certain groups, particularly young African American men, for whom homicide is the leading cause of death. (Lauer & Lauer, 2008) What can be done about violence? There is not a single answer to such a question. Some suggest that gun control is the key to reducing violence; others attribute the cause of violence to family problems. Poverty and unemployment are also strongly related to violence. Some sociologists suggest that the media sensationalizes violence, exaggerating the true extent of violence and creating a "culture of fear." Politicians, corporations, and advocacy groups can and do profit from creating a culture of fear and use the media to convey a sense of that the nation is wracked by crime, drug abuse, and disease. These fears divert attention and financial resources from other problems such as poverty, education, and housing - problems that could be addressed with increased resources. (Becker, 2004) (Benokraitis & Macionis, 2004)
There are three sociological theories on crime and violence. The functionalist or social control theory assumes that deviance occurs when a person or groups attachment to social bonds is weakened because most of the time, people follow the rules of behavior. (Benokraitis & Macionis, 2004) According to this view, people internalize social norms because of the attachments to others. People care what others think of them and therefore conform to social expectations because they accept what people expect. The conflict theory emphasizes the unequal distribution of power and resources in society. (Lauer & Lauer, 2008) This theory sees a dominant class as controlling the resources of society and using its power to create the institutional rules and belief systems that support its power. The lower the social class, the more the individual is forced into criminality. Conflict theorists argue that those with the least power are most likely to be labeled criminals by more powerful authorities. (Becker, 2004) The symbolic interaction theory holds that people behave as they do because of the meanings people attribute to situations. (Lauer & Lauer, 2008) Crime is a behavior that is learned through social interaction. Labeling criminals tends to reinforce rather than deter crimes. And, institutions with the power to label, such as prisons, produce rather than lessen crime.
The media routinely drive home two points to the consumer: First, that violent crime is always high and may be increasing over time; and second, that there is much random violence constantly around us. The media bombard us with stories where bands of youth kill random victims. Many of us think that "road rage" is extensive and completely random. Most of us are now aware of violence in some high schools, where students armed with automatic weapons kill their fellow students. The media vividly and routinely report such occurrences as pointless, at random, and probably increasing. The evidence shows that violent crime in the United States, while it increased during the 1970s and 1980s, nonetheless began to decrease in 1990 and continues to decrease nationally through the present. (Becker, 2004) For example, both robbery and physical assaults have declined dramatically since 1990. Yet the media have consistently given a picture that violent crime has increased during the same period, and furthermore, that the violence is completely unpatterned and random. (Becker, 2004) No doubt there are occasions when victims are indeed picked at random. But the statistical rule of randomness could not possibly explain what has come to be called random violence, a vision of patternless chaos that is advanced by the media. If randomness truly ruled, then each of us would have an equal chance of being a victim and of being a criminal. This is assuredly not the case. The notion of random violence, and the notion that it is increasing, ignores virtually everything that criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, and extensive research studies know about crime: It is highly patterned and significantly predictable, beyond sheer chance, by taking into account the social structure, social class, location, race-ethnicity, gender, labeling, age, and other such variables and forces in society that affect both criminal and victim. The broad picture then is clearly not conveyed consistently in the media: Criminal violence is not increasing, but decreasing; and it is not random, but highly patterned and even predictable. (Benokraitis & Macionis, 2004)
Sociological studies consistently find patterns of differential treatment by the institutions that respond to violence and crime in society. Whether it is in the police station, the courts, or prison, the factors of race, class, and gender are highly influential in the administration of justice in this society. Those in the most disadvantages groups are more likely to be defined and identified as criminals, independently of their behavior, and, having encountered these systems of authority, are more likely to be detained and arrested, found guilty, and punished. (Lauer & Lauer, 2008) There is little evidence that the criminal justice system rehabilitates offenders. In general, prisons seem neither to deter nor rehabilitate offenders. Prisons certainly do nothing to address the societal problems known to promote criminal activity. (Becker, 2004) They concentrate on individual wrongdoers, not on the social structural causes of crime. The prison experience is a demeaning one, poorly suited to training prisoners in marketable skills or to letting them repay their debt to society. Rather than teaching prisoner's self-control and self-direction, prisons deny inmates the least control over their everyday life. (Becker, 2004) In the end, prisons seem, at least in some cases, to refine criminals rather than rehabilitate them.
Since 1990, the United States has experienced both a sharply declining crime rate, but public concern about crime and violence has increased dramatically. The media continues to bombard us with gory details of every crime committed. Our prisons are overcrowded. There are several theories as to why people become violent and commit crimes, but there does not seem to be any clear cut solution to the problem. Society as a whole seems to be at its wits end as to what to do with violent offenders.