Criminology Essays - Crime Deprivation Strain

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Crime Deprivation Strain

Since the dawn of human civilisation, we have wondered about why certain people act in certain ways. We all carry in our minds images of the deviant and where these deviant minded people operate and live. With regard to the relationship with crime and deprivation, broken windows theory, strain theory, relative deprivation theory and concentric theory all explore how the two variables contrast with one another and to what extent the two are linked.

‘Neutralization’ theory (Walters, 2003) explains that the deviant was helplessly ‘pushed’ into the behavior of deviance and that under the same circumstances; any other person would resort to the same actions. Criminals who ‘choose’ the deviant career in the most deprived areas defend their actions by suggesting that there is no future, jobs, prosperity and no opportunity for a bright future, but of course as we all know, poverty is no excuse for a crime to be committed. People who live in the most deprived areas realize that they have no hope to advance in society (Walters, 2003). Merton’s ‘strain’ theory can be directly connected with this theory as his ‘strain’ theory explains that by the time the lower classes reached the mode of rebellion (least legitimate opportunities for achievement) they have completely rejected the story that everybody can achieve success and have loomed into the state of frustration and anger (Walters, 2003).

According to a study by Houchin, a quarter of all inmates in Scotland’s jails come from just 53 council wards, most of which are in poorer areas of Glasgow (McNeil, 2005).It is very clear that in this particular study ‘social deprivation’ could well be a factor in these offences. According to Houchin, being in prison is just another element of social exclusion, the same as having bad housing, getting poor educational opportunities and having bad health. The study can be concluded along with the ‘Neutralization’ theory that all of the prisoners ended up in prison due to a lack of opportunities.

‘Strain’ theory (Merton 1939) attempts to explain why deprivation and crime is or not linked. The theory assumes fairly uniform economic success aspiration across social class and the theory attempts to explain why crime is concentrated among the lower classes that have the least legitimate opportunities for achievement. The lower classes are the most vulnerable to this pressure, or strain, and will maintain their unfulfilled economic aspirations in spite of frustration and failure. “There has always been a link between deprivation and crime, but we need to be very careful and recognize it is a very complex issue.” (Houchin, 2005). Merton suggested that by the time people reach the mode of rebellion, they have completely rejected the story that everybody can achieve success and have loomed into the rebellious state. They neither trust the valued cultural ends or the legitimate societal means used to reach success. According to Merton’s final mode theory, ritualism, people realise that they have no real opportunity to advance in society and accept the little relevance that they have. It is in this mode that people concentrate on retaining what little they possibly gained or still have in place of concentrating on a higher yield of success (Merton, 1939).

Get help with your essay from our expert essay writers...

According to Cohen’s view of the ‘strain’ theory he points out that except for the category of rebellion, Merton’s strain theory is incapable of explaining purposeless crime, just for the ‘fun’ of it (Walters, 2003). Losers in the competition for status experience strong feelings of frustration of deprivation. Most of them, accept their fate, but a significant number turn to crime. For Cohen as opposed to Merton, the working class and qualitatively similar middle class are more or less, incapable of revising their aspiration downwards.

Shaw and McKay devised the ‘Concentric Zones’ theory. Shaw and McKay argued that any city (Canterbury for example) could be divided into various concentric zones emanating from the centre of the city. The concentric zone can be visually (mentally) pictured as rings as an archery target with the central arch key zone 1 and each successive ring being named successfully. The middle zone (zone 1) is the central business district in any city. The next is the inner city (zone 2) and zone 3 is the working class housing, zone 4 being the middle class (suburbs) and zone 5 being the city fringe (rural, semi-rural areas) inhabited by the rich. In examining crime rates in relation to each zone, Shaw and McKay found that one zone in particular (zone 2) exhibited higher rates of crime than any other zone. This zone had a consistently higher rate of crime than any other zone, regardless of which immigrant group dominated the cultural life of the area. This led Shaw and McKay to argue that the high crime rates were not a consequence of the behaviour of any one particular ethnic group. Rather, they argued that something about the fact of living in such a zone was the root cause of the high levels of crime.

Zone 2 can be regarded as the zone with high ‘deprivation’ levels with a higher rate of crime than other zones. Zone 2 is known as the ‘transitional’ zone which is made up of abandoned buildings, factories and deteriorated housing along with high rates of recent immigration groups (eastern European, and Muslim background). It is interesting to note here that zone 2 having a high deprivation level attracting a high crime rate (a zone with very few opportunities). The ‘concentric’ zone theory appears to give an insight into the fact that deprivation and crime is linked very closely with regards to zone 2, which shows a high level of poverty. The concentric zone theory shows quite clearly that the transitional zone (zone 2) shows a high level of deprivation which shows a high level of crime. However the ‘Residential’ zone shows, according to Shaw and McKay, has low levels of deprivation and crime. We can see that the ‘concentric’ theory shows a link between crime and deprivation where the transitional zone in comparison to other zones is concerned.

‘Relative deprivation’ theory explores the negative feelings people feel when they compare their positions to those more financially richer than their self. According to this theory, social movements arise when people feel deprived of what they perceive as their ‘fair share’ and similarly, individuals engage in deviant behaviours when their means do not match cultural goals (Merton, 1938). Feelings of deprivation come from a comparison to themselves the more ‘richer’ persons in question. This differentiates relative deprivation from objective deprivation, a condition that applies to all people with fewest opportunities (lowest income, the least education). Relative deprivation is unlikely to change as long as humans are better off than others.

Source; Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2006, (

The graph above shows a broadly ‘linear’ core to the relationship with one or two values that do not correspond well with the general pattern of increasing deprivation matched by increasing levels of street crime. The relationship used is the link between deprivation and street crime in London, using all London boroughs as the units for which values of both crime and deprivation have been obtained. The data has been obtained from the government’s neighborhood statistics website. We can clearly see from this graph that there is a strong relationship between crime and deprivation.

Borough Deprivation scores Robbery
City of London 15.99 8.8
Barking and Dagenham 37.85 4.7
Barnet 16.63 3.1
Bexley 16.97 1.9
Brent 33.53 7.7
Bromley 12.64 2.3
Camden 36.56 9.7
Croydon 21.04 4.6
Ealing 26.78 4.9
Enfield 26.79 4.3
Greenwich 37.87 2.2
Hackney 57.26 11.4
Hammersmith and Fulham 31.57 5.6
Haringey 42.3 10.5
Harrow 16.03 2.6
Havering 16.62 1.7
Hillington 18.3 1.9
Hounslow 25.76 3.4
Islington 45.27 8.6
Kensington and Chelsea 20.7 5.5
Kingston upon Thames 9.83 1.6
Lambeth 38.29 17.2
Lewisham 36.79 6.3
Merton 18.37 2.1
Redbridge 56.18 8.9
Richmond upon Thames 21.92 3.9
Southwark 7.5 1.2
Sutton 44.54 9.2
Tower Hamlets 64.72 17.3

Source; Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2006, (

As we can see from the table above showing deprivation score figures, Tower Hamlets and Hackney particularly, being well known for a crime hot-spot scored a very high deprivation score as well as scoring a very high robbery type crime score. There does appear to be a strong relationship showing boroughs with high deprivation scores with high robbery score figures. Judging from the table above we can assume that high deprivation levels attract crime, but attracting a ‘certain ‘type’ of crime is more the accurate way of explaining how crime and deprivation is linked as you will see below in the following tables. However, it is interesting to note that Lambeth gained a score of 38.29 attracted a crime score of 17.2, reasonably the same as Tower hamlets although with half the deprivation score. As previously discussed, not all types of crime are attracted to one area but there does seem to be a relationship between crime and deprivation for the majority of the boroughs in the above table and graph.

Source; Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2006, (

As you can see from the graph above, the crime ‘assault’, is more common in deprived areas whilst burglaries are more or less equally common in all areas whether be the most or least deprived areas. It appears that areas with high deprivation levels attract assault type crimes more so than burglaries. As you can see from the graph the number of reported assaults decreases when compared with ‘less’ deprived areas with burglary becoming slightly more common in the most least deprived area. The likelihood of assault increases steadily with the areas level of deprivation. Thus, the rate of recorded assault in the most deprived tenth of wards is, at 30 per 1000 populations, twice the average rate and five times the rate in the least deprived tenth (Walters, 2003). However, there are other forms of crime where the link with deprivation is much weaker. Although it is true that the burglary rate in the most deprived tenth of local areas is, at 10 burglaries per 1000 population, some what above average, for all other levels of deprivation, the rate fluctuates between 6 and 8 per 1000( National Statistics, 2007). As far as there being a link between crime and deprivation is concerned, deprivation does attract certain types of crime (assault) but not all crime only exists in areas with high deprivation levels, and even the least deprived areas (as the graph dictates) attracts more burglary than assault.

Source; Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2006, (

As you can see from the graph above there is a strong relationship between the state of the local outdoor physical environment and the level of deprivation. However, the relationship between housing quality and deprivation is much weaker. Also, it would appear from the above graphical results that over half of areas with the worst physical environment are in the most deprived of all local areas. The theory known as the ‘Broken Windows’ theory, which argues that small indicators of neglect, such as broken windows promote a feeling that an area is in a state of decay. Anticipating decay, people likewise fail to maintain their own properties. The theory suggests that abandonment causes crime, rather than crime causing abandonment. “If a window is broken and left un-repaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge”. (Murray, L. 2007). According to Murray, the ‘Broken-Windows’ theory promotes an explanation towards why such areas in dense urban cities, such as the example taken from above, attract and sustain crime in particular excluded areas.

The ‘Broken-Windows’ theory (Matza, 1969) appears to be proven to be accurate, in relation to the results from the above graph when looking at the condition of the physical environment in comparison to the housing quality (broken windows). From looking at the graph above it clearly shows that the higher the housing quality the lower the deprivation levels are, which coincides with the ‘Broken Windows’ theory (Matza, 1969). Where deprivation is evident, crime is sure to follow suit. “Deviance varies systematically by physical and geographical location. Where located residentially determines the likelihood that that person will commit deviances and criminal behaviour.” (Matza, 1969). In relation to the quote, deviant behaviour varies upon the physical and geographical location. Where high levels of deprivation and poor physical environment is present, deviant behaviour is sure to follow as no authority nor order is in place to stop such deviant activity, and so, crime occurs in the more deprived areas, which is proven to be so in the above graph.

Source; Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2006, (

As the title of the graph above states, the graph above shows that over half of areas with the worst physical environment are in the most deprived of the local areas. The ‘broken windows’ theory can be directly related to the graph above, a sit gives a relatively clear view on the fact that areas with the worst physical environment are in the most deprived of all local areas. The three graphs clearly show a strong link between deprivation and its tendency to attracting crime.

In conclusion, it is quite possible to say that there is a ‘form’ of link between crime and deprivation. Deprived areas are ‘deprived’ of opportunities and aspirations to achieve educational and economical success. This creates deviant behavior to occur, thus creating crime in deprived areas. Although there is a link between the two variables it is important to note that with deprived areas the people are deprived of the chance to succeed in life. Strain causes people to be deviant because of this limited chance of success and in turn Neutralization theory was born to explain the fact that these deviant people have no other choice but to commit such deviant acts as there is no other option. To combat such limited opportunities more jobs and better health and educational standards are to be made available to the members of society who live within these areas. This in theory limits the excuses for crimes to be committed in deprived areas. There is a link between crime and deprivation, however as discussed, not all crimes are committed in these areas. The debate about the possible link between crime and deprivation is one that has been rumbling for many years and will continue to do so.