Criminology Essays - Crime Reduction Research

Published:

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

Given that there has been so much writing and talking about crime, why has there been so little success in its reduction?

In this essay I will argue that despite the enormous volume of criminological writing and debate which has taken place throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, the resulting theories which have emerged have tended to each focus too heavily on one particular aspect of crime and its control and as such, have proved to be incomplete approaches to our understanding of crime and its reduction; the focus of these being on the victim or on the offender, on the social reaction to crime or on the criminal behaviour itself [Young, 1995, p 102], but never sufficiently all-embracing. As a result, the criminal justice system, in reliance on this 'partial' criminology, has introduced penal measures which have proved totally ineffective in reducing crime. I shall demonstrate my argument with a discussion of post-World War II criminology and penology, and provide practical examples of how 'partial criminology' has lead to a failure in crime reduction [by 'partial criminology', I refer to criminological theories which have focussed and relied too heavily on one particular aspect of crime, and have, as a result, failed to aid its reduction]. I shall then conclude this essay by discussing some of the more recent criminological approaches which have emerged in the latter decades of the twentieth century, and discuss how these writings and debate might have paved the way for a brighter future in terms of effective crime control.

From the latter part of the 1950's to the early 70's, the study of deviance and crime by criminologists entered an intensive period of development. The dominant criminological paradigm to emerge in this post-World War II period became known as 'social democratic positivism'. The central tenet of this approach was a belief that the increases in crime and anti-social behaviour which had been witnessed in this period were due to the demise of social conditions; social democratic positivism dictated that the only way to reduce these high levels of anti-social behaviour and crime therefore was to improve the existing anti-social conditions of post-war Europe.

Practical measures were introduced in line with this 'wisdom': Governments went about demolishing slums and pumping large amounts of money into increased welfare spending, the promotion of education, and large scale campaigns to encourage greater levels of full employment. In practical terms, these measures were certainly very successful; there was a marked increase in the level of social affluence throughout the industrial world: In Britain, for example, in the years from 1951 to 1971, real disposable income per person in the UK increased by a factor of 64 per cent [Young, 1995, p72]. According to the writings and practices of social democratic positivism, this resulting increase in social affluence throughout the industrial nations of the world should have had a noticeable and significant effect on reducing the levels of crime throughout these nations, but rather than decreasing crime, quite the opposite happened: "Crime soared. It did not just increase a little; it rose at a faster rate and to higher levels than at any time since the 1930's and, in some categories, to higher levels than any experienced in this century" [Wilson 1975: 3-4].

The promise of social democratic positivism was, by the end of the 1970's, deemed false and impractical because the initiatives which were based on it had completely failed in their task of reducing crime and delinquency. "Whilst lip-service was still being paid to these types of programmes, there was already a preparedness to look elsewhere for alternative solutions to the delinquency problem [Box 1980: 116-117].

Alternatives which could be seen to be emerging included a revival of the neo classical criminology [as could be seen by the introduction of the 'short, sharp shock' treatment initiatives of this period (Fyvel 1963: 17)] and a reformulation of positivism from a social to an individual and biological focus [Young, 1995 p101]

However, these emerging approaches were not ideal alternatives. Both neo-classicism and individual/biological positivism as explanations and approaches to the reduction of crime had evident limitations, both political and explanatory. Neo classicism lost much of its credibility in the 1970's as a result of convincing research which found that measures such as increasing the number of police, using 'saturation' policing initiatives and reducing the time taken to respond to emergency calls [which were all true hall marks of the neo classical approach] would not, in practice, serve as an effective means by which crime and deviance could be controlled and reduced. As Jerome Skolnick and David Bayley [1986: 5-6] comment, these findings were devastating. Just as social democratic positivism had been discredited by the soaring crime rates of the 1960's, by the end of the 1970's, so too had the rehabilitative prison regimes and the short sharp shock initiatives advocated by neo-classical policy-makers.

As for individual and biological positivism, whilst some of the emerging criminology in this area did provide some good insight into some of the possible causes of crime and deviance, it was clear the not all crime was caused by biological factors and as such, it was soon recognised that biological positivism could only explain a small proportion of the problem of crime. On top of this, the individual therapy programmes needed to 'cure' such offenders proved very expensive and as such, impractical on any widespread scale.

This crisis in etiology and penology serves as an exquisite example of how, despite large amounts of thinking, writing and debate about criminology and the causes of crime, excessive reliance on approaches which focussed too heavily on singular aspects of the processes involved in the causes of crime and deviance lead to widespread failures in their reduction. These theories and resulting criminal justice practices simply failed to recognise the complexity of the causes of crime. The reaction however to these crises spurned a new, more comprehensive approach. In the latter part of this essay I will discuss one such criminological approach, namely that of left-realism. I will argue that whilst the content of the left-realist doctrine may or may not be the correct analysis of the process of crime, more importantly, this approach might have paved the way for a brighter future in terms of effective crime control, in which we might actually see a resulting reduction in crime.

The criminological void which was left as a result of the failings of the existing 'partial criminologies' of the 1950's to 1970's gave rise to the emergence of four major prominent approaches; namely, left idealism, the new administrative criminology, right-realism and left-realism.

It was in the 1980's that the left-realist approach emerged [Lea and Young (1984), Currie (1985)]. It emerged not merely as a response to the failings of social democratic positivism, neo-classicism and individual / biological positivism, bust also as a critique of the new administrative criminology, right realism and left idealism.

As I have argued throughout this essay and have stated previously, Left-realists argue that these existing alternative theories were are too 'partial', and as such are incomplete approaches to the understanding of crime; the focus of these being on the victim or on the offender, on the social reaction to crime or on the criminal behaviour itself [Young, 1995, p 102], but never sufficiently all-embracing. The central, and in my opinion, admirable, tenet of the left-realist doctrine is to encourage criminal justice systems to synthesise various different criminologies, rather than just choosing one popular approach and basing all their initiatives on that one theory [as they have done in the past]. Left-realists argue that such synthesis would encourage analysis of all the aspects of crime and its process, and only through understanding its form and shape, its socio-context and its enactment / trajectory through space and time, will the whole process of crime ever be properly understood. Let us briefly consider each of these aspects in turn:

Left-realism encourages analysis of the 'form' of crime. This doctrine asserts that crime consists of two dyads, of a victim and an offender, and of actions and re-action. Crime rates are explained not merely by the interplay of these four factors but as social relationships between offenders, victims, state agencies and the public [Lea 1992]. It should be noted that such an assertion is merely describing the process [Young 1995 p 103]; i.e. crime rates are a product of changes in the numbers of offenders and victims, and the levels of control exercised by the official state agencies and the public.

As regards to the social context of crime, left-realism builds on the agenda as set out within The New Criminology [Taylor et al. 1973]; the immediate social origins of a deviant act should be set within its wider social context and such an analysis should encompass the actors, reactors, victims and the public to crime [Young 1995, p105]. This aspect of left-realism is in stark contrast with the ideas of the right-realist school in which causes of crime are seen as autonomous from the social structure [Wilson, 1975].

Left realism discusses the 'shape of crime' in terms of the network of relationships involved, and the resulting shape of the crime structure. For example, the crime of drug dealing has a well-known pyramidal shape, whereas the crime of assault may be a one off case. Left-realism also stresses the importance of analysing the internal nature of these relationships; for example, every step of the pyramid of drug use is consensual, whereas, with the crime of assault relationships are purely coercive.

As regards to the trajectory of crime through time, a left-realist approach breaks this down into six component parts, the first is the background cause of crime, the second relates to the moral context of opting for criminal behaviour, the third relates to the situation in which a crime is committed, the fourth regards the detection of crime, the fifth looks at the response to the offender and the sixth the response to the victim [Young 1995, p106].

As I have also noted above, left-realism dictates that attention must be simultaneously paid to the social context of deviance and crime, building on the agenda as set out within The New Criminology [Taylor et al. 1973]; the immediate social origins of a deviant act should be set within its wider social context and such an analysis should encompass the actors, reactors, victims and the public to crime [Young 1995, p105]. This aspect of left-realism is in stark contrast with the ideas of the right-realist school in which causes of crime are seen as autonomous from the social structure [Wilson, 1975].

In relation to the 'shape of crime', left-realists argue that the complex network of relationships involved in the processes of deviance and crime, and also the shape of the structure of particular crimes, should be analysed and compared in order to further our understanding of what causes crime and how to control it. An example of comparing the shapes of different crime might be between the crime of drug-dealing and the crime of assault: the crime of drug dealing has a well-known pyramidal shape [there is a main man wholesaler at the top selling to a few large dealers who themselves sell smaller amounts to a larger number of local dealers etc.], whereas the crime of assault may be a one off case, and thus have no real structure to it. Left-realism encourages analysis of the internal nature of these structures and the relationships involved, as well as their mere shape: for example, every step of the pyramid of drug use is consensual, whereas, with the crime of assault relationships are purely coercive.

As regards to the trajectory of crime through time, a left-realist approach breaks this down into six component parts, the first is the background cause of crime, the second relates to the moral context of opting for criminal behaviour, the third relates to the situation in which a crime is committed, the fourth regards the detection of crime, the fifth looks at the response to the offender and the sixth the response to the victim [Young 1995, p106].

In conclusion, I must reiterate that the reason that so little success has been seen in the reduction of crime, despite the large volume of writing and criminological debate, is because in the past, criminology tended to be separated into various different schools of thought, each unwilling to entertain the strengths of their rivals theories. As a result, penal policy would choose the most popular paradigm at any one time and base its crime-reducing initiatives upon one theory alone. The results of this can be devastating, as we have seen through my historical analysis of the period 1951- 1971. I can conclude however that the dark ages of criminology may be over. Left realism as an approach has encouraged synthesis of ideas and theories, and encouraged deeper analysis of all the processes and aspects involved in the process of crime. Such an approach is a worthy one, and it may well lead to real advances in our understanding of the true causes of crime. Possibly someone answering this same essay question in 50 years time might be able to conclude that the presumption in the question is wrong; the various criminological writings and debate have lead to a reduction in crime.

References:

Wilson, J. Q. (1975), Thinking about Crime. New York Vintage Books. 2nd Ed. 3-4
Box, S. (1980), Where Have all the Naughty Children Gone?, in National Deviancy Conference, ed., Permissiveness and Control. London: Sage Publishing 116-117
Fyvel, T.R. (1963), The Insecure Offenders. London: Penguin. 17
Young, J. (1995), Recent Paradigms in Criminology. Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Skolnick, J. and Bayley, D. (1986), The New Blue Line. New York: Free Press 5-6
Lea, J. and Young, J. (1984), What is to be Done about Law and Order? London: Penguin
Currie, E. (1985), Confronting Crime. New York: Pantheon.
Lea, J. (1992), Left-Realism: A Framework for the Analysis of Crime, in J. Young and R. Matthews, eds., Rethinking Criminology: The Realist Debate. London: Sage

Writing Services

Essay Writing
Service

Find out how the very best essay writing service can help you accomplish more and achieve higher marks today.

Assignment Writing Service

From complicated assignments to tricky tasks, our experts can tackle virtually any question thrown at them.

Dissertation Writing Service

A dissertation (also known as a thesis or research project) is probably the most important piece of work for any student! From full dissertations to individual chapters, we’re on hand to support you.

Coursework Writing Service

Our expert qualified writers can help you get your coursework right first time, every time.

Dissertation Proposal Service

The first step to completing a dissertation is to create a proposal that talks about what you wish to do. Our experts can design suitable methodologies - perfect to help you get started with a dissertation.

Report Writing
Service

Reports for any audience. Perfectly structured, professionally written, and tailored to suit your exact requirements.

Essay Skeleton Answer Service

If you’re just looking for some help to get started on an essay, our outline service provides you with a perfect essay plan.

Marking & Proofreading Service

Not sure if your work is hitting the mark? Struggling to get feedback from your lecturer? Our premium marking service was created just for you - get the feedback you deserve now.

Exam Revision
Service

Exams can be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have! Revision is key, and we’re here to help. With custom created revision notes and exam answers, you’ll never feel underprepared again.