Examining The Understanding Of Crime And Criminals Criminology Essay

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A common definition of Criminology is: the study of the nature, extent, cause and control of specific behaviours which oppose or break the law. Criminology is a type of social science in which 'Criminologists' work to gain a more profound knowledge about crime and how crime is controlled based on experimental research. Looking at this, we could argue that this helps better our understanding, explanations, and predictions and brings about new ways of preventing crime and also helps with updating and structuring new criminal justice policies.

One of the main aims of criminology from the beginning of this being established as a discipline till now is to look for ways to control and better manage the problem of crime which is a social problem having the society as a whole's view at heart(so to speak). This would allow criminologists to gain valuable information about certain policies which will help with achieving this aim of them understanding the causes of crime. For example it could be said that, a reason for the welfare system is to help to provide and support working class people and reduce potential social crime such as theft or fraud.

Edwin Sutherland and Donald Cressey in their own respects stated that: 'Criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws and reacting toward the breaking of laws…. The objective of criminology is the development of a body of general and verified principles and of other types of knowledge regarding this process of law, crime, and treatment.

This explanation does not take into account the fact that many criminologists are interested in certain behaviours which are not exactly linked to the breaking of the laws but still manage to instigate a different form of punishment like a social sanction amongst other things.

Sutherland (1937) debated that the 'objective of Criminology is the development of a body of general and verified principles and of other types of knowledge regarding the process of law, crime, and treatment or prevention'. In this essay, it will be to explore how Criminology in a nutshell helps to contribute to 'our understanding of crime and criminals'. This will be done through examining the society and people with a few theories to test the impact these have on our understanding of crime and criminals.

Many people have jumped to the conclusion the crime is the result of poverty, racial discrimination and other privations. So it is assumed that the only way to rid societies as a whole of crime is by attacking it 'crime' by its "root causes" with specific methods which will put an end to poverty, reduce discrimination and lower levels of privation. However, Sutherland and Cressey both disagreed with the thought that poverty or racial discrimination is the causes of crime even though crime is higher in poor and segregated areas.

Sutherland and Cressey in their book 'Principles of Criminology' had a main theme which was that, "Criminal behaviour results from the same social processes as other social behaviours."

In general, there are competing views of what crime actually is as it is a subject matter which is always socially defined. This is because many argue that should crime only be defined by what the law states? Or should the definition of crime be centred on moral and social conceptions such as social harm?

In America (Colorado), it is legal to shoot someone if they invade your premises in a threatening manner to defend yourself. This is called the 'make my day law'. Whereas, such an act in other countries/cities this act is illegal. Comparative analysis suggests that crime varies in countries in the sense that what is classed as a crime or a criminal act in some countries (e.g. bigamy) is not so in other countries.

An example which shows just how difficult it is to have just one view and definition of what crime is, is Oskar Shindler who was a German businessman and was credited with saving almost 1,200jews during the holocaust. This was by him employing these Jews to work in his enamelware and ammunitions factories. Schindler actually broke Nazi law so that he could help these Jewish people. So then in this case would such an act be classed as 'criminal'?

We live in a world where there is a lot of unfairness in terms of the justice system so it could be that a lot of the legal definitions of crime are actually built upon very unfair grounds.

Considering all of this, 'how crime is viewed varies depending on how we answer the question 'what is crime?'

Braithwaite (1989: 44-9) indicated that in criminology, there are 13 'facts' about crime which needs to be explained and some of these are: Crime is committed disproportionately by males, Crime is perpetrated disproportionately by 15-25-year olds, Crime is committed disproportionately by unmarried people, Crime is committed disproportionately by people living in large cities, Young people who are strongly attached to their schools are less likely to engage in crime, Young people who do poorly at school are more likely to commit crime, young people who are strongly attached to their parents are less likely to engage in crime. These facts in Criminology helps our understanding of crime and criminals as it ties both common sense knowledge together with criminological fact as most people would say most crimes are committed by men. This is through criminological research being conducted so the common sense knowledge can fall back on that research.

Paul Rock (1986), who was a British sociologist described criminology as a 'rendezvous' subject. He basically tried to put all study of criminology as one focus which was on crime. Although this seemed to be an obvious fact that criminologists all come together under as having an interest in crime, criminology is in a sense different from all the other areas of investigation.

This is because, psychologists would be more focused on how the mind works, as a sociologists on the other hand, social structures seems more of the focus, an economists focus would be on the economic systems whereas, historians would have a more centred base on how what happened in past times can help with understanding the present and prepare for a better future etc. So in actual fact all these subject areas are only focused on one specific area of investigation. Whereas, Paul Rock stated that criminology is the common ground for people coming from different angles based on crime. So it is possible for psychologists, historians, economists, lawyers, sociologists, psychiatrists and many others. To give themselves the 'criminologist' title even though they study crime from a different point of view.

This just goes to show how much Criminology as an interdisciplinary subject which is influenced by psychology, sociology, legal theory, history and other subjects. This then raises some concerns about the fact that it is very easy to find a number of different types of approaches taken to the subject matter of criminology and most times see that these approaches are at odds with each other.

Coming back to the main question of how does criminology help our understanding of crime and criminals. Due to criminology being an academic discipline, there are various ways in which it helps to explain crime and criminals such as through theories, research, surveys etc. So Criminology allows us to explore crime and criminals through theories and other perspectives to focus on some very distinct aspects of criminal activity and behaviour. As a result of this, some criminological based theories have placed much of their attention on the characteristics of the individual (offender). Whereas some other theories show more interest in the processes as in the act in which an individual had indulged in in order to be classed as criminal and other theories more on the influence in which social structure has on personal and group behaviour.

Furthermore, there are some theories which bring about the idea that, certain behaviours are actually determined by factors outside a person's control and such factors could be biological, psychological or even social.

For example the 'Rational choice theory' which explained in the sage dictionary of criminology by Ken Pease a UK criminologist stated that: 'the starting point of the rational choice theory is that offenders seek advantage to themselves by their criminal behaviour. This entails making decisions among alternatives. These decisions are rational within the constraint of time, ability and the availability of relevant information. (Pease, 2001:235)

In other words, this theory would help us to understand that people who indulge in criminal behaviour do what they do to benefit themselves through these criminal acts. Such behaviour involves the individual or group making decisions and choices regardless of how not well thought through these may be. However, the "cardinal rule" of such rational choice theories is not to look down at a criminal as senseless or irrational but instead to find reasons why the offender was led to commit such an offence in the first place.

Classical criminology though would help to argue via its model of human choice such as the offender's self-interest: which is that the behaviour of some individuals is merely a reflection of a rational pursuit of self-interest based on what they have concluded as in would what they are about to do be costly to them or beneficial.

In 1961, an experiment was conducted by a psychologist named Albert Bandura. This experiment was conducted to study the patterns of behaviour associated with aggression. This experiment was to try and prove that aggression could be explained by putting the social learning theory which states 'Individuals learn certain behaviours through observing others' to the test. For this experiment, children were exposed to an adult physically abusing a 'bobo doll'.

In this process, the adult used a mallet to hit the doll in the face, through the doll up in the air and literally imitated the exact behaviour they had previously witnessed. Putting this psychological theory in a criminological context, it demonstrates that certain behaviours i.e. criminal behaviour can be learnt through social exposure. In the case of the bobo doll study, the research into this suggests that certain violent and aggressive behaviours can even be learnt by children. Considering this, one may argue that some criminals may have associated themselves around violent, aggressive or some other forms of criminal social circles hence learning deviant behaviour. Additionally, via criminology, this experiment portrayed how people (in these case children) imitate behaviour through mere observation. Especially if that behaviour goes unpunished the child/ person would want to imitate it even more. This demonstrates another way in which criminology helps our understanding of crime and criminals through imitated behaviour as 'a person can only do what a person sees.'

Furthermore, the symbolic interactionism theory states that when people are placed in certain situations, they first of all try to find the reason why they are in that situation and then they try to act in ways which makes sense to the reason why they are in that situation. The meaning of the situation is created by the individual in the situation themselves but is actually imitative from communicating and interacting with other people (basically imitating what they have observed).

Another theory in Criminology which helps with our understanding of crime and criminals is the 'social control theory'. This theory is based on society, various institutions and the effects this has on individuals within the society. Another piece to understanding this theory is that it is also focused on how people in the society are encouraged to conform to the law. So the attention here is on how law abiding behaviour is encouraged and achieved and not so much law breaking behaviour.

There are plenty of ways in which Criminology can help our understanding of crime and criminals through research, theories, statistics, so called 'facts', surveys, studies on things like Biological factors, behaviour, physical appearance, gender, age and many more. Putting all these into account, criminology therefore helps our understanding of crime and criminals in many different ways but this varies as this so called "understanding" is only in effect through the specific area of discipline being applied or the country/ area you live in.

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