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How does Criminology help our understanding of crime and criminals

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2205 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Over the years many criminologists have been carried out research to find out how much Criminology has helped society's understanding of crime and criminals. Crime has been existent from the early days well before generations; however the punishments given to individuals and the way in which they are dealt with have changed over time. More greatly the definition of crime has changed and is continuing to change as new laws are constantly being brought into power .

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Criminology has been defined in a numerous of ways, some say criminology is the study of crime from a social and individual perspective. Looking at it from an educational approach Criminology has been defined as a social science, not only is it concerned with the causes and preventions of crime but the social impacts and reactions to it. As well as criminals themselves, others say that criminology is the study of the criminal justice and penal systems. Sutherland argued 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 if law, crime and treatment of prevention' ( T. Newburn (2007 ). Other social sciences such as sociology, psychology, law, anthropology and many others has also helped and influenced criminology which has helped to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. More importantly many criminologists have had their own personal definitions of criminology. For instance, Edwin Sutherland defined criminology as the study of composing laws, breaking laws, and society's reaction to these particular laws being broken. T. Newburn (2007).

Criminology attempts to explain why certain situations or events are considered a crime in certain societies compared to others. This can be weighed down to the differences in definitions between cultures and societies. In some cases, crimes considered in some countries may be legal in others. E.g. homosexuality relationships is legally accepted in the United Kingdom compared to countries such as Uganda and many other countries in Africa and Asia where extreme punishments such as death sentences are applicable for such relationships. Crime happens on a day to day basis with different crimes ranging from petty crimes such as not paying for a train ticket to extreme crimes such as murder and rape. Criminology has helped our understanding of crime and criminals by firstly helping us define moments in criminal justice that have changed the system all together. Major events in the criminal system have helped us to reinforce what the system is all about. Events such as the Damilola Taylor, Jamie Bulger and Stephen Lawrence murder are just a few of the law changing events that have taken place in the UK within the last 20 years. Not only were these cases so extreme but they made immediate changes to the criminal justice system that has helped us to gain a deeper understanding of crime and the way in which the police have choosing to deal with this. By allowing society to have an opinion on these events and allowing them to follow the case through via the media. New laws and legislations were enforced. Aspects of crime such as stop and search also increased dramatically as police tried to hunt down more and more youths. According to the British Journal of Criminology 'In 1999, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry heavily criticized ethnic disparities in stop and search ('disproportionality'), triggering a national reform effort to make the tactic fairer and more effective. Analyses of searches under core powers using up to 12 years of annual data from 38 police force areas in England indicate that aggregate disparities showed no improvement following the reforms.' (Miller. J 2010)

Criminology includes the study of a number of different theories to suggest why crimes are committed. Some of the most popular are: classical, positivist, and individual trait. In addition to these major theories, there are many more other theories widely discussed and debated by criminologists. The classical theory of criminology suggests that people commit crimes when they perceive the benefits outweigh the possible costs. Under this theory, the logical way to prevent crimes is to provide harsher punishments for crimes. If the punishments are harsher, then criminals will not perceive the benefits to outweigh the possible consequences. This helps us to understand why some offenders commit the crimes that they do . The positivist theory of criminology suggests that crime is created by both internal and external factors outside of an individual's control. These may include biological factors or social factors. Social factors leading to criminal behaviour include such things as poverty and education. In some ways, opening up educational opportunities and employment opportunities could prevent crime, according to this theory. On the other hand the individual trait theory explains that criminals differ from non criminals on a number of biological and psychological traits. These traits cause crime in interaction with the social environment.

The understanding of sociology has helped us to understand criminology and how it helps our understanding of criminals. The functionalist's approach of sociology states that society is like biological organism which has sub systems that are interrelated. They all have individual purposes of being existent and believe that society is based on a value consensus. The functionalists approach states that the values are learned through the family by primary socialisation which is where the parents teach the children what is expected and tolerated by society. The breakdown of this process is the lack of family socialisation meaning the children then grow up to be unusual members of society and go against what is expected from everyone. This helps us to understand why some people result to crime as the sociological approach stated that they were not socialised accordingly. The sociological approach also helps us to understand why crime and criminals are existent and how vital it to have so that society is able to function. Cohen, a sociologist stated that in order for society to function accordingly crime most be present as it helps to prevent further crime and also ensure that the society is running normally without crime it will be clearly aware that there is a problem.

Criminal psychology also helps us to understand to crime and criminals as it is a branch of the field of psychology which focuses on criminals. Different approaches try to help us understand crime , especially criminals and why it is they partake in the crime that they do. The biological approach in psychology states that it is chemicals, genetics, intelligence and psychic functions that leads them to commit crime. For example , the study of genetics and individual differences was of interest to psychologists, as seen in the first empirical studies of intelligence (e.g. Spearman 1972) . The approach also states that the individual was born as a criminal. Other explanations such as the social explanation sates the persons social status is what is causing them to commit crime they may have been isolated. A psychologist Freud, also used his psychodynamic approach to try and explain criminal behaviour. He stated that all humans have natural drives and urges repressed in the unconscious. Furthermore, all humans have criminal tendencies. Through the process of socialization, however, these tendencies are curbed by the development of inner controls that are learned through childhood experience. Freud hypothesized that the most common element that contributed to criminal behaviour was faulty identification by a child with her or his parents. This could be said to be linked to how sociology helps us understand criminals .The improperly socialized child may develop a personality disturbance that causes her or him to direct antisocial impulses inward or outward. The child who directs them outward becomes a criminal, and the child that directs them inward becomes a neurotic.

The Cognitive Development Theory also helps us to understand crime and criminals. According to this approach, criminal behaviour results from the way in which people organise their thoughts about morality and the law. In 1958, Lawrence Kohlberg, a developmental psychologist, formulated a theory concerning the development of moral reasoning. He claimed that there were three levels of moral reasoning, each consisting of two stages. During middle childhood, children are at the first level of moral development. At this level, the pre conventional level, moral reasoning is based on obedience and avoiding punishment.

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The second level, the conventional level of moral development, is reached at the end of middle childhood. The moral reasoning of individuals at this level is based on the expectations that their family and significant others have for them. Kohlberg found that the transition to the third level, the post conventional level of moral development, usually occurs during early adulthood. At this level, individuals are able to go beyond social conventions. They value the laws of the social system; however, they are open to acting as agents of change to improve the existing law and order. People who do not progress through the stages may become arrested in their moral development, and consequently become delinquents and start to commit crimes .

The approaches to criminology, help us to understand crime and criminals more deeply. The Classicists Approach believe that every human has the ability to make decisions and is responsible for their individual actions. Therefore, if he or she decides to take part on behaviour that breaks the law, he or she by default is to be punished. Punishment succeeds crime is what they say. They move on to say that having penalties in the criminal justice system will help keep a control on the number of crimes, such that people due to the fear of punishment will avoid committing crimes. Classicists believe that Crime occurs when the benefits outweigh the costs. When people pursue self-interest in the absence of effective punishments. Crime is a free-willed choice. This helps us to understand criminals and the realities of crime and why they do what they do. It also equips us with practical measures to enable us to contribute and make a difference in such areas of life. It gives society the broader picture of crime happening. Another approach to criminology is the positivists approach which tries to explain crime and criminals. According to positivists, humans react the way they do because of certain internal and external influences. These influences sometimes cause the person to lose control and take extreme decisions he or she normally would not have taken. The states that Crime is caused or determined. Lombroso placed more emphasis on biological deficiencies, whereas later scholars would emphasize psychological and sociological factors.

Through the use of Victimology and victims it is possible to understand crime and criminals. The 1985 United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power Offers a definition of ' victims': They state that 'victims' refers to persons who, individually or collectively have suffered hurt of any shape or form this could be from physical harm, mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial of their fundamental rights . (Newburn T , 2007, p.342). Their second definition is that a 'person may be considered a victim, under this Declaration , regardless of whether the perpetrator is identified, apprehended , prosecuted or convicted.'(Newburn T. (2007). An alternative approach developed by a criminologist Nils Christie (1986) put together characteristics in which he believed idealised a typical image of victims and offenders he named a few characteristics in which he believed that victims may have these consists of being weak these c haracteristic are generally seen in females or the very old the sick or very young. The victim is blameless for what is happening and cannot control what is happening this helps us to understand criminals and why they choose the victims that they do.

Overall crime is a socially constructed behaviour. It is what others in society see as deviating from the social norm which is then labelled as crime. This is mainly because they see this behaviour as not being acceptable by society and breaks the social norm which must therefore mean what the individual is doing is illegal. From researching and trying to find explanations it is clear that there are many ways in which criminology helps to explain crime and criminals. The different approaches and theories gives specific as well as biological and sociological explanations. It helps us to give explanations of why some criminals do what they do. as we move on in the criminal justice system there will be more and more aspects that let us know why crime and criminals exist. Criminology tries to explain why there are differences and why there are some crimes are nearly universal.


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