Crime is defined as an act that violates the law and is punishable upon conviction. Today's television networks are filled with popular shows and local news stations that focus on or report crime. Most people perceive the study of crime as an investigative crime scene such as the ones portrayed on television or in the newspapers. For example, murder, theft, rape, and fraud, are all examples of crime that violate a law and are punishable by the state. While watching the news, one might hear about local murders, robberies, and possible corruption within large corporations and even our government. Many have heard of the famous crime based shows, such as CSI, NCI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, and so on, that focus on criminal behavior and the study of crime. These shows give us a glimpse inside the criminal justice system and how criminologists solve crime with intensive research and criminal evidence. Society today is filled with rising crime rates and a busy criminal justice system, which is the result of a lack of commitment to law and a weak social control institution among citizens of all ages. The way criminals learn to commit crime is the first step towards delinquent behavior but the final step is figuring out how to solve the crime problem within our own communities.
Commitment to law is a big factor that helps criminologist analyzes the reasons one might engage in delinquent behavior. Our text mentions a contrasting perspective that "delinquents exercise free will, choosing to violate the law rather than being forced to do so by the social structure." (Conklin, 2010) David Matza (1964) proposes that juveniles drift into delinquency in an almost accidental and unpredictable way through their exercise of personal choice (Matza, 1964). One example of a personal choice that may bring on delinquent behavior is their choice of friends. A juvenile that surrounds themselves with friends that engage in delinquent behavior, are more likely to follow along with their friends despite their upbringing or moral standards. An example of this could be an adolescent girl that has chosen a group of friends who smokes cigarettes. Because her friends smoke cigarettes, it is most likely that the adolescent girl will either try a cigarette at some point or take on smoking as a long term habit. The same applies to juveniles that surround themselves with friends that drink alcohol or use illegal substances.
Another factor that can impact delinquent behavior and is common among juveniles and adults is the denial of responsibility. Denial of responsibility is a refusal to be held personally accountable for one's actions and is often claimed to be an accident or it was caused by factors beyond their control (Conklin, 2010). For example, one might use addiction, poverty, or a broken home as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility for their delinquent behavior. It is also possibly that the criminal does not have any fear for the criminal justice system, which results in delinquent behavior on many different levels. Denial of responsibility can take place in a serious criminal case involving robbery or a less severe case involving littering. Each type of behavior is punishable by law and the criminals are in denial of their personal responsibility for their own actions.
Social control is another big factor that influences delinquent behavior among adolescents and adults. It is believed that delinquents are not forced into delinquency so much as they are free to commit delinquent acts because they lack ties to the conventional social order (Conklin, 2010). In other words, the delinquent individual does not care for or follow social standards set by society. Often these individuals feel as though they do not need to answer to anyone but themselves. One way to avoid this frame of mind is to build positive social institutions that one can turn to when negative social pressures or influences come about. The most popular forms of social control institutions in today's society are the family, the school, and the church. The family provides love and support to one another and creates a safe place that family members can go to when life becomes unpredictable. Hirschi's (1969) research shows that delinquents are much less closely attached to their parents than non-delinquents are (Hirschi, 1969). One way to ensure that an individual has a strong family support system is to provide "psychological" support as well as "financial" support.
The school and the church can also serve as a positive social control institution. Students that respect their teachers and abide by school set standards are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Unfortunately there are students that disregard any authority that may come from teachers or other adult figures. This type of mind frame can lead to a lack of interest in the importance of education and more interest on delinquent or illegal acts. For example, a student that disregards authority may talk back or act out towards teachers or counselors. They may also begin to skip class or school all together. This abundance of free time can result in delinquent behavior such as the use of drugs and alcohol or engaging in sexual behavior with multiple partners. As well as the school, the church can provide a strong social control institution for individuals of all ages. Often individuals form a moral and ethical code that they live by while attending church. When exposed to delinquent behavior, one might turn to fellow church members for guidance or wisdom on how to avoid such behavior or influences all together. Often adults and children that have experienced a life changing event might turn to the church for support and guidance so they can become law abiding citizens.
So how does one learn to commit crimes? There are many ways that criminals can learn to commit crimes. One of the most influential ways that adolescents and adults can learn about crime and violence is through television and the media. A 1996 report found that violence was included in 85 percent of premium cable channel shows, 59 percent of basic cable channel shows, and 44 percent of broadcast television channel shows (Conklin, 2010). People today watch an average of eight hours of television per day (Conklin, 2010). Often busy families today rely on the television to entertain the children while parents complete household chores and prepare for busy days to come. This is unfortunate because the media is educating our children on important topics, such as violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, and so on, when it should be the parents or caregivers responsibility.
Another way that criminals can learn about crime is through the community. Individuals that live in a high crime community have a greater chance to engage in delinquent behavior. Some communities are famous for their gangs and their ability to recruit young teenagers into their gang. One example that is listed in out text is an instance that was reported in Los Angeles, where two adults were implicated in 175 bank robberies carried out by thirteen year old teenagers whom they had enlisted and coached (Conklin, 2010). The adults recruited these boys from gangs or from those who wanted to join gangs, provided them with automatic weapons and a stolen getaway car, and paid them with money or drugs, while the two adults kept their distance from the crime scene (Conklin, 2010). Unfortunately, this type of behavior is becoming more common among high-crime communities.
Finally, people who have been involved in a war or are currently in the military are heavily exposed to the act of crime. Veterans and military individuals sign on to a career that focuses on crime and violence. Often these individuals go through an intense training program that prepares them for war which consists of a level of violence that most American citizens are unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, these individuals can be exposed to an abundance of crime and violence that may possibly result in criminal behavior. Half of the 15 percent of the veterans who still had full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more than a decade after the war had been arrested or incarcerated at least once, and one in nine had been convicted of a felony (Conklin, 2010).
With the rising crime rate within our country, it is important that our country have a strong criminal justice system. The criminal justice system consists of a multitude of organizations that help regulate and enforce laws as well as imposing a suitable punishment for the criminal act. The three components of the criminal justice system include the police, the courts, and the prisons. The role of the police is to maintain order in public places, resolve interpersonal disputes, and provide social services. For example, police officers help keep our streets clear of drugs and prostitution, as well as protecting citizens against hate crimes and sex crimes. Some might have a negative perception of the police and the possible corruption among police officers, but it is important for the well-being of our society to have police officers patrol and keep crime rates down.
The criminal court plays a vital role in the criminal justice system. Upon arrest, the criminal enters the bail system where they are then released to the public, with a monetary deposit being made to guarantee their arrival at the provided court date. In the United States, a criminal is considered innocent until proven guilty which is why the criminal is then given the opportunity to get a defense attorney. The defense attorney helps the defendant get acquitted or secure the most lenient sentence possible (Conklin, 2010). Upon the set court date, the district attorney will prosecute the defendant and the judge or jury will decide whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. With this process of conviction it is sometimes argued that criminals do not receive a sufficient enough punishment to fit the crime committed. For instance, an individual convicted of murder may be given a chance at a lower sentence if they are diagnosed with a mental disorder. Family members of the murdered victim may believe that this type of sentencing is our justice system failing to do their job correctly.
The third component of the criminal justice system is the prisons. The purpose of today's prisons, differ from the prisons of the eighteenth century. During the eighteenth century, prisons served as a holding place for convicted criminals until they were executed, pilloried, or subjected to other forms of suffering (Conklin, 2010). Today's convicted criminals who are serving time in a state or federal prison, are now being taught to be law-abiding citizens and often put to work (Conklin, 2010). Unfortunately, this form of treatment towards convicted criminals can be a controversial issue that is debated by taxpaying citizens.
With that being said, my next topic of crime and its impact on society is the cost of crime to American consumers, taxpaying citizens, and the federal government. Local news channels and popular television shows offer us an insight on crime and the study of crime. Unfortunately they do not elaborate on the topic of the cost of crime and its impact on society. Our text touches on the six different kinds of financial costs of crime. This includes direct loss, transfer of property, costs related to criminal violence, illegal expenditures, enforcement costs, and prevention and protections costs. Increasing crime rates can impact the economic status of a community. If a community is known as a high-crime area then it is possible that the community will lose any type of revenue that may come from tourism or retail sales. It is also known that state and federal governments contribute a large amount of funds to different communities to help fund jails, rehab facilities, police departments, prisons, legal representation, and so on. In 2003, American justice system expenditures totaled $185 billion and police departments accounted for 45 percent of that amount (Hughes, 2006). Judicial and legal services accounted for 22 percent of the expenditures, and corrections for 33 percent of the total (Hughes, 2006).
The crime of terrorism has become a huge expense for the federal government. After 9/11, people took a new perspective on terrorism and how important it is to invest in the prevention and protection of terrorist crimes. Not only is it very costly to continue with operations overseas but it is costly to pick up the pieces after a terrorist attack such as 9/11. Not only did the attack have a negative impact on our economy but it also made an impact on the victim's survivors. As a result of 9/11, Congress created the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund which paid the families of the dead an average of $2.1 million to avert lawsuits and bail out the airline industry (Chen, 2004).
Another way that crime is costly to the American consumer is the loss of value in property and the rise of prices on consumer products. "White collar" crime is a good example of a type of crime that can greatly impact the American consumer. Although "white collar" crime is not considered one of the more severe crimes, it is definitely the most costly. For example, the Enron scandal is considered a "white collar" crime which resulted in a huge loss of revenue for the company and ended with bankruptcy. Because of this scandal, many people lost their jobs ad their retirements. This type of crime can increase business costs which can have a trickling effect and increase consumer prices. For example, if there was to ever be corruption or fraud within the Kroger Company and bankruptcy was the end result, many people would lose their jobs/retirements and grocery costs would increase dramatically to compensate for the damage done.
So the question at hand is how do we solve the crime problem? Some of the obvious ways to decrease crime rates is to increase law enforcement, encourage intervention and rehabilitation programs to prospective criminals, and possibly increase the severity of punishments for crimes committed. Unfortunately, these solutions do not decrease the cost of crime for taxpaying citizens or state and federal governments. One way that people are taking a stand against crime within their community is by designating a group of individuals to serve as a neighborhood watch team. Although this approach may not end crime all together, it may help prevent crime rates from increasing.
Another way to solve the crime problem is to make sure that the necessary resources are available to educate people of all ages on crime and how it can impact society. Schools should offer intervention programs to those students that are portraying delinquent behavior so they can receive the help they need to grow up and be law-abiding citizens. Communities can offer support groups for parents that are facing the struggles of having a delinquent child or support groups for individuals who are re-entering society after a criminal sentence. Although everyone has their own personal or professional opinions on the resolution to crime and how to prevent it, it is up to the individual to take action and help within their own community. As a prospective teacher, I plan to educate and prepare myself for challenges that may come my way while interacting with a student, co-worker, or parent. Taking pride in the work of my students, respecting co-workers and their opinions, and expressing patience and loyalty towards parents and students, are all ways that I can become a better member or instructor to the community or school that I belong to. Teachers serve as role models to their students, which is why I will make it a priority to practice patience, compassion, honesty, and fairness among my students.
A society consumed with a lack of commitment to law and weak social control institutions, it is assumed that crime rates will increase as well as the responsibilities of our criminal justice system. Criminals learn to commit crime through many influences which can result in delinquent behavior. This type of delinquent behavior can have negative economic effects on society. The cost of crime effects consumers and taxpayers as well as our federal government. So with the combined effort of American consumers, our federal government, and the in depth research of criminologists, maybe we can figure out a way to reduce crime rates, reduce the cost of crime on society, and educate the minds of the future on how to prevent crime within their own communities. David Garland (2001) states, "People respond to media representations of crime, rather than to information about crime itself, so they come to regard crime as "an emotional, human drama" and believe that criminals are "more numerous, more threatening, and more dangerous than they typically are." (Garland, 2001, p. 158) If today's society does not come to grasp with the severity of increasing crime rates and the importance of our criminal justice system, this "emotional drama" that Garland speaks of will soon become a scary reality for future societies.