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In this assignment I am going to look at the problems involved in defining and measuring crime. I will look at the definition of crime and deviance and how this plays a part in our society. I will also look at two different approaches to defining crime and theorists with these ideas.
Crime is defined as an act that is considered an offence and punishable by law. Whereas, deviance is behaviour that is classed as unacceptable, but not necessarily a crime that is punishable. There are a variety of ways in which crime can be defined. In today’s society it could be said refugees are seen as folk devils. They are portrayed in this way through the media, they are seen to be outsiders and the reason for social problems. By media portraying incidents of anti-social behaviour it creates greater moral panic. Stanley Cohen stated, ‘its nature, is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops and politicians (1972. Pg.9). This can be seen when you look at how terrorists are portrayed. We only know what the media shows us, this can create mass panic as the view portrayed can be one-sided. Some social or religious customs are seen as taboo. This could be surrounding events such as death or illness. For example, Jehovah’s witnesses don’t believe in blood transfusions. In the event one is required they would decline it due to their religious beliefs. The main difference between crime and deviance is that a crime is punishable by law. By committing a crime, you are breaking the law, but by being deviant you are breaking the social norms. The punishment for breaking the law would be that you are now in the criminal justice system. However, the punishment you receive will vary depending on the crime you have committed. This could be a fine, a suspended sentence, or even prison. For committing an act classed as deviant the punishment would be from the society, possibly even religious leaders, depending on the act committed.
In the 18th century the classicism theory was developed. It was originally developed as it was felt that punishments were cruel and barbaric. Classicism believed people commit a crime based purely on free will. It doesn’t look at any reasoning as to why the crime might be committed other than this. Cesare Beccaria was the Italian father of classical criminology. His main aim was to limit the barbarity in the justice system. Beccaria’s belief was that the punishment should be certain, swiftly carried out and the severity should be significant enough to deter any future crime being committed. Beccaria believed, that a punishment may not be an act of violence, of one, or of many against a private member of society, it should be public, immediate and necessary (Newburn, pg116) Another founder of classicism is Jeremey Bentham. Bentham believed that humans make their decisions based on a pleasure pain principle. Bentham states, ‘Human behaviour is generally directed at maximising pleasure and avoiding pain’. (Newburn, pg 117). It is thought that there are four reasons to commit crime. These are excitement, sex, money or anything else held with value. Bentham’s main belief was that the punishment needs to out weight the crime, however the severity of the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. If every crime received the same punishment there would be nothing to deter from the lesser crimes. There are some criticisms to the classicalism theory. If all crimes are based on free will, what about the people with mental health issues, or a child who are not sound of mind, should they be punished in the same way as someone who has committed a crime for free will. The theory very much looks at the crime and the punishment, not the offender.
In contrast to the classicism theory is positivism. Positivism developed in the late 19th century. This started to challenge the classicism theory, and look at how biological, psychological and social needs can affect reason for committing a crime. Cesare Lombroso developed a theory that people are born criminal, He believed it was biological. He carried out many studies that suggested that certain physical features meant you were a criminal. Alongside physical traits he also looked at hypersensitivity, use of criminal slang, tattoos and unemployment. ‘Lombroso believed that criminality was inherited and that criminals could be identified by physical defects that confirmed them as being atavistic or savage’ (Bretherick, 2015). From this study he developed his theory. This lead to developing the idea that there are three categories to classify criminals. Firstly, he still believed people are born criminal. This accounted for about 30% of criminals. Secondly abnormal criminal. This included idiots, imbeciles, alcoholics, epileptics and paranoids. This in today’s society would be considered as mental health issues. Thirdly, occasional criminals. This includes people committing crime in self-defence, people with a poor childhood and people who have had social interactions with criminals. Raffaele Garofalo agreed with Lombroso’s work. He agreed with the use of scientific methods to finding the reason why people commit crimes. He also agrees that free will doesn’t exist, and that there must be other factors involved in the reasoning as to why people commit crime. Garofalo’s belief was that a criminal is born with a deficiency, either lacking pity or probity. He categorised criminals into four categories. Murderers where altruism is completely lacking. Violent criminals lacking pity. Thieves who lack probity, and lascivious, sexual offenders who are lacking moral energy and moral perception. The positivism theory looks at every single factor that could have influenced a person to commit a crime, and they try to find a way to reduce the punishment. A positivism view would be to look at rehabilitating the offender rather than punishing them (Newburn, pg. 126)
Official crime statistics are produced by a variety of organisations. This includes the government, police, DVLA, insurance companies and the office for national statistics. The statistics are collected to monitor crime and punishment. By collecting the data, it helps to highlight crime and convictions, but also any unreported crimes. It is difficult to measure crime as the crime statistics are not always a true reflection of crimes committed. This is due to lots of people not reporting crimes. The police statistics only record crimes that have been reported and the convictions made. It does not include anyone that is not charged. The British Crime Survey is carried out by the Home Office. It is a victim survey that looks at crimes experienced over the last 12 months. As it is a victim study it is believed that it is a better reflection of crimes as it records those that were not reported. The survey also looks at the public’s perception of crime and the justice system. There are some inaccuracies in the data provided. This is due to inaccuracies in the information people can remember about an event and sometimes how they amplify the details. It is also an inaccurate method to record crime as its only one per household, and only 5 crimes can be listed at once. Crime statistics are a good way to look at trends in crime being reported and the levels of crime in each area, however it is somewhat inaccurate and not a true reflection of everything.
The problem defining crime seems to be in identifying if the act is actually a crime. There are some acts that are a crime by breaking the law, however they are seen as morally acceptable due to the circumstances. For example, stealing food to feed a hungry family. This makes it difficult to define what is actually, a crime. From looking at the classicism theory this supports one argument, that everyone commits a crime based on free will, whilst the positivism theory believes is social, physical or psychological factors that determine the reason for committing a crime. This shifts the blame from being solely the offender to being a cause of the environment. The difficulty in defining crime reflects on the difficulty to measure crime. In accurate recording procedures, and victim’s uncertainty when recalling the details lead to an inaccurate crime record. This leads to the records being a untrue reflection of what is happening.
- Bretherick, D. 2015. The ‘born criminal’? Lombroso and the origins of modern criminology, History extra.http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/born-criminal-lombroso-origins-modern-criminology, date accessed 15.10.17.
- Cohen, S. 1972. Folk devils and moral panics, the creation of the mods and rockers, Mcgibbon & Kee Ltd. London.
- Newburn, T. 2007, Criminology. Willan Publishing. Devon.
- National crime statistics, figures on crime levels, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice, date accessed 20.09.2017
- Office of national crime statistics, 2015, Crime survey for England and Wales, http://www.crimesurvey.co.uk/ , Kantar. Date accessed 20.09.17.
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