This post has been written by Drishti Mehra, a student pursuing a B.A, LL.B. from Amity Law School, Noida.
Tracking crime over time is a complex process, because “crime” constitutes hundreds of heterogeneous behaviors that change in their definition and prevalence across persons, time, and space. What is a “crime”? Clearly, the measurement of crime differs by jurisdiction, type of behavior, and social acceptability.
What is Criminology, and how does it relate to Sociology?
In sociology, we typically try to look for social causes of all kinds of phenomena. Criminology is one of the largest and fastest-growing subfields of sociology, and criminologists focus on sociological explanations for causes of crime. They also take a sociological view of how the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutors, and judges, responds to victims and offenders. Of course, criminologists do not ignore individual causes of crime, such as personality and psychological characteristics, but in general, they are especially interested in factors related to the larger world in which individuals live.
Why do people commit crimes?
It is hard to pinpoint “the cause of crime”, not just because criminology is a relatively young field and still has much to discover, but because so much depends on the specific circumstances of a particular time and place. However, there are some regularities that seem pretty well-established. For example, one relatively consistent social predictor of crime is income inequality. Societies with higher levels of income inequality like the U.S. tend to suffer from higher crime rates. You compare yourself to economically well-off members of the community, and for many people, that creates economic strain or stress. This feeling of relative deprivation is associated with many kinds of criminal behavior. On the other hand, it’s probably easier to live with one’s own absolute poverty if everyone else around is also poor.
While economic factors are clearly significant, it is also important to understand what limits or enhances a community’s ability to work together to control crime. For example, a community with many short-term residents or which lacks trust in police may struggle more with crime. Large-scale societal changes are important too. For instance, when women typically stayed at home, their exposure to victimization and opportunity for offending were both limited. The improved status of women brought lifestyle changes that increased exposure to victimization, and also created more potential for crime-inducing feelings of blocked opportunity to fulfill economic goals. Women’s offending and victimization is still quite different from men’s, but these changes should narrow this gap.
Statistics on Social Crime and Class
Sociologists are interested in why people from some social classes are more likely to commit crimes than others, and that the types of crime which people from different classes may commit differ significantly
Social class is an identity based on shared socio & dash; economic status. Different sociologists approach class in different ways: traditional Marxists focus on the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and their separate relationship to the means of production; other sociologists consider class stratification more in relation to job roles and incomes.
Many of the functionalist and Marxist theories we have already looked at seek to explain why working & dash; class individuals commit more crimes than others. Whether that be subcultural class from functionalists, or the idea crime might be a proletarian response to capitalism, a great deal of criminology has investigated this particular social distribution.
New Right sociologist Charles Murray developed the idea of an underclass. He suggested that the welfare state created welfare dependency and that there were perverse incentives in the welfare system that created a criminal underclass of jobless, welfare, and dependent, dysfunctional people.
Are the crime statistics are misleading?
Marxists in particular argue that many crimes committed by the wealth do not make their way into crime statistics. The rich are less likely to be investigated or to become suspects and are more likely to be able to afford good lawyers who get them off or indeed even bribe officials so the investigation never gets that far in the first place. Marxist would add that much of the harmful behaviour that the rich do engage in is legal because they are the class that make the laws.
White-collar crime: means crimes committed by the “middle class” (as opposed to “blue collar” workers). Although theoretically, it could mean any crime committed by members of that class, it is generally used to describe the crimes most associated with the middle class, for example, fraud and tax evasion, rather than, for instance, violent crimes that happen to have been committed by a middle-class individual
There are less likely to be convictions in relation to many white-collar crimes because they are harder to detect. Victims are often diffused (e.g. there might be thousands of victims of a fraud, who may never be aware that a crime as taken place) and remote and the crime is often committed at a distance, perhaps by computer, rather than face to face. For both these reasons, victims are unlikely to report a crime and witnesses to the crime are less likely. Historically, these crimes have been treated more leniently, and sometimes the associates of white-collar criminals will help to “brush it under the carpet” in order to avoid the negative publicity
Corporate crime: refers specifically to crimes committed by companies rather than individuals, although individuals might well be found to have ultimate criminal responsibility, e.g. the CEO. Most commonly, corporate crimes will involve fraud or tax evasion. Historically, these crimes have not been routinely prosecuted and, even where companies have been held accountable for these crimes, it is often through arrangements outside the criminal justice system: e.g. between large companies and governments in relation to their tax affairs, as with Starbucks in 2014.