Causes Of Crime


Causes Of Crime Essay, Research Paper

Can we assume that people who commit crimes do so because of physical or mental abnormalities?

By establishing and discovering the causes of crime, it enables sociologists, welfare states, and governments to attempt to target these areas and therefore strive to reduce criminal activity.

In order to respond to the issue appropriately, it is necessary to critically analyse the causes of crime, both from a subjective view point (assessing the individual s pathology or deficiency in his/her ability to reason, which are caused by psychological and biological defects), as well as from an objective view point (looking at the social structure, class, gender and ethnicity) which is mainly concerned with assessing the situation from a wider prospective. However it is of primary importance to give a definition of crime in order to proceed: Paul Tappan defined a crime as:

Crime is an intentional act or omission in the violation of criminal law committed without defence or justification and sanctioned by the state as a felony or misdeamour .

From the biologist s perspectives, all normal individuals conform to social expectations, and so those who differ, must have something wrong with them. Many of the first primitive explanations of crime were essentially biological in character; Lombrosso (1911) created his theory of biological positivism, which stated that the general theory of crime could be developed on the basis of measurable physical differences between criminal and non-criminal. E.g. through the size of the skull. He believed that many criminals had been born with atavistic features, which means that they had definite biological failings that prevented them from developing to a fully human level. He coined the phrase Criminals were born and not made .

He accepted that social learning could influence the development of criminal behaviour, but he regarded most criminals as biologically degenerate or defective . (Giddens 1998:175). However, today, there is little supporting evidence to support such a theory.

There have been some interesting studies suggesting that the closer the genetic make-up of individuals the higher the probability that they too would also commit crimes.

Taylor, Watson and Young 1983 concluded that according to the XXY chromosome theory, criminality is related to a deviant genetic make-up. The normal female chromosomal component is YY and the male format is XY. When the XXY chromosome was discovered, it was held that those who had this kind of chromosomal complement were far more predisposed to criminal activity due to their abnormal height and mental structures. (Baldock 1999:44).

There have also been numerous follow-up studies suggesting that there is a genetic link. Professor Lange introduced one of them. He conducted a study on 30 pairs of twins who had been or were in prison for various criminal offences. He concluded that of the 13 monozygotic twins (twins that share the same egg in the foetus) on the whole reacted in a similar manor, and the dizgotic twins (had an individual egg) behaved quite differently.

Legras found a 100% concordance in his identical twins and 0% in his fraternal twins The overall findings is that just over four times as many monozygotic as dizygotic twins are concordant for criminality . Eysenk; 1977;63.

However, one of the many criticisms from these perspectives was establishing how genetic differences actually translate into behavioural traits. This evidence is fairly conclusive, however, it is necessary to understand that the experiment largely dealt with a very small percentage of society, and therefore it does not seem to have wider implications. Undoubtedly, it is virtually impossible to conduct such an experiment without understanding the social and physical environment. However, later evidence found that Legras manipulated the results; therefore the evidence was considered as unreliable.

Psychological theories of crime associate criminality with particular types of personality. Criminality by psychoanalysts (Freud) is seen to result from the failure of the superego, as a consequence either of its incomplete development or of unusually strong instinctual drives. The empirical basis of such evidence is necessarily thin.

Psychological theories of criminality can at best explain only some aspects of crime. While some criminals may possess personality characteristics distinct from the remainder of the population, it is highly improbable that the majority of criminals do so . A Giddens:

Hare stated, several lines of research and theory suggest that psychopathy is related to cortical under arousal. As a result, the psychopath actively seeks stimulation with arousing or exciting qualities. In the process, however, he may be unaware of, or inattentive to, many of the subtle cues required for the guidance of behaviour and for adequate social functioning. (Eysenk 1977:133). Hare also stated that, psychopaths do not develop conditioned fear responses readily. As a result, they find it difficult to learn responses that are motivated by fear and reinforced by fear reduction. It almost impossible for psychopaths to alleviate stimulation that is potentially disturbing. The result would be that threats of punishment and cues warning of unpleasant consequences for misbehaviour would not have the same emotional impact that they would have for other individuals .

The arguments for biological and psychological causes of crime have not been convincing, due to lack of recent supporting evidence, it could be said that they are not of universal application. Another problem with these theories is that crime is socially constructed; how therefore, can a tendency towards crime be biologically or psychology determined??

Even if it could be assumed that a tendency to aggression could be inherited, whether or not aggression is interpretated as criminal depends on social and cultural context . (Hazel Croal 1999;41.) This does not mean that these theories are insignificant. It seems therefore, that in response to the posing question, other factors i.e. the social situation of the criminals need to be looked at in order to provide a more positive understanding of the cause of crime. One theory, which was very influential in the late 19th century, was the Marxist perspective; the key aspect of this approach is that it views crime as an outcome and reflection of basic class divisions in society. From this view, the lower class or working class would be more prone to become candidates, for criminal activity compared with the affluent members of society. However, It has been argued that aspects of Marxist writing in criminology have a romantic image of the criminal as primitive class rebel . Evidently it depends on the crime that one studies, but crime is certainly not restricted to the lower class domain.

These conceptualisations understate the real harm caused by such rebels . Those who are the victims of anti-social behaviour, often poor themselves, suffer considerable hardship at the hands of those who commit street crimes . Rob White 1997; 109).

Durkheim was another influential sociologist in the pre-industrial period, however he believes that through the change of economic climate, the sense of religion, community and family have declined, and that this has created what Durkeim described as anomie, a state of normlessness, in which people have few moral standards or constraints to guide them they lack regulation (Durkheim 1970). Its basic argument is very simple as it sees crime arising from a failure to achieve the goals, which are seen as desirable in society.

Economic growth also heightened peoples expectations creating what he saw as boundless aspirations, which could rarely be fulfilled, leading to a situation in which they constantly searched for the unattainable (Hazel Croan 1999; 47). His methods were criticised the notion that crime and other forms of deviance can be related to the frustration and hopelessness of attempting to reach unattainable goals without moral regulation is a powerful one. It has contemporary echoes in the popularity held view that the individualistic self-seeking culture of the 1980 s engineered greed and a lack of respect for others, which, in turn, saw a variety of crimes flourish.

During the 70 s and 80 s there was evidence to suggest a strong relationship between crime and unemployment. Tarling 1982 studied the period from 1950-1965 detailing the trend of crime and unemployment. There was a very strong correlation between the two variables, however he also found that other entities (some of little relevance such as the compumption of alcohol, consumption of ice cream, number of cars on the road and Gross National Product) were all highly correlated with rising crime over the period of 1950-1980. Therefore, the indication that the unemployed should be blamed for increasing levels of crime should be taken with a pinch of salt!

It would seem, that although extensive research, that the only UK evidence which suggests a strong link between unemployment and crimes comes from Northern Ireland (Gormalley et al 1981) and the Northumbrian Police (1980).

Even if we were to regard this evidence as conclusive, however, it would not mean that unemployment per se was crimonogenic .

There are obviously many social factors that could and have been studied in order to attempt to establish the causes of crime, including drug abuse, effects of domestic violence, homelessness, standard of living etc, but for this dissertation there is limited space to do so. However, from a personal perspective there are too many variables in social science studies to control, that to establish a direct cause would be virtually impossible.

By way of a conclusion, it has been identified that there is no one theory that is conclusive in confirming any substantial cause to crime. The ideas of biological and psychological causes have enormously degenerated, and the social factors of the situation of the criminal can give us a greater understanding of why criminals commit crimes.



Keith Bottomley and Ken Pease, 1986, Crime and Punishment Interpretating the Data, Open University Press

Eysenck, 1977, Crime and Personality, Routledge & Kegan Paul London and Henley

Rob White and Fiona Haines, 1996, Crime and Criminology An Introduction, Oxford University Press Australia

Edited by Rudi Dallos and Eugene McLaughlin, 1993, Social Problems and the Family, The Open University

Hazel Croall, 1998, Crime and Society in Britain, Longman

Fulcher & Scott, 1999, Sociology, Oxford University Press

Anthony Giddens, 2000, Sociology, Polity

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