Key Question 1 Crime & Deviance

How are crime and deviance defined and measured?


Defining Crime and Deviance

  • Crime: a legal wrong that can be followed by criminal proceedings, which may result in punishment (an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law)
  • Deviance: behvaiour which is disapproved of by most people in society or group, which does not conform to shared norms and values.
  • Crime and deviance are both socially constructed 
  • Relative to time, society and circumstance.
  • An example of an act relative to time would be: alcohol consumption in the us in the 1920s (deviant/criminal act), alcohol consumption in the us today if over 21(non-deviant act)
  • An example of an act relative to culture would be: women exposing their legs in some islamic societies (deviant/criminal act), women wearing shorts/mini skirts in western societies (non-deviant act)
  • An example of an act relative to circumstsance would be: killing a person in cold blood (deviant/criminal act), a soldier killing an enemy in the course of battle (non-deviant act)
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Social order, social control, formal social contro

  • Social order: General conformity to the shared norms and values, so that society is peacful and predictable. Sociologists do not always agree about how and why social order is achieved, and in whose interest it works.
  • Social control: The process by which people are persuaded to bey the rules and conform. There are agencies of social control that are institutions that serve to ensure conformity. 
  • Formal social control: carried out by the government, the armed forces and the criminal justice system, including the police, the courts and the prison service.
  • Informal social control: carried out by agencies such as the education system, the family, peer groups, media and religion. We may be less aware of informal social control but it is arguably  more important and effective than formal social control.
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Measuring Crime

  • Official Crime Statistics (OCS) include statistics produced from police, court and prison records, Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), a victim survey which asks people about their experiences of crime. 
  • All of these are collated by the Home Office and published by the Office for National Statistics.
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Police recorded crime figures

  • These statistics include all police recorded crime in England and Wales, seperate figures are published for Scotland and Northern Ireland. 
  • They are supplied by 43 territorial police forces of England of Wales + the British Transport Police via the Home Office to the Office for National Statistics. 
  • They're sometimes used as a definitive measure of the amount of crime which has taken place, but only include crime which the police become aware of and which the police then record.
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Strengths of using the Police Recorded Crime Stati

  • Easy to access and have already been compiled 
  • Up to date and standardised 
  • Cover the whole population and go back many years 
  • Ethical problems of studying criminal behaviour in other ways are not an issue 
  • they provide whole counts rather than estimates that are subject to sampling variation - the whole country is included
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Limitations of using the Police Recorded Crime Sta

  • Do not include undetected or unreported crimes 
  • Do not include unrecorded crime - collectively known as 'The Dark Figure of Crime'
  • Do not provide a complete picture about each crime 
  • Accuracy may vary between areas
  • Changes in public perception may affect them
  • Definitions, laws and police counting rules change so they are not comparable over time
  • Pressure on the police to meet crime reduction targets may lead to some crimes 'disappearing' from the figures 
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The Dark Figure of Crime

  • This term is used for all unrecorded crime.
  • Hard to estimate how large this figure is because it includes crimes which are not even known about.
  • Unlikely to be in proportion to police recorded figured so we cannot just estimate.
  • Some types of crime may be more likely to be in the dark figure than others.
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Police Discretion

  • Figures will be affected by the discretion and decisions made by the police.
  • Some police officers may be corrupt or have their own reasons for misrecording individual crimes. 
  • Recent evidence suggests that practices which compromise the accuracy of the statistics are widespread.
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James Patrick - whistleblower

  • Gave evidence to parlimentary committee about his concerns about police statistics in 2013
  • He was disciplined by the police force and left his job as a result 
  • He spent 12 months analysing data from the Met Police and found that even serious sexual offences were routinely 'no-crimed' and that burgulary was commonly downgraded to a lower type of offence. 
  • Allegations were supported by other senior officers.
  • Produced report called 'Caught Red-Handed : why we cant count on the police recorded crime statistics' the Public Administration Committee (2014) said 'the attitudes and behaviour which led to misrecording of crime have become ingrained, including within senior leadership'  
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The Manipulation of the Police Recorded Statistics

Manipulation techniques: 

  • Coughing - an offender might be encouraged to admit a number of offences in return for being charged for less serious offences which would result in a reduced sentence. This would imporve the 'clear-up rate' for the police force in question.
  • Cuffing - this refers to crimes, which have been reported and initially recorded, being removed from the statistics at a later date. Officially known as 'no criming'. This may be because officers decide they did not believe the complainant or reassessing the offence following further investigation. However, it has been alleged that, to improve figures, officers may inappropriately take crimes off the books, even trying to persuade a victim to take back their allegation.
  • Skewing - this involves forces putting resources into those areas measured by performance indicators, to the detriment of other areas, thus ' skewing' the figures.
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The 'Dark Figure' of **** and Sexual Assault (Item

  • Mumsnet (2012) found that 83% of those who had been ***** or sexually assaulted did not report it to the police.
  • About 50% said they were too embarassed or ashamed.
  • About 60% said they would hesitate because of low convistion rates.
  • About 70% feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report ****.
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The 'Dark Figure' of **** and Sexual Assault (Item

Kier Starmer found in 2012:

  • 90% of rapes and sexual assault attacks are not reported to the police because victims don't believe the CJS will help them.
  • Ministry of Justice 2014 revealed the conviction rate for sexual offences was just 55%, even lower than in 2013 when the rate was 61%.
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The 'Dark Figure' of **** and Sexual Assault (Item

  • 2002 **** victim Lindsay Armstrong, 17, was put through a second ordeal by the defence lawyer in the court case which included being made to hold up the underwear she was wearing at the time of the attack. 
  • The accused who was 14 at the time of the attack was found guilty, but the following morning Lindsay took an overdose and was found dead by her mother.
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Victim Surveys

  • An alternative way of measuring crime.
  • Surveying people about which crimes they have been victims of in a given period.
  • Includes some crimes which have not been reported to the police.
  • Victim Surveys cast doubt on the accuracy of Police Recorded crime figures.
  • Biggest crime survey: Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW) - Included as part of the official crime statistics for the government.
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The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW)

  • One of the largest social surveys conducted in Britain - conducted by British Market Research Bereau on behalf of the Home Office since 1982 
  • Called British Crime Survey (BCS) until April 2012 
  • Annually 
  • Over 16s 
  • Children aged 10-15 answer in their parents survey 
  • Nationally representative sample of around 35,000 adults and 3,000 children per year.
  • 2013-2014 response rates 75% and 68% (high)
  • Asked about property crime and personal crime they have experienced
  • CSEW tends to show that crime is much higher than the police figures suggest 
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Limitations of the CSEW

Many claim it is more accurate than police recorded statistics, however, it does have limitations:

  • Victimless crimes like corporate crimes don't appear
  • Not long ago only people over 16 were asked so child victims were left out, this has now changed 
  • CSEW only surveys a sample, so overall trends are an estimate which may not be representative
  • Response rate is 75% potentially missing important data 
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Other Victim Surveys

  • The Islington Crime Survey (Jones, Maclean and Young 1986) first conducted by the Centre for Criminology in inner city London 
  • Second survey carried out in 1990 and a similar survey carried out in Merseyside (Kinsey 1984)
  • Focused more on geographical areas, impact of crime and vulnerable groups than CSEW
  • First survey showed that 33% of all households had been touched by serious crime in the last twelve months 
  • 25% of all people always avoided going out after dark specifically because of fear of crime.
  • 28% felt unsafe in their own home
  • More than 50% women did not often or ever go out after dark
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Other Victim Surveys cont.

  • Young agrues Islington survey shows that fear is real and rational - understandable that 46% admitted to worrying about mugging given then over 40% of the population know someone who has been mugged in the last 12 months.
  • Police recorded figures suggest males more likely to be victims than females but according to Young (1988) womens fear of crime is not just caused by a moral panic.
  • Claimed that by the use of carefully trained researchers, the Islington Survey found a considerably higher rate of female victimisation, due to the non-reporting of sexual and domestic offences through official channels
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Limitations to Victim Surveys

  • Most will be subject to similar limitations as CSEW but do not have the benefit of such representativeness.
  • Accuracy relies on memory and honesty of the victim 
  • Some people may get the timescale wrong and not tell the truth for various reasons including shame and guilt.
  • Peoples threshold of crime may differ.
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Self Report Studies

  • Asking people which crimes they have committed themselves.
  • Often carried out on young people and tend to focus on certain types of crime and deviance
  • The Jack Roller (Shaw 1966) involved a series on unstructured interviews to build up a life history of a criminal - qualitative
  • Most self report studies are quantitative usually involving the respondent to tick next to a list of crimes they have committed.
  • Provide a challenge to the 'Typical Criminal' presented by the police recorded crime statistics.
  • Self report studies typically longitudinal to get an overview of an individuals criminality.
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Self Report Studies: Cambridge and Edinburgh

  • Cambridge: 'The Cambridge Study' carried out by Farringdon et al over a number of years 
  • Followed criminal careers of 411 South London boys from the age of 8 to 32 - started in 1961
  • Edinburgh: 'The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime' more recent study following the offending careers of 4000 young people.
  • Focuses on gender differences whereas Cambridge focsued on males.
  • Consists of young people in Edinburgh in the relevant age group and information is collected about them once a year.
  • The study provides a continuous account of events.
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Issues Affecting the Usefulness of Self Report Stu


  • Some offenders may conceal or make false claims about what they have done 
  • Validity usually assessed by comparing with official records
  • West and Farrington (1977) found at 18 94% of convicted boys addmitted to being convicted  whilst only 2% of unconvicted boys claimed to have been convicted
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Issues Affecting the Usefulness of Self Report Stu


  • Refers to participation and drop out rates 
  • Participants who committ the most offences likely to be difficult to find
  • Suggests a study with a high attrition rate is likely to under-estimate the true number of offences committed
  • An issue identified in the Cambridge Study was cooperation - uncooperative at 32 had uncooperative parents at 8 and were uncooperative themselves at 18
  • However, in the edinburgh study participation rates after four sweeps remained high at 94.4%
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Issues Affecting the Usefulness of Self Report Stu

  •  Things to consider: informed consent, confidentiality and the right to withdraw.
  • For example, in the Edinburgh Study consent was gained from parents and they were given the option to withdraw. Children were informed about the purpose of the study and are free to refuse at any time.
  • Children were also asked to sign a consent form allowing access to their police files.

Other limitations include problems of matching the offenders definitions of criminal behaviour wirth police categories. Self report studies also tend to focus on small groups of people and on particular types of crime so does not give us an overall picture, reducing representativeness.

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Functionslist view on statistics

  • Functionalists believe in the existence of social facts and measuring social behaviour scientifically.
  • Trust quantitative data - see it as reliable and representative.
  • See the police as representing all of us and not question their motives.
  • Most explainations use the term 'typical criminal' - young, working class males - as a starting point to explaining crime. 
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Interactionists view on statistics

  • Focus on the social construction of crime statistics
  • Paying particular attention to police labelling and the consequences of interactions between certain powerless groups in society and the police and the courts. 
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New Right view on statistics

  • New Right and Right Realists accept the official picture of the typical criminal presented by the police recorded figures, since they too believe that laws are made for society and applied equally.
  • The police are representing the interests of the whole society.
  • Focus on explaining criminality amongst the most deprived sections of society - underclass - since statistics suggest most crime is committed by such people.
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Left Realists view on statistics

  • Recognise the police figures are not perfect, but they should not be dismissed, because they are about real crimes.
  • They suggest police recorded figures should be supplemented by other methods, such as victim surveys.
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Feminist view on statistics

  • Accept the official picture thst females commit significantly less crime than males ansd try to explain why.
  • Look at high levels of social control applied to females.
  • Some feminists focus on the way female offenders are treated differently by the police and in the courts. 
  • Argue that male crime against women is underreported in the crime statistics. 
  • They don't challenge the idea of the typical criminal being male, but do challenge the accuracy of the statistics.
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Marxist view on statistics

  • See police recorded crime figures as a tool to control the working class and justify their control and oppression.
  • Police used to scare us and justify more policing.
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Radical Criminologists view on statistics

  • Tend to focus on the power of police to label for political reasons.
  • Ideas have been used to challenge the over representation of certain ethnic minority groups in the police recorded figures.
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