CRIME: who commits what crime?

The societal effect on crime, and women in crime

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  • Created on: 30-12-15 10:07

Crime and societal influence

Crime is breaking the law, or deviance from social norms It is a fluid concept that varies over time and space. What makes an individual commit crime?

Socio-economic circumstances

  • rational choice theory (C+c 1997)


  • social learning theory
  • labelling theory

Social Capital

Biological explanations

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Socio-economic circumstances: Education

The background of an individual, their education, wealth and health, may make them more likely to commit crime.

Moretti 2005

  • Compulsory schooling and subsequent increased graduation rates, decreased the incarceration rate.
  • The more years spent in school, the less likely someone is to be convicted.

What is the mechanism behind these correlations?

  • Education instates a genuine belief in the law and order, so people are culturally less likely to commit crime.
  • Keeps young people off teh streets during the day, which is where petty 'intrpduction' crimes usually occur.
  • Financially, graduates are better off, and this could relateto rational chocie theory.


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SE circumstances: wealth and RCT

Wage increase also means crime has a greater risk attached to it.

  • Cornish and Clarke 1997 Rational chocie theory says that the beneficial outcomes of a crime must outweigh the risks and punishments to be committed.
  • If you are rich, the risks attached to the crime (losing your job, respect and status) are greater than for someonone with very little money and status.

Punishment further perpetuates crime?

  • Einstatder and Henry 2006
  • Looming severe punishment may cause the offender to commit further, potentially worse, crime, to avoid this punishment.
  • e.g. someone killing all witnesses of their petty crime.
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SE circumstances: poverty


  • Neighbourhood crime rates correlate with poverty (Patterson 2006)
  • In contradiction, Hipp (2007)  absolute poverty only correlates with aggravated assault rates, not robbery or murder.

Relative and wealth inequality

  • Blau 1977 Violent crime increases with income inequality
  • Messner (1982) and Williams (1984) both argue that the relationship between income inequality and crime is insignificant.

Wider inequality may be more important.

  • Patterson 2006: Individuals may use wider sources of information to assess their own wealth e.g. TV, advertisements.
  • Therefore, relative wealth should be used to assess crime rates across larger societies (countries and nations.)
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Problems with SE circumstance approach

Problems with SE circumstance approach

  • Not all crime is lucrative (Caplan 2007) e.g. assault, drunk driving and drug use are not lucrative. Risk hugely outweighs any benefit. Therefore, some crime is irrational and cannot be explained by RCT.

  • Opportunistic crime has very little chocie behind it, but we just drop all our social bonds in that moment? why?
  • It was found that criminals do not think of the possible negative outcomes of a crime, just the positive ones. This is not rational choice making.

  • Correlational studies cannot ensure causality. Those who grow up around crime may be less likely to go to school, (rather than a lack f school causing the higher rates of crime!)

  • The social and economic siuation of a person is ot enough to predict or explain criminal behaviour in that demographic.

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Social Learning Theory

This theory assumes that all people have an innate tendency to NOT be criminals, due to early indoctrination and internalisation of normal beliefs that are against deviant behaviour.

  • There are formal and informal forces in teaching these social norms.

  • Observation and imitation of a behaviour is critical to it be learnt, especially from role models.

  • This could be an issue for the media, which often depicts criminally deviant characters as glamorous or desirable e.g. skins or James bond.

  • Bandura 1977 showed that people who watched a violent film were nor prone to violent, aggressive behaviour later on, than those who watched a non-violent film.

  • Longitudinal studies have found similar effects, Piak 1994, of violent TV increasing aggressive behaviour on a daily basis.


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problems with slt

SLT explains a neat mechanism for how violent behaviour is reproduced between genrations, but not not explain how violence and criminal activity started in the first place, or how was ever perceived as a negative thing.

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Social Control theory

This theory assumes that all people have criminal tendencies. We are isolated froths innate preposition by learning norms and controls of society (Instanter and Henry 2006.)

Hershci and Goffredi said parents must include 4 main interactions to prevent criminality in their children; care, monitor, recognise and correct. Further requirements for strong social ties:

  • attachment (to conventional role models and ideas.)

  • commitment (investment to these conventions, perhaps through education.)

  • belief (moral recognition of the law)

If social ties to the community are weak and meaningless, the person may commit crime.

The theory also extends to an idea of self-control and delayed gratification. High levels on control in a person may allow them to develop these ties in society and get gratification tat way. Others may be swayed by the short term benefits of crime.

However, not all crime is impulsive,such as premeditated murder or robbery. Many white collar crimes, such as fraud and money laundering require patience and discretion.

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Social Capital and crime

Putnam 1995 stated that a cohesive society must moral and social values held in common, as well as political and voluntary integration. Without these, people will not trust eachother, and therefor,e social capital will not develop. This may lead to oytbreaks of crime, as people cannot develop capital and see no point in invetsing in social norms.

A lack of trust in institutions that govern, such a the judicial system or the government, may also reduce peoples investment ins coial norms.

Pew Research Centre 2013 survey

  • 68% of black people believe the courts are biased against them.
  • 27% of wite people think the courts have prejudices.
  • 57% of white people thin the sytsem is completely fair.

This widespread mistrust in black communities could detach them from the institutionalised white norms, leading to greater deviance in these communities. This is then reproduced, as white people will be more socially sucessful and have greater capital, and will reinforce these prejudices and norms.

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Labelling theory: ethnic groups

Or symbolic interactionism

The perception of a wole demographic, or an individual, can play a huge role in recidivism.

Labelling requires humns to play an active role in their socialisation, unlike SLT or social control theory. Humans are aare of who they are perceived and who they view certain crimes (Einstatder and Henry, 2006), and this affects who commits what crime.

People who are labelled once as 'deviant' or 'crimina;' are more likely to reoffend, in a self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism. There are mainy connotations to criminal labels such as 'thief' or 'robber'. These negative connotations could be applied to a whole demographic, and increase this communities chance of criminal activity, as they expect themselves to be more criminally active.

Ghandnoosh 2014: White people overestimate crome rates in ethnic minorities.

Henry 2006 equated almost 63% of recidivism (84% in juveniles) to stigma and labels.

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Labelling theory: white collar crime

Certain demographics have differnet socio-econmic circumstances, so trhe labels applied to their communities will vary also. This will affect the crimes they are expected to, and have a rendency, to commit.

High earning groups may be percieved as more likely to commit white collar crime, and this perception makes them more likely to, in its own right. NIBRS 1997-9 data.

Qinney, 1969 1974

  • dominant groups provide the limits of social morms to submissive groups.
  • e.g. white people institutionalise norms or balck communities, and men for women.
  • because high earning groupsare more affluent, white collar crimes may be percieved as more acceptable or even glamourised, as this group make uop the institution.
  • Sutherland 1949 found that a white collar criminal is less stigmatised than a street criminal.
  • Kling 2002, found that white collar crime had greater stigma.

Essentially, it could be that the lower callses and traditionally submissive groups and culture are inherently criminalised by society.

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Biological theories@ 19-20th century

Very early biological theories of the 19th and 20th century, were essentially based on prejudice and unqualified judgements on appearance of criminals.

Lombroso 1899

  • wrote that criminality was innate, and a criminal could never be truly integrated into society.
  • He diagnosed criminality by physical attributes, such as a crooked features, large lips, and long arms. (Akers 1994.)

This theory has been heavily critisced for its lack of scientific validity, but it is interesting to see how these classic stereotypical attributes are carried forward to modern day view of criminals. Bad-guys in films and TV are often worse looking than the hero. In ourt cases, it may be that appearnace has a sgnificant affect on the cases outcome ( Eberhardt 2006.)

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Modern biological theories

Warrior genes

  • MAO-A gene on the X chromosome.
  • If mutated allele, neurotransmitters arent broken down, promoing impulsive, aggressive behaviour.
  • Brunner 10993 showed excess neurotransmitters in one family with the gene, and criminal tendnecies.
  • Cases 1995 found that mice without the MAO-A gene were more aggreive in territoty and predatory situations tha those witn the normal gene.

This suggets that chemical imbalances wouldbe at the root of impulsive aggressive crime.

Crime has also shown to be heritable. Hutchings and Mednick 1977 show fatehrs and their sons, who had been adopted, criminal convictions corrrelated closely. Thee was no correlation between the boys and their adoptve fathers, suggesting crime is more biological that social.

However, current biochemical theoriess only provide tentative explnation for impulsive crime; though not all crime is impulsive, so the biological theories cannot stretch to justify premeditated crimes

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Nature v Nurture issues

Essentially tehre must be intercation betrween both bioligcal triggers and social exarcebatoing factors, that cause a person to commit a crime.

There is danger in both theories, as they removed blame from the individual. A person cannot help being born with criminal genes, but they also cannot help their pbringig, demographic or social circumstances.

Society requires us to blame the individual, or the crimial justice system would collapse. SO we face a predicament, when in whatever conclusions we make, will have sgnificant consequences.

Alternatively, the white patriarchy can continue to ignore all sociological musings and insist that ethnic groups are just more likely to commit crime. lol.

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Problems with labelling theory

  • Not all people recat to the label the same way; some reject it and will work to prove it wrong. What distinguishes these people from criminals?
  • (side not, those who are criminalised have no way out; if they play by the rules, they are investing in the elites rules and reinforcing them, if they try and proetst, they are imprisoned, and are unsucessful.)
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Mertons strains of the economically unsuccessful

Robrt Merton analysed the American Dream and saw it as the american obsession with econmic success. He said this obsession and strict adherence to it actually promoted crime. He cam up with three 'strains' in which someone, when unable to be economically sucessful, may follow.


  • the goals pursued are legitimate and not deviant
  • dont wnat to work hard in a coventional way
  • consider illegitmate/criminal methods


  • goals of economic/pecuniary success are abandoned
  • not conventionally ambitious
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Mertons strains


  • rejcets both social structure and conventional means, via anti-establisment protest
  • believes the odds are stacked against them


  • unambitious 
  • follows convential means of work and materialism
  • not criminal (stick to legitimate means)


  • Conventional goals are pursued, and they are ambitious
  • not criminal (stick to legitimate means
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