Right Realism

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 24-01-13 18:13

Control theory: Hirschi

Control theory assumes that everyone is capable of committing crime. However, most of us do not commit crimes. What prevents us from committing crimes are the social bonds that link us together. These bonds are based on attachment, commitment, involvement and belief.

If these social bonds are very strong the individual has more to lose by committing crime. If these bonds are weak, the individual is more likely to commit crime, due to poor socialisation.

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Murray, socialisation and the underclass

Control theory has been developed further by Murray, who identified an underclass emerging in society. This is not just those at the bottom of the social class system; rather, it is to do with how those on a low income behave. It is not so much that someone is long-term unemployed, but that they are unwilling to take jobs offered to them

Murray sees births outside of marriage as an indicator of an underclass. These lead to lone-parent families, usually headed by women.

Without a male role model they are not socialised into their working responsibilities, relying on state benefits from an over-generous government instead.

This can lead to weak social bonds and, consequently, anti-social behaviour and crime in adulthood, a characteristic of the underclass. Murray argues benefits must be cut and a return to traditional family values is needed otherwise the underclass will simply reproduce generation after generation. However, left realists this ignores wider structural causes of crime such as poverty and cutting benefits will make this worse

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Wilson: biological differences

Some people are simply biologically predisposed to commit crime. Those who are aggressive and risk taking, or have low intelligence, are more likely to be involved in crime. However, the right realist argument that criminals are shaped by biology conflicts with their view that criminals are shaped by socialisation.

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Right realism and situational crime prevention

Right realists are concerned with maintaining law and order. Their approach to this is called situational crime prevention which is based on rational choice theory where the individual weighs up the pros and cons of committing an offence. Situational crime prevention aims to increase the risks and reduce the benefits of committing a crime.

There are two forms of situational crime prevention:

  • Target hardening: making the crime harder to carry out on a particular target: e.g. alarms, security guards, dogs, locks and bolts, electronic tags, dyes, gated communities, etc
  • Surveillance: CCTV, neighbourhood watch

Toilets at the New York Authority Bus Terminal:

The toilets at this bus terminal were poorly designed and created many opportunities for crime due to poor lighting, large sinks, loose ceiling panels, etc. The solution was to change the physical environment by providing brighter lighting, smaller sinks, fixed ceiling panels, etc. This successfully reduced deviant behaviour and the fear of crime for users. 

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However, a major weakness of situational crime prevention is displacement. Using the logic of rational choice theory the offender will choose those with weaker target hardening or surveillance.

Thus, the crime is not prevented, just moved elsewhere. Left realists argue that situational crime prevention fails to tackle the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty (see topic 7).

(However, displacement does not necessarily occur, as shown when natural gas replaced the highly toxic coal gas: suicides from gassing declined along with suicides overall: thus people were not looking for an alternative method, so displacement did not occur.)

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Evaluation of situational crime prevention


  •  A quick and efficient means of dealing with crime
  • CCTV may help police build evidence (identify suspects)


  •  Displacement
  •  It does not tackle the cause of crime such as poverty or social inequality (see left realism and social crime prevention)
  •  Focuses on street crime so ignores domestic violence and corporate crime
  •  Too much emphasis on rational choice – ignores opportunistic crimes
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Wilson and Kelling: Broken windows theory

Wilson and Kelling argue that crime and social disorder are closely linked, and developed the broken windows theory. A window is broken. If it is not mended further vandalism can occur: more broken windows and graffiti. This becomes a downward spiral of decay.

Property prices decline, respectable people move out; those who remain are too frightened to go out, reducing informal social control and leading to unchecked disorder.

The police therefore need to clamp down at the first sign of petty crime, vandalism and disorder. By working with local residents to tackle anti-social behaviour they can prevent this deterioration. This can also help rejuvenate communities and strengthen informal social control measures. Those areas which are too far gone simply are contained with tougher penalties for offenders. This theory led to zero tolerance policing in New York, where the police tackle the most minor offences such as jaywalking, squeegee-merchants, begging, graffiti etc.

However, crime was declining in New York before zero tolerance policing. Furthermore, left realists argue that such an approach leads to the breakdown of the relationship between the police and community, leading to a vicious circle of crime. Also, zero tolerance policing tended to discriminate against certain social groups e.g. young males from ethnic minority groups, the homeless etc. 

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