The realist theories..

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Right Realism - The causes of crime..

·         Right realism comes from a New Right perspective. They see crime as a growing problem that destroys communities, undermines social cohesion and threatens society’s work ethic. Right realists criticise other theories for failing to offer any practical solutions to the problem of rising crime. They also regard theories such as labelling as too sympathetic to the criminal and too hostile to the forces of law and order.

       Right realists are less concerned to understand the causes of crime and more concerned with providing realistic solutions.

The causes of crime:
 Right realists reject the idea put forward by Marxists and other structural or economic factors such as poverty. For right realists, crime is the product of three factors
Bio-social : some personality traits put some at greater risk of offending.  Wilson and Herrnstein put forward a biosocial theory of criminal behaviour. In their view, crime is caused by a combination of biological and social functions. Biological differences between individuals make some people innately more strongly predisposed to commit crime than others.
Inadequate socialisation and cultural: Welfare dependency e.g. single parent = boys lack role models.
Rational choice: People choose to commit crime by weighing up pros and cons. 

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Socialisation and the underclass..

·         Charles Murray argues that the crime rate is increasing because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ that is defined by their deviant behaviour and those who fail to socialise their children properly. According to Murray, the underclass is growing both in the US and the UK.

·         Lone mothers are ineffectively socialisation agents especially for boys. Absent fathers means that boys lack male role models and as a result, young males turn to other, often delinquent, role models on the street and gain status through crime rather than supporting their families through a steady job.

·         For Murray, the underclass is not only a source of crime. Its very existence threatens society’s cohesion by undermining the values of hard work and personal responsibility.

·         Murray argues that crime is increasing in both the USA and the UK as a result of welfare dependency as individuals become dependent on the state which leads to a decline in marriage and growth of lone parent families.

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Rational Choice Theory..

·         Right realists argue that crime comes from rational choice theory, which assumes that individuals have free will and the power of reason. Clarke argues that the decision to commit crime is a choice based on a rational calculation of the likely consequences.

·         If the perceived rewards of crime outweigh the perceived the costs of crime, or if the rewards of crime appear to be greater than those of non-criminal behaviour then people will be more likely to offend.

·         Right realists argue that currently the perceived costs of crime are low and this is why the crime rate has increased.  Felson’s routine activity theory discusses that for a crime to occur, there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a ‘capable guardian’. 

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Tackling Crime..

·         Right realists do not believe it is fruitful to try to deal with the causes of crime since these cannot be changed easily. Instead they seek to devise practical measures to make crime less attractive. Their main focus is on control, containment and punishment of the offenders rather than eliminating the underlying causes of offending.

·         Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) article Broken Windows argue that it is essential to maintain the orderly character of neighbourhoods to prevent crime taking hold. Low behaviour such as graffiti, litter when not dealt with/ prevented will lead to more serious crime.

                                'CRIME FLOURISHES WHERE SOCIAL ORDER BREAKS DOWN'.

·         They advocate a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards undesirable behaviour such as prostitution. The role of the police should be to focus on controlling the streets so that law-abiding citizens feel safe.
EXAMPLE: California's 'three strikes and you're out' policy.

Crime prevention theories should reduce the rewards and increase the costs of crime to the offender e.g. by ‘target hardening’, greater use of prison and ensuring punishments follow soon after the offense to maximise their deterrent effect.

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Criticisms of right realism..

·         Right realism ignores wider structural causes such as poverty.

·         It overstates offenders’ rationality and how far they make cost-benefit calculations before committing a crime. While it may explain some utilitarian crime, it may not explain much violent crime.

·         Its view that criminals are rational actors freely choosing crime conflicts with its view their behaviour is determined by their biology and socialisation.

·       Marxism: It is preoccupied with petty street crime and ignores corporate crime, which may be more costly and harmful to the public.

·         Advocating a zero tolerance policy gives police free rein to discriminate against ethnic minority youth, the homeless etc. It also results in displacement of crime to other areas. Jones notes how right realist policies have failed in the USA to prevent crime rate rising. 

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Left Realism..

·         Left realism developed as a response to two main factors;
     1. The need to take the rising crime rate seriously and to produce practical solutions.
     2. The influence of right realism on government policy.

Left realists look at the indivdual and the causes which could have led them to commit crime.

·         Like Marxists, left realists see society as an unequal capitalist one. However, left realists are reformist rather revolutionary socialists: they believe in gradual social change rather than a violent revolution to shake up the capitalist system.

·         They believe we need to develop explanations of crime that will lead to practical strategies for reducing it in the here and now, rather than waiting for a revolution to abolish crime.

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Taking crime seriously..

·         They accuse other sociologists for not taking crime seriously:

·         Traditional Marxists have concentrated on crimes of the powerful. Left realists agree that this is important but they argue that it neglects working class crime and its effects.

·         Neo-Marxists romanticise working class criminals as Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich as an act of political resistance to capitalism. Left realists point out that in fact working-class criminals mostly victimise other working-class people, not the rich.

·         Labelling theorists see working class criminals as the victims of discriminatory labelling by social control agents. Left realists argue that this approach neglects the real victims- working-class people who suffer at the hands of criminals.

·         Young (1997) argues that the increase in crime rate has led to an aetiological crisis- a crisis in explanation- for theories of crime. E.g. Critical criminology tend to deny the increase in crime is real. However, left realists argue that the increase is too great to be explained in this way and is a real one: more people are reporting crime because more people are actually falling victim to crime.

·         Taking crime seriously also involves recognising who is most affected by crime. Local victim surveys show that disadvantaged groups have a greater risk of becoming victims, especially of burglary and violence. - Poor targetted as no cctv or locking. 

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The causes of crime - Relative Deprivation..

·         Lea and Young (1992) identify three related causes of crime; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.
Relative Deprivation.. 
How deprived someone feels in relation to others, can lead to crime when people feel resentment that others unfairly have more than them and resort to crime to obtain what they feel they are entitled to.

-      Lea and Young identified a paradox that today’s society is more prosperous and crime-ridden. Although people are better off, they are now more aware of relative deprivation due to the media, which raises everyone’s expectations for material possessions. EX) Poverty was high in 1930's, yet crime rates were low. Since living standards have gone up 1950's, so too has crime rates.
- For Young, ‘the lethal combination is relative deprivation and individualism’. Individualism is a concern with the self and one’s own individual rights, rather than those of the group. It causes crime by encouraging the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others.
- For left realists, increasing individualism is causing disintegration of families and communities by undermining the values of mutual support and selflessness on which they are based. This the informal controls that such groups exercise over individuals, creating a spiral of increasing aggression and crime. 

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The causes of crime - Marginalisation..

·         Marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals and organisations put pressure on employers and politicians. As such, they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

·         By contrast, unemployed youths are marginalised. They have no organisation to represent them and no clear goals, just a sense of resentment and frustration. Being powerless, to use political means to improve their position, they express their frustration through criminal means such as violence and rioting.

Gibbs and Merighi (1994) argue that the black community are marginalised in terms of poverty, housing, education and jobs = anger and frustration = leads to crime

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The causes of crime - Subcultures..

·         The left realist view of criminal subcultures is similar to the views of Merton, Cloward and Ohlin and Cohen. For left realists, a subculture is a group's collective solution to the problem of relative deprivation.

·         However, different groups may produce different subcultural solutions to this problem. Weber outlines a 'theodicy of disprivilege'- turning to religion as it offers spiritual comfort and an explanation to their situation. Such religious subcultures may encourage respectability and conformity.   

·         Within the African community in Bristol, Pryce identified a variety of subcultures or lifestyles, including hustlers, Rastafarians, 'saints' and working class 'respectables'.

·         For left realists, criminal subcultures still subscribe to the values and goals of mainstream society such as materialism and consumerism. 

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Young - Late modernity, exclusion and crime..

Young argues that we are now living in the stage of late modern society, where instability, insecurity and exclusion make the problem of crime worse. He contrasts today's society with the period preceding it, known as the 'Golden Age' of modern capitalist society. This was a period of stability, full employment, security and most importantly, lower crime rates.

Since the 1970s, instability, insecurity and exclusion have increased. De-industrialisation and the loss of unskilled jobs has led to an increase in unemployment and poverty, especially amongst the young and ethnic minorities.

 Young's contrast between economic exclusion and cultural inclusion is similar to Merton's idea of anomie- that society creates crime by setting cultural goals, while denying people the opportunity to achieve them by legitimate means.

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Tackling Crime..(LR)

·         Left realists argue that we must both improve policing and control, and deal with the deeper structural causes of crime.

Policing and control.
 Kinsey, Lea and Young argue that police clear-up rates are too low to act as a deterrent to crime and that police spend too little time actually investigating crime. However with the police losing support, especially from inner cities, the flow of information dries up and the police have to rely on military policing such as using random stop and searches. This alienate communities who see the police as victimising local youth.
- Left realists argue the police need to improve their relationship with local communities by spending time investigating crime and involving the public in policing policies. 
- Left realists also argue that crime control cannot be left to the police alone- a multi-agency approach  is needed. This would involve agencies like local councils as well as voluntary organisations, as well as the public.

Tackling the structural causes
Left realists argue that the causes of crime lie in the unequal structure of society and major structural changes are needed if they want to reduce levels of offending. We must become more tolerant of diversity and cease stereotyping whole groups of people as criminal.

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Left realism and government policy..

Left realists have had more influence on the government than most theorists of crime. 

Their views on government policy has strong similarities with the New Labour stance of being 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. E.g. New Labour's New Deal for unemployed youth and their anti-truanting policies attempt to reverse the exclusion of those young people who are at greatest risk of offending.

·         However, Young regards many of these policies as nostalgic and doomed attempts to recreate the conditions of the 'Golden Age' of the 1950s. Young also criticises the record of governments. He argues that they have largely only addressed the symptoms such as anti-social behaviour- they have been tougher on crime than on tackling its underlying causes.

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Evaluation of Left Realism..

·         Left realism has succeeded in drawing attention to the reality of street crime and its effects, especially on victims from deprived victims.

·         Henry and Milovanovic argue that it accepts the authorities' definition of crime as being street crime committed by the poor, instead of defining the problem as being one of how powerful groups do harm to the poor.

·         Marxists argue that it fails to explain corporate crime, which is much more harmful even if less conspicuous.

·         Interactionalists argue that, because left realists rely on quantitative data from victim surveys, they cannot explain offenders' motives. Instead, we need qualitative methods to reveal their meanings.

·         Relative deprivation cannot fully explain crime because not all those who experience it commit crime. The theory over-predicts the amount of crime.

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Comparing right and left realism..

·         Both left and right realists see crime as a real problem and fear of crime as rational.

       On the other hand, they come from different ends of the political spectrum; right realists are neo-conservatives whereas left realists are reformist socialists. This is reflected in how they explain crime- right realists blame individual lack of self-control,
while left realists blame structural inequalities and relative deprivation.

·         Political differences are reflected in the aims and solutions to the problem of crime; the right prioritise social order, achieved through a tough stance against offenders
Whereas the left prioritises justice, achieved thorough democratic policing and reforms to create greater equality.  

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