Sociology- Crime And Deviance


Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

Patterns of Crime:

  • sociologists get most of their information from the Official Crime Statistics published by the government
  • based on reports by victims and the general public recorded by the police
  • based on detected and solved crimes by the police
  • based on crimes reported to the British Crime Survey (annual survey of crime victimisation)


  • used to establish trends
  • volume of crime- increasing of decreasing?
  • main types of crime- violence or property orientated?
  • typical social characteristics of the people who are reported and convicted
  • useful because they can be used to assess the effectiveness of criminal justice initiatives or an increase in policing
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

Trends In Crime:

Robert Reiner suggests there are three periods regarding trends in criminal behaviour:

Period One- Rapid Rise in Recorded Crime:

  • 1950s-1980s
  • measured using only those crimes reported to and recorded by the police
  • dramatic rise in the volume of recorded crimes
  • all major categories of crime had increased

Period Two- Crime Explosion:

  • 1980s-1990s
  • number of recorded crimes increased by 111%

Period Three- Falling Crime Rates, Rise in Fear:

  • 1994-2009
  • fell significantly
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

Distribution of Crime by Social Group:


  • 50% of all crimes are committed by young people
  • peak age for male offenders is 18
  • peak age for female offenders is 15


  • 80%-90% of offenders found guilty are male
  • male crime outnumbers female crime by approx. 5:1
  • 33.3% of men likely to be convicted
  • 8% of women likely to be convicted
  • males dominate all offences
  • females likely to be theft/ shoplifting 
  • recently female violent crime increased by still outnumbered by males
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

Distribution of Crime by Social Group Continued:


  • over-representation of African-Caribbean men and women
  • police more likely to stop and search black people
  • black youths more likely to be cautioned or given ASBOs
  • rise in number of Asians who are arrested


  • urban areas have higer crime rates
  • inner-city and council estate residents more likely to be victims of crime

Social Class:

  • Robert Reiner notes working-class bias in prison population
  • Hagel and Newburn found that 8% of prisoners came from middle-class background
  • middle class offenders tend to be white-collar crime 
  • working-class offenders tend to be street crime
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

Social Construction of Official Crime Statistics

Interpretivist sociologists argue that OCS are of limited usefulness and are socially constructed.

  • some criminal offences are not included, e.g. tax and VAT fraud 
  • some crimes may not be recorded because the police regard them as too trivial to classify
  • offenders may belong to armed services, which are punished outside the legal system
  • some institutions such as banks and medics do not involve the police 
  • ethnic minorities do not report crime because they have little faith in the police
  • some victims may not be aware a crime has been committed against them, e.g. child abuse
  • some victims may fear humiliation at the hands of the police and so don't report it e.g. r*pe
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

The Social Construction of the Official Statistics

The General Public and Victims of Crime:

Andy Pilkington argues OCS may not be useful because they only tell us about the increased reporting of particular crimes by the general public. 

  • general public more intolerant to property crime so more likely to report it
  • OCS reflects public intolerance fuelled by moral panics- more likely to report folk devils 
  • moral panics lead to deviancy amplification
  • some crimes do not have victims (prostitution) so not reported by general public
  • victimless crimes rely on police detection

Criminologists have estimated that for every 100 crimes committed, 47 will be reported to the police, 27 will be recorded by the police, and 5 will be convicted. 

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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

The Police

Interpretivists argue OCS tell us more about policing than actual crimes. 

  • studies of police officers show they operate using stereotypical assumptions about behaviour
  • MacPherson report suggests racial profiling by police led them to stop African-Caribbeans 
  • 2010- police six times more likely to stop African-Caribbeans
  • canteen cultures shows police have racist attitudes 
  • Holdaway found older police officers use racist language in front of younger officers
  • Jock Young noted military style policing in ethnic minority areas
  • Feminist criminologists argue male officers adopt paternalistic attitudes towards females
  • police less likely to arrest females

The Courts

  • judges and juries have stereotypical views
  • middle-class offenders and women more likely to be found not guilty by juries
  • Roger Hood found black youths 17% more likely to be sentenced compared to white youth
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Social Distribution of Crime and Deviance

The Marxist Critique of the Official Crime Statistics

Marxists suggest the capitalist state collects and constructs criminal statistics in order to serve the interest of the ruling class. 

  • statistics serve as an ideological function
  • whoever has the power to collect stats has the power to manipulate public opinion
  • OCS criminalise groups such as the young, the working class and African Caribbeans
  • Steven Box argues OCS divert attention away from white-collar crime and corporate crime
  • ruling class control the law so does not punish middle-class crime as harshly

Left Realist contrast this:

  • young working class people and African-Caribbean people do commit more crimes than others.
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist Explanations (Structuralist Theory)

Crime and deviance can only be explained by looking at the way societies are organised socially.

Emile Durkheim:

  • in pre-industrial time family and religion were powerful agencies of socialisation and social control
  • crime rates were higher in cities as the modern life undermined the authority of family and religion
  • Consensus and social controls were weaker so people experienced anomie

He believed crime functions for the benefit of society:

  • provoke positive change
  • create public outrage which reinforces community solidarity
  • punishment of criminals reassures people that society functions effectively
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist Explanations

Evaluation of Durkheim:

  • never explains why certain social groups commit crime
  • neglects the fact that some crimes are always dysfunctional
  • marxists argue that he underestimates the level of conflict and inequality in modern societies.
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist Explanations

Robert Merton argued the cause of crime lies in the relationship between the culture and the social structure of society.

Resources and opportunities are not fairly distributed in capitalist societies. Those at the bottom of society may experience strain between getting their goal and education/work as the chances of accessing these is blocked by economic and social disadvantages.

Individuals respond to anomie in various ways:

Conformity- doing their best and making most of what society offers

Innovation- reject the conventional means of acquiring wealth and turn to illegal means

Ritualism- derive satisfaction from fairly meaningless jobs

Retreatism- reject both goals and means by dropping out of society

Rebellion- replace shared goals and institutional means with radical alternatives.

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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist Explanations 

Evaluation of Merton:

  • does not explain why some people commit crime yet others conform, retreat or rebel
  • explains crime that results in economic gain but does not explain violent or sexual crimes
  • fails to explain youth and gang crime not motivated by material goals
  • white-collar and corporate crime arises from opportunities rather than blocking them
  • fails to ask who benefits from the capitalist system and especially the laws that underpin it
  • Marxists like Steven Box suggest that the ruling class benefits the most from the current laws.
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Subcultural Explanations

Albert Cohen:

Delinquency is caused by a strain between cultural goals and the institutional means of achieving them.

  • young people want status and respect
  • middle-class children get this from their parents & teachers through educational success
  • working-class children do not get this from parents or teachers 
  • they leave school with no or little qualifications or work low paid job or become unemployed
  • these experiences result in low self-esteem and become angry at their low status
  • experience status frustration and respond by forming gangs and subcultures
  • they award one another status through delinquent behaviour
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Subcultural Explanations

Evaluation of Cohen:

  • Paul Willis argues the working-class youths did not share the same definition of status as middle-class youths
  • most working-class boys actually conform at school despite failure
  • ignores female delinquency
  • neglects role of agencies of social control e.g. police stereotyping 
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Subcultural Explanations

Walter Miller:

working-class delinquents are merely acting out mainstream values of working-class subculture.

  • working-class subculture has developed focal concerns
  • these include masculinity, desire for excitement and anti-authority
  • living out the focal concerns makes up for the boredom of school and factory jobs
  • may cause confrontation with teachers and the police
  • delinquency blames of the deviant nature of working-class
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Subcultural Explanations

Cloward and Ohlin

argued that the type of crime committed depended on the type of illegitmate opportunity structure that is available to them in their area.

Three illegitimate opportunity structures that produce three types of subculture:

  • established patterns of illegitimate opportunity in which people experience criminal careers. Employees have specific roles and can be promoted.
  • Conflict subcultures which engage in masculised territorial or respect driven violence.
  • if they fail to access either subculture, they form retreatist subcultures, use drugs and committ crimes such as shoplifting to fiance it.
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Subcultural Explanations

Criticisms of the Theory:

David Matza suggested the following problems-

  • experience status frustration but do not become delinquent
  • only minority become delinquent
  • some drift in and out of delinquency but eventually grow out of it
  • young people rarely refer to subcultures when explaining their delinquency
  • neglect the role of the police who tend to stop and search working-class more than middle-class
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Marxist Explanations (Structural Theory)

argue that the nature and organisation of capitalism creates the potential for criminal behaviour. Can be shown in two ways:

  • David Gordon argues that capitalism is characterised by class inequalities in wealth and income
  • most working-class crime is in response to these inequalities
  • Gordon suggests the ideology of capitalism encourages criminal behaviour in all social classes
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Marxist Explanations (Structural Theory)

The Law as Ideology and Social Control:

Louis Althusser argues that the law is an ideological state apparatus. This functions in the interests of the capital class to maintain and legitmate class inequality:

  • concerned mainly with protecting the major priorities of capitalism like wealth and private property
  • law enforcement is selective and tends to favour the rich and powerful
  • Jeffrey Reiman argues higher-class people who committ crimes are more likely to get let off- in particular white collar crime.
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Marxist Explanations (Structural Theory)

White Collar and Corporate Crime

Hazel Croall defines white collar crime as crime committed in the course of legitmate employment and abuses an occupational role.

  • fraud, accounting offences, tax evasion, insider dealing and computer crime
  • people who own the means of production have greater opportunities than most to make large sums of money from crime

White collar crime is not considered as a serious problem by the general public because:

  • it's hidden from public gaze
  • people do not fear it
  • crimes are complex
  • responsibility is diffused so hard to find blame
  • victimisation is indirect
  • regulatory bodies advise and warn rather than punish them
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Theories of Crime and Deviance

Marxist Explanations (Structural Theory)

Evaluation of Marxism:

  • ignores relationship between crime and important non-class variables such as gender
  • not all poor people commit crime despite pressure of poverty
  • criminal justice system sometimes acts against the interests of the capitalist class
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