The following essay will look at the factors influencing the recording of crime statistics whilst giving an overview of sociological theories regarding crime and deviance. A century ago, most people who thought about the issue believed that some people were just biologically criminal (Giddens; 2006). Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso believed that criminal types could be identified by anatomical features. Psychological approaches to criminality have searched for explanations of deviance within the individual, not society.
Both biological and psychological approaches to criminality presume that deviance is a sign of something ‘wrong’ with the individual, rather than with society (Giddens; 2006). Deviance may be defined as non-conformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society. No society can be divided up between those who conform and those who deviate from social norms. (Giddens; 2006). Most of us on some occasions transgress generally accepted rules of behaviour.
For example at some point in one’s life one may have committed minor acts of theft, like shoplifting or taking small items from work such as pens, paper – for personal use, exceeded the national speed limit, made prank phone calls or even smoked marijuana. Deviance and crime are not synonymous, although in many cases they overlap. The concept of deviance is much broader than that of crime, which refers only to non-conformists conduct that breaks the law (Giddens; 2006).
The notion of anomie was first introduced by Emile Durkheim, who suggested that in modern societies traditional norms and standards become undermined without being replaced by new ones (Collins; 2006). Anomie exists when there are no clear standards to guide behaviour in a given area of social life. Under such circumstances, Durkheim believed, people feel disorientated and anxious anomie is therefore one of the social factors influencing dispositions to suicide which was regarded as a crime. Durkheim saw crime and deviance as social facts, he believed both of them to be inevitable and necessary elements in modern societies.
According to Durkheim, people in the modern age are less constrained than they were in traditional societies, because there is more room for individual choice in the modern world, there will inevitably be some non-conformists. Functionalists theories see crime and deviance resulting from structural tensions and a lack of moral regulation within society. According to Merson, deviance is a by-product of economic inequalities and the lack of equal opportunities (Giddens; 2006). Functionalists such as Merton can be criticised for presuming that middle-class values have been accepted throughout society.
Interactionists reject the idea that are inherently ‘deviant’ rather, Interactionists ask how behaviours initially come to be defined as deviant and why certain groups and not others are labelled as deviant (Collins; 2006). To determine the extent of crime and the most common forms of criminal offence, one approach is to examine the official statistics on the number of crimes which the police actually record. Since such statistics are published regularly, there would seem to be no difficulty in assessing crime rates, but this assumption is quite erroneous.
Statistics about crime and delinquency are probably the least reliable of all officially published figures on social issues. Criminologists have emphasised that we cannot take statistics on crime at face value. The most basic limitation of statistics based on reported crime is that the majority of crimes never get passed on to the police at all. Even in cases where a victim is wounded, studies have shown that cases are not reported to the police, for example, that it is a private affair or something they have dealt with themselves. (www. home office. gov. uk)
Factors that can influence crime are the types of crime committed. Some forms of criminal violence, for example, are more hidden than others and are therefore not recorded. For example physical and sexual abuse often takes place behind closed doors in the home, prison or care institutions. Victims may fear that the Police may not believe them, or that if they do report it the abuse will get worse. Victims of domestic violence often do not report incidents as they believe that the crime is too trivial and that the Police wont be able to do anything about it.
A large proportion of car theft is reported but it can be argued that is due largely to the fact the car owner has to report the crime to their insurance company. (www. homeoffice. gov. uk) Often people assume that if a crime seems minor or the damage can be repaired by insurance, they should not bother the police, but, underreporting crime can affect crime statistics. Not reporting a crime gives the impression that it is acceptable to commit crimes such as petty theft as the perpetrator will then believe that there is a high chance he/she will not be prosecuted.
Another factor that may influence crime is drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol have an overpowering addicting affect on the user and some people resort to, burglary, theft and forgery to fulfil their addiction. The overall effect of partial reporting of crimes is that the official crime statistics reflect only a portion of overall criminal offences. Surveys such as the BSC are known as victimisation studies while they are valuable indicators, but the data from victimisation studies must also be treated with caution. In certain instances the methodology of the study itself may result in significant under-reporting.
This might mean that a victim of domestic violence, for example, would not report violent incidents in the presence of the abuser, or where the abuse has taken place. What is more, the survey does not include people under the age of 16 or who are homeless or live in some kind of institution, such as a care home. This is particularly important, as other research has shown that these groups can be particularly prone to being victims of crime. Over-reporting could also happen as a result of bad memory or though the desire to show off.
Like other areas of sociology, criminology studies have traditionally ignored half the population. Feminists have been correct in criticising criminology for being a male-dominated discipline in which women are largely ‘invisible’ in both theoretical considerations and empirical studies. (Giddens, 2006) Since the 1970s many important feminists’ works have drawn attention to the way in which criminal transgression by women occur in different contexts from those of men and how women’s experiences with the criminal justice system are influenced by certain gender assumptions about appropriate male and female roles.
Feminists have also played a critical role in highlighting the prevalence of violence against women, both at home and in public. According to the Home Office’s 2003 report only about 19% of all known offenders in England and Wales are female. There are sharp contrasts between the types of crimes that men and women commit. Studies have shown that women are more likely to commit crimes if theft, usually from shops, than violent crime. Otta Pollak (1950) suggested that certain crimes perpetrated by women tend to go unreported.
He saw women’s predominately domestic roles with the opportunity to commit crimes at home and in the private sphere. (www. homeoffice. gov. uk) According to the crime rate in England and Wales the most committed crime amongst males and females was; theft and handling of stolen goods. These crimes, and similar to most crimes are mostly committed by the working-class; nevertheless this is not to say that other social class do not commit crimes. Explanations for crime and deviance in society has been attempted to be explained by many sociologists, for example labelling theory, subculture theory and also left/right realist.
However they focus on working-class crimes, and fail to provide an explanation for middle-class. High crime rates amongst working class people may be down to the targeting of working class people, as explained by interactionists. According to Interactionists acts labelled as deviant tend to be committed by certain types of people. For example, police tend to target specific groups, of whom were mostly likely to commit crimes. (Giddens; 2006) Two sociological theories for crime and deviance are the Social Disorganisation Theory the Strain Theory.
The social disorganisation theory focuses on urban conditions that affect crime rates. The theory holds that high unemployment, high school drop out rates, low income levels, and large numbers of single parent households contribute to crime. The strain theory holds that crime is a conflict between people’s goals and means they can use to legally obtain them. Basically the strain theory holds that people in a low socioeconomic class have less opportunity to achieve their goals so they will commit crime to do so. Social process theories contend that crime is a function of individual socialisation (http://online. orainevalley. edu).
The interactions that people have within their environment lead them to criminal behaviour (http://online. morainevalley. edu). A person’s family members, peer groups, as well as other groups within a community influence their behaviour. Social conflict theories state that crime arises in response to political and economical conditions. An example would be if a person robbed someone, the conflict theories contend that the criminal was ‘forced’ to do so because of economic conditions brought on by the inequitable distribution of wealth (http://online. orainevalley. edu).
The Marxist theory sees crime as the rebellion of the lower class. The Rational theory contends that law-violating behaviour occurs after offenders weigh the rewards with the risks. So if the rewards outweigh the risks, a crime is committed. In summary it can be argued that taking into account all the evidence available that crime statistics are not reliable and to an extent do not provide a realistic overview. Also it can be argued that crime statistic are bias towards the working class and are very gender specific.