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The Nature of Crime and Victimization

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1 The Nature of Crime and Victimization

2 Crime is a Label Some forms of conduct, but not all, are defined as crimes or violations of law Definitions of what conduct is a crime change over time (e.g., producing, selling and drinking alcohol). Why is that so? Definitions of crime reflect basic assumptions about the nature of society and social control

3 How is Crime Defined? Consensus view
Crimes are behaviors harmful to a majority of citizens in society. (social harm) Society’s social control function is accomplished by prohibiting these behaviors through the criminal law.

4 How is Crime Defined? (cont.)
Conflict view Crime is the outcome of a class conflict between the rich and the poor. Groups with political and economic power shape the law to ensure their continued economic domination of society.

5 How is Crime Defined? (cont.)
Interactionist view The law is structured to reflect the preferences and opinions of people who hold social power in a particular legal jurisdiction. Moral entrepreneurs wage campaigns to control behaviors they view as wrong (i.e. abortion) or to legalize behaviors they consider harmless (i.e. prostitution).

6 Making Crime What standards are normally used to define conduct as criminal? Harm/injury to individuals and society (e.g., murder, assassination) Undermining of public/social order (e.g., disorderly conduct, DWI) Offense against prevailing morality (e.g., gay/lesbian sex) Undermining the capacity of the criminal justice system (e.g., resisting arrest, perjury)

7 Deciding What is Serious Crime
How serious is a crime is it? Standards: Level or degree of harm, offensiveness, undermining of public order, etc. Who determines what crimes are more serious than others? Legal categories of crime: legislatures Public perception of seriousness: opinion surveys Occupational specialists (e.g., police, judges, scholars) A puzzle: who determined what is a UCR Part I (serious) and Part II crime (non-serious)?

8 UCR, Part I: Serious Crime
Why are these the serious crimes? Why are drug crimes, for example, not serious?

9 How is Crime Measured? Official record data Survey data
Uniform Crime Reports Survey data National Crime Victimization Survey Self Report Studies Alternative sources Observation Interviews Life Histories

10 How Good is the Information?
How accurate are official crime data? How accurate are UCR data? What problems lead to inaccuracies? How accurate are the NCVS data? What problems lead to inaccuracies? How accurate area drug use data from NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) surveys? Fear of Crime surveys: what do people fear?

11 UCR UCR collects data on 8 crimes UCR is published by the FBI
UCR is based on reports from other police agencies Problems with accuracy Only includes crimes reported by victims or observers to the police (about half of all crimes which are committed are reported) Depends on voluntary submissions by police agencies of data to the FBI Does not include federal crimes, including those committed on Indian reservations Technical differences in defining and counting crimes among law enforcement agencies

12 NCVS Accuracy problems:
Answering questions about crime depends on memory: can lead to over-reporting and under-reporting A survey of households Sampling errors Asks about any victimization of members of the household in the last six months Memory errors Reluctance to report intra family crime (e.g., domestic violence) Not knowing proper legal definitions of crimes

13 Drug Surveys Self-reports – how truthful are respondents?
Drug use for hard drugs is rare Only a few cases will show up in any sample but are extrapolated to national numbers National numbers are guesses

14 How Good is the Information from Non-Official Sources?
Self report interviews and surveys: what problems with accuracy? Observation of criminal conduct: what problems with accuracy? Studying life histories: what problems with accuracy?

15 What Information on Crime is Collected?
Crime: 3 patterns to look at The level of crime: how many homicides or burglaries, per capita The mix of crime: how many property or person crimes; what are the ratios between the two types of crime Trends in crime over time: how does crime generally, or different types of crime, change over time

16 Trends in Serious Crime
When reading this figure, look at the overall trends (up, down, level) not the specific numbers

17 Crime Trends After reaching their peak in the 1990s both violent and property crimes have shown an overall decline. These declines were evident in both the Uniform Crime Reporting System and the National Crime Victimization Survey.

18 Crime Patterns – Who Are the Offenders
Ecological differences – where they live Gender Race Social class Age Criminal careers – prior criminal record

19 Crime Patterns – Who are the Victims
Gender Age Income Marital status Race Ecological factors Victim-offender relationships Repeat victimization

20 Explanations for Crime Differ
Types of crimes: keep in mind that no one explanation works for all types of crime Violent crimes (e.g., serial killers) Property crimes (e.g., burglary) White collar crimes (e.g. fraud) Drugs, which kind? Morality crime (e.g. sex for sale, gambling)

21 Causes of Crime and Victimization
Choice theory: All people of their own free will can choose between conventional or criminal behaviors. For some people, criminal solutions are more attractive because they require less effort for greater gain. Weigh benefits and consequences of actions. Punishments threatened by the existing criminal law are the primary deterrent to crime. Deterrence effects are limited (calculating future costs and benefits is not easy)

22 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Socio-biological theory: Behavior is a function of the interaction of biochemical, neurological, and genetic factors with environmental stimulus. Bio-chemical factors E.g., aggressive tendencies caused by exposure to chemicals, such as lead poisoning when young Neurological problems Genetic abnormalities

23 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Psychological theory: Criminals are driven by unconscious thought patterns, developed in early childhood, that control behavior. Psychoanalytic View Schizophrenia Conduct disorders Social learning Psychopathic personality

24 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Social structure theory: A person’s position in the social structure affects her/his behavior. Poverty Social disorganization Strain Cultural deviance

25 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Social process theory: Interactions with key social institutions – family, school, peer group, military service, job – shapes behavior. Social learning Social control Social reaction (labeling)

26 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Conflict theory: Human behavior is shaped by interpersonal conflict. Those who maintain power will use it to further their own needs. Economic and political forces in society as fundamental causes of criminality Crimes are defined in a way that meets needs of ruling class and economic and political elites Street crime is punished differently from white collar crime

27 Causes of Crime and Victimization (cont.)
Developmental theory (Life course theory) People begin relationships and behaviors that will determine their adult life course, even as toddlers. Finishing school, entering workforce, getting married and having children Disruptions in life’s major transitions can be destructive and promote criminality As people mature the factors that influence their behavior change.

28 Theories and Policies How do theories relate to policy?
Does “understanding” why crimes are committed tell you what to do? Take life course theory - what would work to prevent or deter crime? Take rational choice, that is weighing consequences of acts – what would work to prevent or deter crime? Take any of the theories/explanations and figure out what would work

29 Perspectives and Policies
Take crime prevention: what do perspectives tell you? E.g., Crime Control? Do what? Increase deterrence, incapacitate criminals, more death penalties – so why would that work? E.g., Restorative Justice? Do what? Stress restitution, reintegration – why would that work?

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