25 Temmuz 2010 Pazar

Crime and Criminology

Crime as a dictionary definition means “an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction”[1] or simply as an unlawful activity. Criminology on the other hand, refers to the “scientific study of crime, criminals, criminal behavior, and corrections”[2]. Crime has been existed from the beginning of human existence and the appearance of norms, rules, regulations together with communal life. Although committing crimes can be considered as a natural part of human existence, we can distinguish that crimes can be high or low according to different socioeconomic conditions and other factors. That is why we can say that humans beings at least have chance to reduce crime rates even though they cannot completely abolish it. This paper is an attempt to show that the separation of crimes into different types and the insufficiency of criminological approaches to totally explain the crime phenomenon, put states and civil society organizations in more difficult position in their struggle against crime. A new complex theoretical approach which will focus on all crime types is needed in the field for success in reducing crime rates. In order to arrive at that point, this assignment is going to begin by defining crime and explaining different types of crime. Then, it is going to continue with explaining the study of criminology and its historical development.
Although there are different definitions about crime, generally all definitions focus on the theme of making something illegal that would cause harm to other people or institutions. Robert L. Bonn offers us the legal definition of crime which was made by Paul Tappan; “Crime is an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law, committed without defense or justification, and sanctioned by the state as a felony or misdemeanor” (Bonn, pg 6). Bonn thinks that the legal definition of crime is not enough for us to understand what the crime is because the crime’s more important aspect is related to its social nature. Crime gains its meaning in the social context and in speaking about crime, it is useful to bear in mind that “crime is only a small part of the totality of interactions, that occur in society” (Bonn, pg 10). There are different types of crime which is classified by D. Stanley Eitzen and Doug A. Timmer as follows; street crime, white-collar crime, victimless crime, organized crime, corporate crime and political crime. Street crime is very much related to urbanization, immigration and industrialization. Because of industrialization and the lack of working force in cities, a dense rural to urban migration started and millions of people in different countries migrated towards cities. This led to ethnic groupings and conflicts and “divergent religions, languages, cultural practices, and class backgrounds all helped to fuel the fire in an already conflict-ridden society” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 118). Eitzen and Timmer name some determinants of street crime such as class (unemployment & poverty), race (ethnic conflicts), age (problematic youth) etc. Street crime is a general category that includes crimes such as “robbery, murder, assault and other traditional violent crimes” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 180). White-collar crime is a type of crimes that are committed by the respectable members of the community. The term was created by famous criminologist Edwin Sutherland. “Sutherland pointed out that the majority of crimes are not committed by members of the lower class, hence, explanations of crime that use of poverty or the sociopathic conditions of poverty are wrong” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 180). White-collar crimes consist of non-occupational crimes, crimes committed by employees in violation of their duty and loyalty to employers and fraudulent behaviours in occupations. Insurance fraud, credit card fraud, computer theft, time theft, employee pilferage, kickbacks, embezzlement are some examples of white-collar crime. Victimless crime is very much related to prostitution and morally deviant acts (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 206). By the victimless crime, what is meant is the lack of harming others and the abscence of victimization. Adultery, pornography, prostitution, drug use and addiction, gambling, public drunkenness, homosexuality and abortion (in some countries) are types of victimless crimes.
Organized crime is one of the most serious types of crimes. Organized crime refers to “widespread criminal activities, such as prostitution, interstate theft, or illegal gambling, that occur within a centrally controlled formal structure”[3]. Organized crime is often identified with the Italian-American crime families like in the motive The Godfather which take their roots from feudal Sicily. Mafia and organized crime exist strongly especially in countries where laws are not that strict and people search for alternative ways for getting their works to be done or to compensate their damage against unjust acts (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 241). Corporate crimes refer to crimes made committed by big corporations. Since big corporations are very important in liberal countries where free-market economy is available, sometimes, companies and corporations because of the greed of their bosses and managers can do illegal acts (crimes against employees, violence against unions, discrimination in the workplace, deceptive advertising, unsafe products, pollution) which are labelled as corporate crimes. The last and very important type of crime is political crime. Political criminals are different from other criminals because they often struggle for a different political system or arrangement and do not seek monetary gains. Crimes committed by governments are also part of political crimes. The overt bias of government, subsidies to big business, trickle-down solutions, secrecy, lying and deception can be examples of political crimed made by the government. “Watergate scandal” in USA and “Susurluk scandal” in Turkey are good examples of political crimes committed by governments. This separation of crimes into different categories unfortunately divides the subject into too many parts and makes the understanding of crime more difficult. Criminological approaches, which will be explained later, focus on some crime types and do not seek to catch the whole picture.
After explaining crime and its various types, we can continue with the definition of criminology and different criminological schools. Robert L. Bonn defines criminology as “the academic discipline which employs a scientific methodology to describe and explain five key topics: criminal acts, criminal offenders, the victims of crime, the social contexts within which crime occurs, and the criminal justice system” (Bonn, pg 12). Eitzen and Timmer agreeing with this definition claim that criminal theory “simply means the ways of understanding and explaining crime and criminal justice” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 14). Now, the historical development of criminology and different perspectives that have become dominant in the field during the history will be explained.
Earlier explanations of criminality were based on supernaturalism. “These theories were prescientific and depend on religious faith and belief” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 14). According to this belief, criminals are thought, conceptualized as people whose soles are acquired by the Devil. Classical criminology on the other hand, was secular and based on utilitarian[4] world view and the notions of rational mand and free will. “Crime, according to this perspective, is the rational choice of a criminal who is ultimately free to choose either criminal or non-criminal behavior” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 15). The punishment is based on deterrence and aimed to provide the greatest happiness for greatest amount of people even if they have to give harsh punishments. Classical criminology or utilitarianism became widespread in the 18th century and its revised from revisionist classical criminology became popular in the 19th century. Revisionist classical criminology insisted that “it is not always the case that a rational person can choose between good and bad, right or wrong, non-criminal and criminal” because there are some “intervening factors, such as age, mental status, and physical condition” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 16). During this epoch positivistic understanding of criminology, “which aspects of crime and criminal justice as objective phenomena”, was dominant (Jupp, pg 27). Another presociological criminology theory is chromosomal approach. “The most extreme expressions of this tendency to reduce explanations of criminal behavior to physiology, genetics, and heredity are those that have concentrated on the neuroendocrine system” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 17). These sociobiological approaches were considered as racist and inhuman and do not become popular. The last presociological approach of criminology is derived from Sigmund Freud’s ideas. According to this approach, criminal acts are understood as psychopathology[5]. We can criticize these non-sociological criminological approaches as non-scientific and away from offering a solid understanding of crime.
Classical (traditional) sociological theories of criminology on the other hand, include social disorganization theories, social control theories, socialization theories etc. The first sociological theories about crime were based on structuralist-functionalist paradigm. According to social disorganization theory for instance, the primary reason for crime was structural economic problems in the capitalist system like the Great Depression. Chicago School, which is major representative of this theory, claimed that “rapid social change led to social disorganization that led to personal disorganization – people became increasingly unsure of what was appropriate bahevior in this new setting – which, in turn, led to deviant and criminal behavior” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 24-25). For this traditional sociological approach, crime was the result of breakdowns in social control because of ethnic, cultural, class differences and economic problems. The second important theory of sociological criminology approach is social control or social bond theory. According to the main theorician of this approach Travis Hirschi, “the ties that individuals have to parents, peers, and important social institutions like the school and workplace” are major barriers of crime. People who lack these ties can easily become criminals because of their alienation from the social life. The third major approach, in sociological criminology theories, is socialization theory. Robert Merton asserted that “being completely and successfully socialized to a particular society’s cultural values may turn out to be a source of deviant behavior” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 27). In some social settings where anomie is dominant, individuals can be socialized unsuccesfully. These traditional social theories “have concentrated almost exclusively on conventional street crime” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 32) and did not include other crime types. Moreover, they seem very weak in explaining crime singularly and they all focus on different points.
More modern sociological theories include interactionist perspective, labeling theory and radical criminology. Interactionist theories of modern sociological criminological works assume that crimes and deviances are socially constructed. An important interactionist school labeling theory claims that “crime is created and defined socially, in the process of social interaction” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 34). Labeling perspective has some basic premises such as “the recognition that crime is a political phenomenon”, “the recognition that social relationships and processes, not criminals, must be rehabilitated” and “the recognition that crime and crime control are two interrelated parts of the same social phenomenon”. According to labeling theory, when someone is labelled as criminal by the laws, the society begins to approach him like a criminal and the society by doing this does not leave a chance to this person not to become a criminal. Labeling theory is very important and beneficial for us to understand that how criminal life continues but is does not help us to solve the problem of “why at the first instance, crime does occur”. Another modern approach in criminology is radical criminology. Radical criminology is based on Marxism and basically claims that crimes are caused by the inherent conflicts of the capitalist system which creates terrible economic inequalities. Radical criminology conceives criminal justice as “institutionalized oppression of the poor and the working class and a system organized and structured to fail” (Eitzen & Turner, pg 48). However, similar to Marxism’s problems, radical criminology does not answer to the questions of today’s lives and does not explain why crime has always existed throughout the history even in early primitive communal life period.
After analyzing all important schools in criminology, I want to put forward my own ideas about the necessary approach to crime problem. In my opinion, to begin with non-sociological criminology theories are very weak and do not help us to understand the reasons of crime phenomenon. Supernaturalism is a kind of scholastic thought which belongs to the Middle Age and does not have to do with our modern secular world. Classical and revised classical utilitarian doctrine of criminology focus on the punishment instead of finding pre-emptive solutions to the emergence of crime. Although the harshness and deterrence of punishments such as the death-penalty might be a factor that would reduce crime rates, I think this is not enough for us to comprehend why crime still exists. I think that biological theories about criminals are very ugly and racist in their true nature. This kind of approach can only used by racist Nazi goverment and not by our democratic states. Freudian psychopathological approach can be useful for us but it only focuses on internal factors of individuals and ignores the larger social picture that is very effective in the emergence of crime. Classical sociological theories of criminology are much more scientific than non-sociological approaches but I think they still have some problems. Although all three approaches (social disorganization theories, social control theories, socialization theories) have made important points, they cannot explain the whole crime phenomenon. That is why I think that these theories complete each other and should not become separate schools. Interactionist theories are very humanistic and attractive and for instance labeling theory shows us very clearly that after committing a crime it might be very difficult for a person not to do it again because of social pressure and labeling. However, it cannot be an answer to the question why people commit crime for the first time. Radical criminology is very much ideological and away from being real. Although socioeconomic problems and injustices play a great a role in the rise of crime as it was stated by the social disorganization theory, it cannot be the single, historically inevitable cause of crime. Instead of separating all these schools from each other, what we need might be to mix these sociological theories into a complete and consistent whole. I believe that all these theories touch upon realities from a certain point but we cannot aware of turning these portions of truth into a greater truth. That is why as far as I am concerned; the discipline of criminology lacks a total, coherent theory that will explain the reasons of crime. Separating crimes into branches and finding different theories for them does not help us in solving the problem of crime.
To sum up, as far as I am concerned, although there are many different types of crime and discussions about the ideal approach to criminology, we can easily notice that crimes are based on motivations and they have many different reasons. So, crime rates can be reduced by states by necessary laws and solutions to social problems. Crime is a social phenomenon that has always existed and has always been an important problem for individuals. Due to crimes, people are killed, lost money and harmed by other people. Since the role of the modern democratic state is to prevent individuals to be harmed by other people, crime must be studied more carefully and states should do something to reduce crime rates. We all believe that human life is precious and injustice is not something good. Unfortunately, even in today’s so called democratic, liberal states crime exists and damage people’s lives. In order to prevent crime, we must first understand the reasons and conditions that lead to crimes. That is why we need a more complex theory in criminology because existing approaches are very weak. If we achieve this, I think we can do more successful things for solving this problem.

- D. Stanley Eitzen & Doug A. Timmer, 1985, “Criminology”, New York: Mcmillan Publishing Company
- Robert L. Bonn, 1984, “Criminology”, USA: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
- Sir Leon Radzinowicz, 1999, “Adventures in Criminology”, London: Routledge
- David Nelken, 1994, “The Futures of Criminology”, London: SAGE Publications
- Victor Jupp, 1989, “Methods of Criminological Research”, London: Billing and Son Ltd.
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com

[1] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
[2] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
[3] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
[4] Utilitarianism: “The ethical theory proposed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill that all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people” (Dictionary.com).
[5] “The study of the origin, development, and manifestations of mental or behavioral disorders” (Dictionary.com).

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