Chapter 2 The Nature of Crime and Victimization

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					   Chapter 2
The Nature of Crime
 and Victimization
              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
        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.
    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.
    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).
                 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)
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)?
      UCR, Part I: Serious Crime

   Why are these the serious crimes?
   Why are drug crimes, for example, not serious?
       How is Crime Measured?
   Official record data
    – Uniform Crime Reports
   Survey data
    – National Crime Victimization Survey
    – Self Report Studies
   Alternative sources
    – Observation
    – Interviews
    – Life Histories
    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?
   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
    – 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
 Accuracy problems:
 Answering questions about crime depends on
  memory: can lead to over-reporting and under-
 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
    – Not knowing proper legal definitions of crimes
               Drug Surveys
 Self-reports – how truthful are
 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
    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
    What Information on Crime is
   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
        Trends in Serious Crime

   When reading this figure, look at the overall
    trends (up, down, level) not the specific
            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.
    Crime Patterns – Who Are the
 Ecological differences – where they live
 Gender
 Race
 Social class
 Age
 Criminal careers – prior criminal record
    Crime Patterns – Who are the
 Gender
 Age
 Income
 Marital status
 Race
 Ecological factors
 Victim-offender relationships
 Repeat victimization
    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)
           Causes of Crime and
   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
    – 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)
           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
          Causes of Crime and
          Victimization (cont.)
   Psychological theory: Criminals are driven
    by unconscious thought patterns,
    developed in early childhood, that control
    – Psychoanalytic Vvew
    – Schizophrenia
    – Conduct disorders
    – Social learning
    – Psychopathic personality
          Causes of Crime and
          Victimization (cont.)
   Social structure theory: A person’s position
    in the social structure affects her/his
    – Poverty
    – Social disorganization
    – Strain
    – Cultural deviance
          Causes of Crime and
          Victimization (cont.)
   Social process theory: Interactions with
    key social institutions – family, school,
    peer group, military service, job – shapes
    – Social learning
    – Social control
    – Social reaction (labeling)
           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
           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
    – 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.
          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
    – Take any of the theories/explanations and figure
      out what would work
       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

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