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- Criminology and Measuring Crime
- Criminology and Patterns of Crime
- Time and Space
- Social Class
- Criminology and Explaining Crime
- Criminology and Preventing Crime
Criminology is the scientific study of crime as a social phenomena. Edwin Sutherland (1947) noted in an early analysis that criminology investigates the processes of producing laws, breaking laws, and responding to the breaking of laws.
These processes are three aspects of a somewhat unified sequence of interactions. Certain acts which are regarded as undesirable are defined by the political society as crimes. In spite of this definition, some people persist in the behavior and thus commit crimes; the political society reacts by punishment or other treatment or by prevention. This sequence of interactions is the object-matter of criminology. (P. 1)
Consequently, criminology can be split into three subfields: the study of lawmaking, the study of lawbreaking, and the study of responses to lawbreaking. Because lawmaking and responses to lawbreaking are discussed in other research papers, we shall concentrate on the second branch, lawbreaking.
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Regarding crime, sociologists have investigated numerous avenues of inquiry. They have endeavored to identify crime patterns, i.e., the manner in which criminal conduct is spread over time, place, and social structure. They have attempted to explain crime by identifying the factors that not only distinguish criminals from noncriminals but also account for its occurrence. In addition, they have investigated how crime might be averted. We shall discuss each of these inquiries in turn. Prior to discussing the distribution of crime, however, we must analyze its measurement.
Criminology and Measuring Crime
How do we know what we know? is a fundamental question of any intellectual field. The empirical nature of criminology necessitates the use of the scientific method to observe and record crime. To quantify the nature and scope of crime phenomena, researchers employ a range of methodologies. The majority of criminologists’ scientific approaches are quantitative, aiming to count the number and kind of crimes and their connections. Researchers utilize two key types of quantitative data: secondary data derived from official sources and primary data derived from self-reports of criminal activity and victimization.
Official statistics extracted from police records are the most important source of information used to measure the nature and scope of crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has sponsored a statewide endeavor to develop a statistical description of crime in the United States since 1930. Today, more than 17,000 police agencies engage annually in the Uniform Crime Report data collecting and reporting program (UCR). The UCR provides information regarding crimes that are known to law enforcement and offenses that have been cleared by law enforcement, typically through arrest. Criminologists sometimes utilize UCR data to calculate a crime rate based on offenses reported to the police or arrests made by the police. A crime rate is superior to a crime count since the rate takes population into account. For example, UCR data for 2003 in the United States indicate a total of 16,503 homicides known to police, a fairly high amount.
However, given the magnitude of the nation’s population—nearly 280 million people—the murder rate in 2003 was among the lowest in the preceding four decades, at 5.7 murders per 100,000 people (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004). The UCR provides crime statistics broken down by area, community type, and locality. Information identifying the age, color, and gender of criminals is restricted to crimes that have been cleared by police and for which an arrest has been made.
Until recently, the UCR classed major offenses as “Index” or Part I offenses, and less serious offenses as Part II offenses. Index crimes include the following eight offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forceful rape, robbery, serious assault, burglary, larceny-theft, auto theft, and arson. Traditionally, criminologists, politicians, and the media have depended on index crime data to follow changes in major crime through time and geography. Index data are a composite that conceal substantial variances in the frequency of each infraction. For instance, larceny-theft accounts for more than 60 percent of all Part I offenses (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004). Consequently, fluctuations in more severe crimes, like as murder and rape, may be obscured by the vast volume of property crimes, such as larceny. Researchers in the field of criminal justice are aware of this and often separate index crimes into two categories: violent crimes and property crimes.
The FBI is now implementing the National Incident Based Reporting System, a new data collection tool (NIBRS). The NIBRS is intended to build upon the UCR by providing police with more information about criminal events, including the nature of the crimes and the characteristics of the perpetrators. This strategy is novel in two ways. First, the NIBRS analyzes occurrences as its core analytical unit. Second, it extends on the UCR by providing more information regarding the nature and types of individual offenses in each crime episode, such as the victim(s) and offender(s) involved, the type and amount of property stolen, and the characteristics of those arrested.
Even though the UCR and NIBRS include a wealth of information, official records pose a number of challenges. A huge portion of every crime gets unreported to the police, which is perhaps the most serious issue. Unreported crimes are referred to as “dark figures” since their nature and scope are unknown. Another problem of official records is that they are compiled, documented, and reported by non-researchers, making them secondary data. According to Thorsten Sellin (1931), each layer of administration in the gathering of official crime data raises the possibility of distortion, bias, or inaccuracy, hence diminishing the data’s usefulness. The data collected from police records have also been challenged for being political artifacts that reflect the operational logics and goals of law enforcement agencies. In addition, the UCR data collecting rules apply a judgment rule known as the hierarchy rule of classification, which sacrifices data regarding criminal episodes involving many crimes. Frequently, when a crime is committed, multiple laws are broken. However, the hierarchy rule dictates that only the most serious offense is reported to the FBI. The rule produces systematic downward bias in UCR data. A final shortcoming is that government records provide inadequate information about the correlates of crime, such as the relationship between victims and offenders, the racial and sexual mix of offenders and victims, and the drug use of offenders. The NIBRS aims to improve official records in light of the last two concerns, notably the hierarchy rule and the limited correlations between crime.
In large part as a result of concerns about the veracity of official data, academics have invented alternative ways for gathering data on crime. The majority of them are self-report questionnaires. The benefit of survey approach is that researchers directly obtain primary data from individuals in criminal activity. This gives researchers greater control over data collecting and facilitates testing of hypotheses. Typically, self-report questionnaires are available in two formats. One form requires people to disclose their own criminal behavior. The second sort of survey questions individuals about their victimization experiences.
A self-report survey of offending asks a sample of persons if and how frequently they have committed any of a variety of offenses during a certain time period. Thornberry and Krohn (2000) attribute the emergence of self-report methodology to Sutherland’s (1940) observation that respectable middle-class individuals are likely to commit crimes but are unlikely to be recorded in police files. Porterfield’s 1946 work was the first to utilize the self-report method in studies of criminal and delinquent conduct, maybe prompted by Sutherland’s observation. His work established the usefulness of self-reports for criminal and delinquent studies. Short and Nye’s (1958) research is primarily responsible for establishing self-reports as a methodological cornerstone of criminology. Throughout the years, criminologists have devoted significant efforts to enhancing the self-report method by creating strategies that increase the validity and reliability of self-reported crime and delinquency (Hindelang, Hirschi, and Weis 1981).
Self-report investigations of criminal behavior can be distinguished by their substantive focus and sample design. Using schools as sampling points is a frequent method for surveying teenagers. Monitoring the Future, an annual study addressing drug use undertaken with a nationally representative sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, is one of the most renowned instances (Johnston, O’Malley, and Bachman, 1996). Other methods of surveying criminal or delinquent behavior include random samples of the broader population. Nationwide Youth Survey (NYS) is one of the most comprehensive national assessments of delinquency (Elliott 1983). The New York State uses a national probability sampling design to survey approximately 1,700 11- to 17-year-olds about their involvement in delinquency as well as a number of attitudinal and experiential issues. Similar to numerous other self-report surveys, the NYS supplies criminologists with data for addressing etiological questions. In addition, New York State utilizes a panel design, allowing researchers to track children through adulthood.
The other sort of self-report questionnaire is the victimization questionnaire. In this study, researchers ask a sample of individuals if and how frequently they had been victims of specific criminal crimes during a specific time period. The most well-known victimization survey is the 1973 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This is a twice-yearly, national household survey. In contrast to self-report surveys of offending, which were motivated by the empirical restrictions associated with the police focus on crimes of the lower classes, the NCVS was motivated by the failure of individuals to report crimes to the police. Each year, around 85,000 families and more than 150,000 responders participate, giving the most accurate estimate of real crime in the United States. Unlike the UCR, the NCVS includes information about crimes committed against individuals, regardless of whether the crimes were reported to authorities. Questions address crimes suffered by individuals and their home, whether the offenses were reported to police, as well as victim, household, and perpetrator characteristics in personal crimes. In addition, respondents are asked about their perspectives on the criminal justice system and their motivations for reporting or not reporting crimes. Generally speaking, victimization surveys are limited to the more common and readily identifiable memories. Although it appears that respondents are generally accurate when reporting their experiences as offenders and victims, there is evidence that underreporting is a danger to the validity of self-report studies of both offending (Hindelang et al., 1981) and victimization (Hindelang et al., 1981). (Murphy and Dodge 1981). As a result of embarrassment or a desire to protect their privacy, some respondents may choose not to discuss their criminal past. In addition, respondents do not always recall the infractions they committed or those committed against them, and they may recall offenses as being more recent or more remote than they actually were.
Crime statistics are crucial to the criminological endeavour. They contribute to the establishment of the fundamental social facts of crime, which comprise the objects of explanation and give evidence for the evaluation of explanations. Unfortunately, crime figures are among the most unreliable and challenging of any social phenomenon statistics. It is impossible to correctly estimate the level of crime in any specific location or time period. As stated previously, many crimes go unreported, while others are identified but not reported to police or researchers, and yet others are reported but not legally documented. Thus, any record of crimes can at most be regarded an index of the actual crimes committed. This fact has prompted both caution regarding crime data sources and more research to validate and enhance empiricism in the sector. Comparing the “behavior” of crime indexes across several data sources is a popular solution. Figure 1 displays how victimization data compare to government figures since 1973. Although it is a violation of individuals and property. They dismiss crimes done on behalf of corporations, such as deceptive advertising and price-fixing, as well as “victimless” crimes, such as drug usage and gambling.
Both types of self-report surveys offer advantages over official crime statistics and are an essential source of crime data. They have access to a wide range of violations, ranging from significant crimes to minor infractions that are unlikely to be reported to police. In addition, by measuring the personal and societal traits of offenders and/or victims, they can supply a wealth of information for evaluating crime theories. Both sorts of self-reports are subject to the same constraints inherent to the self-report method. The fundamental limitations of self-report surveys stem from the size of the sample and the precision of assessment. A survey’s sample size is determined by guaranteeing representative participation and obtaining cooperation throughout the survey questionnaire. Both data sources produce indices that react similarly (growing and declining) across this time frame.
Criminology and Patterns of Crime
Criminologists document crime patterns in order to comprehend the nature and scope of crime. While the general public views many crimes as random acts, criminological research demonstrates that crime is not dispersed randomly among individuals or groups. The focus of criminological research on crime patterns is the relationship between criminal conduct and dimensions of time, place, and social structure. Crime tends to be a “intrastatus” activity, which is a crucial understanding in tracking criminal tendencies. In a significant number of crimes, the statuses used to identify offenders also describe the victims. Criminology has paid considerable attention to a number of contextual and structural factors that explain the fundamental crime patterns. These include the spatial and temporal distribution of crime, as well as the age, gender, race, and social status of the participants.
Time and Space
Criminologists have always been fascinated by the social factors that influence criminal behavior. Social context is characterized by the temporal and spatial characteristics that are connected with criminal behavior. At least three time metrics have been of interest to criminologists: annual patterns, seasonal patterns, and daily patterns. According to historical studies of crime in the United States, significant crime grew in the decades preceding the American Civil Conflict and continued to rise after the war. From roughly 1880 until the 1930s, reported crime generally declined, with the exception of the years before and during World War I. Since then, major crime has generally increased modestly, with a sharper rise commencing in the late 1960s (Gurr 1981). It reached its highest point in 1981 and again in 1991, but then plummeted in the middle and late 1990s and has been slowly dropping ever since (see Figure 2).
In addition to annual shifts, which reflect historical oscillations, criminologists have identified additional units of time in which crime fluctuates. For instance, crimes tend to increase towards the beginning of the month, when most people receive their paychecks. Most crimes occur over the summer, when youths are out of school and people spend extended periods of time outside and away from their homes. Murders are more likely to occur in the evening, when more people are at leisure, whereas domestic burglaries are more likely to occur during the day, when more people are at work or school and less able to monitor their houses.
Additionally, criminologists have attempted to document the spatial patterns of crime. Researchers have found that the rate of severe crime tends to increase as the population of a community grows. In general, urban areas have a greater crime rate than their suburban and rural counterparts. Consistently, victimization and self-report statistics indicate that crime is concentrated in major metropolitan areas (Sutherland, Cressey, and Luckenbill 1992:176–78). In the United States, however, the extent to which the urban crime rate exceeds the rural crime rate fluctuates over time. As improved communication and transportation have diminished the disparities between urban and rural areas, there is reason to believe that the disparities in crime rates have also decreased, with rural and suburban crime rates increasing more rapidly than urban crime rates. In local communities, crime is typically concentrated in areas characterized by social disadvantage. High-crime neighborhoods typically have higher-than-average percentages of poverty, rental and abandoned properties, single-parent households, and population mobility, all of which impede the organization of the community to prevent crime.
Youth engage in criminal activities. Researchers have found that age is the most accurate predictor of criminal behavior. The correlation between age and criminality is nonlinear. Criminal activity grows with age into adolescence, reaches its peak in late adolescence or early adulthood, and then drops rather rapidly with age before declining more slowly until death. Some have argued (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1986) that the association between age and crime is constant, regardless of sex, race, and socioeconomic status, as well as across time and space (see Figure 3).
Criminologists use the term “distance” to characterize the cessation of criminal action as age increases beyond the peak offending ages of late adolescence or early adulthood (Laub and Sampson 1993). Although the majority of offenders “age out” of crime by early adulthood, a small proportion continue to commit crimes throughout their lives. This observation has spurred attention in the significance of age in differentiating between various sorts of offenders. Research on the effects of age at first offense and the trajectory of crime over the life cycle reveals the existence of several types of criminal careers that vary in terms of commencement, duration, and intensity. Individuals who engage in criminal activity at a young age and those who have contact with the judicial system at a younger age are more likely to become chronic offenders or “life-course persisters.” Laub and Sampson (1993) shown that even among first-time and chronic offenders, recidivism can be avoided. According to research in this field, the most prevalent type of criminal career is “adolescent limited,” meaning that criminal behavior is typically confined to adolescence and early adulthood, after which desistance occurs swiftly.
Men have a higher crime rate than women. Frequently, comparisons of sex-specific criminal conduct are given as a frequency or rate ratio of male to female offenses. Although the disparity in the sex ratio of offenders varies by kind of offense, it is largest for more serious offenses. In the United States, the ratio of male to female murder arrests in any given year is approximately eight male arrests to one female arrest. In contrast, the ratio of male to female arrests for theft, one of the least serious offenses, is two males for every female. Self-report data suggest that males are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than females, however these data tend to reveal less disparity in the sex ratio of criminal offending than official data, particularly for less severe offences (Triplett and Myers 1995). Some criminologists claim that the disparity between arrest statistics and self-reports is due to the chivalrous stance taken by criminal justice officials when ladies are the target of law enforcement (Steffensmeier 1993).
The official statistics portray an arresting picture of criminal behavior by race. African Americans are significantly more likely than whites to be arrested, despite the fact that whites account for the vast bulk of arrests. African Americans are responsible for over 40 percent of arrests for major violent crimes and over 25 percent of arrests for significant property offenses, although constituting just 13 percent of the United States’ population (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004). In contrast, Whites are arrested disproportionately for specific Part II offenses, such as alcohol and driving under the influence offenses. The racial discrepancy in arrests for serious crimes has decreased in recent years, but African Americans have a considerably greater chance of arrest than whites (see Figure 4).
Some criminologists have proposed that racial prejudice in criminal justice may account for a significant portion of the reported racial discrepancy in official statistics (Tonry 1995). Others have argued that the judicial system and its agents are reasonably objective when processing defendants, implying that racial disparities in official crime figures reflect true racial inequalities in criminal behavior (Wilbanks 1987). Using self-report and victimization data, criminologists have attempted to settle this disagreement by examining race-specific involvement in criminal conduct. Self-report studies of delinquency among African American and white kids imply that racial disparities are significantly smaller than indicated by arrest statistics (Elliott and Ageton 1980).
Criminologists have long assumed a negative link between social class and crime: people at the bottom of the social hierarchy are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than those at the top. According to official statistics, lower-class status correlates with more criminal activity. Those convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison are more likely to be indigent, unemployed, or underemployed.
In spite of this evidence, criminologists have contended that the association between class and crime is less certain than indicated by official statistics. Sutherland was the first criminologist to examine the relationship between class and crime (1940). He noticed that white-collar crimes, or crimes perpetrated by respectable and high-status individuals in the course of their employment, are prevalent while being typically overlooked in official crime statistics. Sutherland’s discovery has led to numerous criticisms of people who believe a negative association between socioeconomic status and criminal behavior.
Conclusions regarding the relationship between class and crime may reflect the information source used. Self-report studies indicate that adolescents from all socioeconomic levels engage in delinquent behavior (Tittle, Villamez, and Smith 1978). However, these studies have been critiqued for failing to precisely define class status and for conflating delinquency with serious criminality (Braithwaite, 1979). (Farnworth,Thornberry, Krohn, and Lizotte 1994).
In conclusion, criminologists have committed significant effort in documenting crime patterns. These patterns are useful for evaluating and planning social responses to crime by policymakers. Correlating crime across dimensions of social context (time and geography) and social structure (age, sex, race, and social class) yields empirical facts that theory must explain.
Criminology and Explaining Crime
Throughout the past two centuries, numerous criminology schools have flourished. A school of criminology is a body of thinking that combines a theory of crime causation with control methods required by the theory. In Europe during the eighteenth century, Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham established the classical school as one of the first criminology schools. According to the classical school, crime is a reasonable technique of maximizing one’s self-interest. Individuals are perceived as hedonistic, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, and rational, calculating the pleasures and pains of possible behaviors and selecting those that promise the most pleasure with the least pain. Individuals will opt to commit a crime if they determine that it delivers the most joy and the least pain relative to other actions. To control crime, the state need merely persuade individuals that committing a crime would result in more pain than pleasure, which can be achieved by raising the severity of punishments. When individuals discover that criminal behavior is less enjoyable, they will pursue more fulfilling activities. During the nineteenth century, the positive school of criminology emerged largely due to the contributions of Cesare Lombroso and his followers. The positive school, which is grounded in the physical sciences, views crime as the result of personal faults or diseases. It asserts that the physical constitution influences behavior and that flaws in biological structure or processes result in criminal conduct. The positive school maintains that punishment is ineffective in reducing crime because criminals do not weigh the pleasures and pains of different actions and choose the one that maximizes pleasure. Instead, it asserts that the only rational approach to controlling crime is to identify and influence its causes. Given that crime is the result of a human defect or disorder, it follows that the most effective method of crime control is to treat the defect or condition in question. This school fell out of favor at the beginning of the twentieth century as the sociological school, which views crime as a product of the social environment, gained popularity. Over the course of the twentieth century, the sociological school has matured and grown to dominate scientific efforts to explain crime.
The sociological school predominantly emerged in the United States. Sociologists have conducted the majority of systematic studies of crime and criminals since the late nineteenth century, when criminology was recognized as a topic of study by the expanding sociology departments of universities. A 1901 survey found that criminology and penology were among the first courses taught under the label of sociology in American colleges (Tolman 1902–1903), and the first issue of the American Journal of Sociology included papers and book reviews on criminology. At the same time, though, American sociologists were impressed by a number of the positive school’s claims. Not until approximately 1915, after the publication of Charles Goring’s The English Convict (1913), was a strong environmentalist perspective developed. This pattern likely caused John Gillin (1914) to make his observation,
The longer the study of crime has continued in this country, the greater has grown the number of causes of crime which may be described as social. This is the aspect in the development of American criminology which has given to that study in this country the title of “The American School.” (P. 53)
The core thesis of the sociological school is that criminal behavior is the outcome of the same conditions and processes as other forms of social behavior. There are two types of analyses of these factors and processes in relation to crime. First, criminologists have attempted to establish a link between variances in crime rates and differences in social organization. Several socioeconomic circumstances, including social and economic inequality, political and economic ideology, and culture and normative conflict, have been studied in relation to differences in the crime rates of societies and units of society. In an early sociological study, Clifford Shaw (1929) utilized the Chicago School’s ecological method, which strongly drew on Durkheim’s analogy of society as an organism, to comprehend the metropolitan distribution of delinquency. He noticed that delinquency was concentrated in specific regions of the city and attributed this to social disarray. He viewed delinquency as a pathology endemic to urban slums, not the individuals who resided there. These regions had high mobility, heterogeneity, and conflict, factors that fostered social disorganization, a condition in which traditional means of social control are ineffective and individuals are free to engage in criminal conduct. In particular, Robert Merton’s (1938) anomie theory was significantly influenced by Durkheim’s functionalist concepts regarding the causes and implications of change in social solidarity. In a seminal remark, Albert Cohen (1955) asserted that differences in the access of social classes to legitimate means of obtaining success correlate with differences in their rates of delinquency. In American society, lower-class children are encouraged to seek the same goals as middle-class children and are evaluated using the same criteria. However, they lack the cultural and economic capital required to effectively compete with children from middle-class families. As a result, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds suffer failure, and in response, they may develop and participate in delinquent subcultures. These two arguments—that high rates of crime can be explained in terms of a breakdown of social organization and that high rates can be explained in terms of a conflict between culturally induced aspirations and structurally limited opportunities—have figured prominently in much macro-level contemporary theory.
Second, criminologists have worked to uncover the mechanisms that lead to the criminalization of persons. In general, their investigations link criminality to socialization differences. One view, advanced by Travis Hirschi (1969) under the umbrella of control theory, holds that criminality is the outcome of a breakdown in socialization. According to this perspective, criminal behavior is a manifestation of inherent instincts. When a person’s connection to society is weak, it is doubtful that he or she will absorb the values and conventions of society or be attentive to the needs and desires of others. The individual lacks control and is therefore free to participate in criminal activity. Edwin Sutherland (1947) and Ronald Akers (1998) expand the notion that criminality results from social learning. According to this viewpoint, criminal behavior is not a manifestation of inherent instincts. Rather, a person learns to engage in illegal behavior similarly to how they learn to engage in noncriminal behavior. The content of education, not the method itself, determines whether a person becomes a criminal. These arguments, namely, that criminality results from a breakdown in socialization and that criminality is a product of socialization, continue to dominate micro-level thinking about crime.
In recent decades, criminologists have pursued alternative methods of analysis. In the 1960s and 1970s, some criminologists began to rethink the key assumptions and themes that had been used to organize criminology. They noticed that criminality is not an inherent quality of a given conduct and that the breach of a criminal statute does not invariably result in the capture and punishment of the offender. Instead, an act is criminal because legislators have made it so, and those who violate the law are selectively captured and punished (Becker 1963). This moves the focus from the criminal to the mechanisms of defining and responding to disruptive behavior (Quinney 1964; Turk 1969). Consequently, criminologists have increasingly focused on patterns of selective law enforcement, asking what types of offenses and offenders are most likely to be treated as crimes and criminals and why? In the course of demystifying the legal system, criminologists also considered the consequences of being labeled and treated as a criminal, arguing that stigmatization reduces a person’s legitimate opportunities for success and alters his or her identity, thereby promoting chronic criminality (Kitsuse 1962; Lemert 1972:62–92).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a number of criminologists attempted to develop comprehensive theories of crime. Traditionally, criminologists have evaluated hypotheses by pitting at least two against one another in a “theory competition” (Akers and Sellers 2004:267). Recognizing that there is nothing to be gained from such rivalry, criminologists have increasingly sought to develop more effective explanatory models by combining aspects of two or more distinct theories of crime. John Braithwaite (1989) incorporated elements of control theory, social learning theory, and labeling theory into his theory of reintegrative shaming, and Charles Tittle (1995) incorporated elements of control theory, social learning theory, strain theory, and Marxist theory into his control balance theory of deviance. Despite the significance of integration initiatives, caution must be exercised in this endeavor. As Akers (1989:24) correctly highlighted, if ideas are combined without respect for their incompatibilities, “theoretical mush” can arise.
Criminology and Preventing Crime
Over the years, three crime prevention strategies have been utilized: punitive, defensive, and interventionist. Punitive tactics are predicated on the premise that criminality and crime rates can be lowered by instilling in individuals a strong fear of being penalized for committing crimes. It is believed that inflicting great suffering on criminals both reforms those who are punished (specific deterrence) and discourages others from committing crimes (general deterrence). Much of the legislation that aims to significantly reduce crime is merely an effort to improve the severity or certainty of punishment (Beckett and Sasson 2004). Methods of defense are based on the premise that crime can be decreased by making it difficult for individuals to commit crimes. These solutions include lighting streets, securing doors, and putting valuables in safes (Felson 2002:144–64). The confinement of criminals inside bars so that they cannot victimize strangers is another example of defensive measures. The premise of interventionist tactics is that punishment and defense are insufficient. Rather, it is assumed that criminality and crime rates can be efficiently lowered by identifying and altering the factors that produce them. Methods based on the premise that offenders lack basic interpersonal skills aim to develop their competence in empathy, problem solving, impulse control, and anger management, whereas methods based on the premise that offenders have learned criminal behavior aim to teach them lawful forms of behavior (Cullen 2002). Generally speaking, interventionist tactics think that high crime rates are a result of economic, political, and social organization and that it is folly to leave this structure intact and try to reduce crime rates by punishing or defending against criminals produced by it. Instead, the objective is to reform the economic, political, or social system in order to lower crime rates (Currie 1998).
There is substantial evidence that intervention is or may be the most effective method of reducing crime (Cullen 2002; MacKenzie 2000). As more is discovered about crime, interventionist approaches will have a stronger foundation. If consistently followed, these regulations would safeguard society against crime in three ways.
First, they would ensure the segregation of those whose recurrent involvement in major crime has shown their threat. Although segregation would not change these criminals, it will safeguard society by incapacitating them and demonstrating disapproval of significant lawbreaking. Currently, we are unable to dramatically alter the societal conditions that produce some chronic offenders or their behavior. We can only protect ourselves against this small group of dangerous individuals.
Second, interventionist policies would integrate into law-abiding society a greater number of citizens, including the majority of those who have committed a crime but have not proven to be dangerous. It is generally accepted that social control is derived from the benefits of lawful behavior rather than direct fear of punishment. The effective deterrent is not the dread of legal penalties per se, but rather the fear of status loss (Grasmick and Bursik 1990). However, fear is not what stops criminal action. Rather, a law-abiding citizen is someone who believes that certain actions, such as stealing from a neighbor or attacking a coworker, are inconceivable. In order for crime prevention strategies to be effective, more people must have a stake in adhering to the rules that prohibit criminal behavior.
Thirdly, interventionist policies would identify the social circumstances from which criminal activity is most likely to emanate and make it possible to abolish those circumstances. Instead of eliminating the economic, political, and social attitudes, conditions, and injustices that cause crime, political leaders have decided to rely on fear of punishment (Currie 1998). Punishment appears to be less expensive, but this is not the case. In addition, the emphasis on punishment detracts from the necessity of creating the environment required for household tranquility. If attitudes of shared respect for certain values could be fostered, punitive legislation relating to these values would be unneeded. If, for instance, all members of a community had an equal stake in the concept of private property, it would no longer be necessary to coerce individuals into upholding property rights.
In short, crime would be decreased by absorbing those criminals who can be absorbed, isolating those who cannot be absorbed for defense, and reducing the conditions that are most conducive to crime and hence necessitate the need to absorb some criminals and isolate others. As much as punishment would, the vigorous execution of such rules would demonstrate society disapproval of criminal behavior. Rather than punishment, approval and disapproval of criminals deter crime among the majority of citizens, including the majority of the poor and disadvantaged, from whom the vast majority of criminals originate.
Our knowledge of crime is elementary. Certainly, we have a sense of how crime is distributed along a variety of structural, temporal, and spatial dimensions; we have a sense of the principal variables that affect the occurrence of crime and development of criminality, as well as the general ways in which these variables operate to produce crime and criminality; and we have a sense of the types of methods that appear to be effective in controlling crime. However, more effort must be done before a solid comprehension of crime can be attained.
When we consider criminology in the twenty-first century, we observe that the field is evolving in multiple directions. There are persistent efforts to develop and enhance the methodological tools for documenting crime, testing theories of crime, and evaluating initiatives to combat crime. There are also ongoing efforts to create integrated theories of crime, theories that incorporate not just sociological, but also biological and psychological, factors. Integrated theory is advancing criminology down a path that may eventually identify it as an interdisciplinary field of study as opposed to a sociological specialty. These two streams, one methodological and one theoretical, will become more linked. The analytical state of the art, for instance, enables a broader and more rigorous range of theory-testing initiatives, which promotes the development of theory. Lastly, there are ongoing initiatives to employ criminological knowledge to improve social welfare by reducing rates of first and repeat offenses in a manner that is fair to offenders, victims, and the broader community. These trends are not exclusive to the criminological enterprise. In fact, they reflect sociological tendencies in which sociologists attempt to refine methods, develop unified theories, and apply research to educate public policy and enrich community life.
- Akers, Ronald L. 1989. “A Social Behaviorist’s Perspective on Integration of Theories of Crime and Deviance.” Pp. 23–36 in Theoretical Integration in the Study of Deviance and Crime, edited by S. Messner, M. Krohn, and A. Liska. Albany: State University of New York Press.
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