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Discussion #1

This week’s reading provides an overview of the changing boundaries of criminology, counting crime and measuring criminal behavior, and the schools of thought throughout history pertaining to the study of those that commit a crime. After reviewing the reading for week 1, as well as the week 1 discussion articles in the lesson for this week, discuss/debate with your classmates about the early history of the criminal theory and its application to crime control i.e., Positivist School vs. Classical School, plus gender, class, and race as they relate to crime. Also, discuss if racial profiling is justifiable? Ever? If the answer is yes, discuss how effective the profiling must be to remain justified? If the answer is no, do the events of 9/11 suggest a justification for other forms of ethnic profiling?

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Introduction: Understanding Criminology

“We are all capable of becoming something monstrous” – Cyraus Foldger

Whether or not we would like to believe it, we all have a “dark side”. In the field of criminal justice, it is important to recognize that everyone has the potential to make positive, lawful choices or to make negative, unlawful choices. This is the basis for our understanding of criminology. In seeking to understand people who might commit crimes, it is important to have at least a basic understanding of the theories on which criminology is based. To do that, one must also consider the background or history that led to the formation of a criminal theory.

Have you ever wondered why people break the law? To answer this question and before delving into historical theorizing, you must first have a clearer understanding of criminology, crime, and criminal law. According to Rimke (2011) several subareas exist within criminology. One of these subareas includes crime statistics/crime measurements. Criminologists focus on crime statistics/crime measurements when creating valid and reliable measures of criminal behavior. Additionally, criminologists delve into the subareas of psychological, biological, and sociological perspectives in their attempt to understand criminal behavior. In society new crimes and crime patterns are constantly emerging, e.g., Marvin Wolfgang’s studies on victim-precipitated homicide, and Edwin Sutherland’s, studies of white-collar crime. Criminologists also explore penology (efforts to control crime via punishment, sanctions, and corrections), and victimology. In that, a victim’s behavior may often be a key determinant of crime.

References

Rimke, H. (2011). The pathological approach to crime: Individually based theories. Canadian Criminology: Critical Perspectives. Pearson Education Canada.

Criminology, Crime, and Criminal Law

First, let’s begin with the term criminology. The main point or objective of criminology goes beyond the surface of how laws are made and what the response is to a law being broken. The study of criminology is also about gaining in-depth knowledge about crime and why people commit crimes. Knowledge about crime beyond right from wrong is important to law enforcement officers. Law enforcement personnel need to understand why crimes are committed so that they are better able to prevent crime from occurring. It also helps them after the fact, to catch those who commit crimes.

Criminology, as a discipline, is held together by a single concern, crime. What is a crime, you may ask? In very basic terms, a crime is any action that is committed in violation of criminal law. So the follow-up question might be, “What is criminal law?” Criminal law deals with legal cases in which people are accused of committing crimes, but more specifically, crimes that pertain to harming others and/or property. Examples of criminal law crimes are murder, assault, larceny, and theft. Criminal law is based on committing a crime that negatively affects society as a whole. If found guilty of such a crime, offenders will be punished and will most likely be sent to prison.

I would like to note here that there is a second type of law, civil law. Breaking a civil law is not considered criminal or a crime as the offender is not punished but rather ordered to correct the wrong done. Civil laws cover issues such as not paying your bills, not upholding your part in a contract, false advertising, accidents (not due to driving under the influence), etc. Breaking a civil law could result in being sued and going to court to have the matter settled legally.

Returning to criminal law – criminal law has expanded in response to national and transnational concerns to include crimes connected to terrorism, organized crime, and computer crime. This is especially true since the events of September 11, 2001, as well as the ever-increasing advances in technology. While terrorism, once a relatively new area of study, has expanded tremendously since 9/11, it is still fairly new as it relates to criminology. Similarly, there is now more discussion (and criminal laws) regarding computer crimes, in particular, cybercrime.

Theoretical History of Criminology

First of all, the concept of crime and criminology is based on thought – – what others believe and hold to be true, leading to philosophies and theories. Therefore, let’s begin by briefly reviewing the two primary historical schools of thought presented about criminology, classical and positivist. In a nutshell, the two schools of thought can be summarized with two similar, yet different axioms:

Classical – Let the punishment fit the crime.

Positivist – Let the punishment fit the criminal.

When the punishment fits the crime, the more serious or horrific the crime, the worse the punishment, and ergo, the less likely an individual will choose to commit a crime, or so classicalists believe. When the punishment fits the criminal, positivists believe the criminal’s psychological, biological, and mental characteristics, as well as their environment (society), should be considered before choosing how long, if at all, the criminal needs to be in prison and or what type of help the criminal needs to ensure he or she doesn’t commit more crime.

Further review of the timeline of criminological theory shows that beginning about 1920, the access of crime was not only more positivistic in contrast to classical viewpoints, but predominantly guided by the social sciences and the concepts of the need for further scientific research regarding crime. The social focus included theories regarding deviant behavior, subcultures, moral panic response, reform, idealism, and realism.

The positivistic approach prompted the concept of developing ways to treat the criminals in terms of not only preventing the escalation of crime but understanding the criminal mind in an attempt to help reform or rehabilitate the criminal as well as work toward educating the public sector. The educating of the public sector was focused on the creation of programs and facilities that would guide youth toward more acceptable and productive lifestyle choices that did not involve a criminal element.

In the 1960s, the positivistic focus turned toward a more centralized approach in terms of deviance theory by attempting to take an inside look at criminals in an attempt to truly understand them and thereby add to the field of criminology. This perspective continued into the 1970s with a look at the drug culture. However, crime continued to escalate where even the United Kingdom began adopting some of the terminology used by the United States in terms of describing the crime, such as the word “mugging.”

The increasing crime rates also led to the development of moral panic theory. According to Cohen, there are times when society, almost as a whole, experiences feelings and or responses of moral panic due to any action or widespread behavior being perceived as a threat to the moral fiber, beliefs, and or values of society. As a result, answers and methods of dealing with the situation that has arisen due to the criminal element are offered by the many “experts” of the time. Accordingly, the responses of the social community and law enforcement are typically aligned with the recommendations.

The 1980s brought further concern not only about the criminal and effects of crime upon society but also about the victims in terms of general terminology. In short, it was decided that the focus of law enforcement, as well as society, should be on preventing crime due to the acceptance that the causes of criminal behavior were not necessarily within the control of law-abiding people. In other words, the concepts of race, gender, socioeconomics, and values were likely the cause or initiator of the committing of many criminal acts.

In terms of the victims, special groups seemed to be at higher risk of being affected by a crime. This is similar to today in that particular focus is on the protection of children from criminal acts and behavior.

The end of the 20th century was a continuation of what was theorized in terms of crime, criminal law, and criminology during the 1980s. The focus continued to be on issues of race, ethnicity, and special groups such as women, children, and socioeconomic factors. This led to expanded concern on civil liberties, punishment, rehabilitation, and sentencing of criminals during the early 21st century. Many of these issues have continued to be in the forefront even today in the second decade of the 21st century, particularly in light of globalization.

Crime and Criminology Theorizing Today

“Crime does not exist. Only acts exist, acts often given different meanings within various social frameworks. Acts and the meanings give to them are our data. Our challenge is to follow the destiny of acts through the universe of meanings. Particularly, what are the social conditions that encourage or prevent giving the acts the meaning of being a crime?” – N. Christie

Perspective and theory will guide the decisions made regarding not only crime but also criminology. Additionally, given the different definitions of and theories regarding criminology, the changes throughout not only the United States but worldwide (i.e., globalization), aid in the understanding as to how criminology has become multidisciplinary rather than being dominated by one area of crime or discipline. Consequently, criminologists frequently disagree with each other as to what motivates criminals. This is not surprising because scholars often disagree and have academic debates; however, through academic debate and scholarly research, more knowledge is acquired.

In these debates, we find answers through scholarly study and research for solutions to help law enforcement personnel protect society by seeking answers as to why individuals commit a crime or want to harm others. However, the theoretical foundation of criminology tends to revolve around positivism with a bit of classicalism included. Regardless of the theoretical basis, it is important to note that those who study crime, the criminologists, collect data seeking a better understanding of the characteristics of specific crimes and those that commit them. This search of understanding often leads to theories being formed, which are then further studied to accept or reject various hypotheses being proposed as to why people commit a crime. The bottom line to all this study, research, and review is the more knowledge gained, the better. Ultimately, this helps law enforcement agencies in their approaches to crime as they try to prevent and control it.

References

Adler, F., Mueller, G. O. W., & Laufer, W. S. (2013). Criminology (8th ed.). McGraw-Hill Companies.

Christie, N. (2004). A suitable amount of crime. Routledge.

Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the mods and rockers. MacGibbon and Kee Ltd.

Rimke, H. (2011). The pathological approach to crime: Individually based theories. Canadian Criminology: Critical Perspectives. Pearson Education Canada.

Roberts, A. (n.d.). Crimtim: A criminology and deviancy theory history timeline. Study More. http://studymore.org.uk/crimtim.htm

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