SOCIAL DISTRIBUTION OF CRIME: EXPLANATIONS

Background

There is a growing and widespread perception among the population that, over time, crime has grown more prevalent and serious. During the last half century it has been reported that people are now much more fearful of crime than in earlier times. They are experiencing heightened anxiety about going out after dark, about their homes being burgled, and about becoming the victims of violence.

Statistics about crime and delinquency are probably the least reliable of all officially published figures on social issues. We cannot take official statistics at face value, but must pay attention to the way in which those statistics were generated.

The most basic limitation of official crime statistics is that they only include crimes actually recorded by the police. There is a long chain of problematic decisions between possible crime and its registration by the police. The majority of crimes, especially petty thefts, are never reported to the police at all. Even in the case of violent crimes, more than one third of the victims choose not to contact the police, claiming that it is a private affair or something they have dealt with themselves. As a result of partial reporting and partial recording of crimes, the official crime statistics reflect only a portion of overall offences.

Police forces have been expanded in response to growing crime. When crime rates are on the rise, there is almost inevitably public clamor for putting more police ‘on the street’. But the greater number of police has not translated into lower crime rates. Preventing crime, and reducing fear of crime, are both closely related to rebuilding strong communities. Police should work closely with citizens to improve local community standards and civil behavior, using education, persuasion, and counseling instead of incarceration.

‘Community policing’ implies not only drawing in citizens themselves, but also changing the characteristic outlook of police forces.

Social Distribution of Crime

There is a variation in the distribution of crime by social characteristics i.e. gender, age, social class, ethnicity, locality. Does it mean that some individuals or groups more likely to commit crimes, or to become the victims of crime. Research and statistics show that crime and victimization are not randomly distributed among the population. For example men are more likely than women to commit crimes; the young are more often involved in crime than older people; poor areas generally have higher crime rates than better off areas; the ethnic minorities experience higher rates of victimization; individuals living in inner city run a greater risk of becoming victims than those living in suburban areas.

Gender and Crime

National and international data show that:

• Crimes are highly concentrated among men.

• There is an imbalance in the ratio of men to women in prison.

• There are contrasts between the types of crimes men and women commit. (Women are rarely involved in violence. Petty thefts, prostitutions are typical female offenses).

In reality gender differences in crime rates may be less pronounced. Reasons may be:

• Certain crimes perpetrated by women go unreported. Domestic role provide them the opportunity to commit crimes at home and in private sphere and these go unreported.

• Women regarded as naturally deceitful and highly skilled at covering up their crimes. Supposedly grounded in their biology that they can hide their pain and discomfort.

• Women offenders are treated more leniently because male police officers tend to adopt a ‘chivalrous’ attitude towards them. Questionable. Since women appear to be less dangerous, therefore officers may let them go. Also they are less likely to be imprisoned than male offenders.

• Leniency toward women shown by criminal justice system is also questioned because women are treated more harshly than men in cases where they allegedly deviated from the norms of female sexuality. They may be considered as ‘doubly deviant’ i.e. broken the law plus flouted appropriate female behavior. For sexually promiscuous girls are more often taken onto custody than boys.

Here one could refer to double standards where male aggression and violence is seen as natural phenomenon, explanations for female offences are sought in psychological imbalance.

• Female lawbreakers often escape because they are able to persuade the police and other authorities.

They try to get special treatment under “gender contract’ – an implicit contract between men and women whereby (1) to be a woman is to be erratic and impulsive, and (2) women need protection by men.

Women victims don’t report crime due to the humiliating process of medical examination, police interrogations and courtroom cross-examinations.

Some studies have shown some correlation between an increase in female criminality and the movement for women’s liberation.

Age and Crime

Official crime rates rise sharply during adolescence and peak during the late teens, and thereafter fall. In the USA young people are becoming responsible for serious crimes. Between 1987 and 1996, arrests of juveniles for violent crimes shot up to 60 percent. The offenses like theft, burglary, assault, and rape (called street crimes) are all associated with young working class males. Is it due to moral breakdown? Is it due to increasing permissiveness? May be both.

In UK there are high rates of offence among youth. In 1997, 40 percent of all offenders cautioned or convicted were under 21 years. The peak age for offending boys and girls was 18.

There could also be the matters of definition of crime. Youth revolts may be erroneously considered as crimes.

Social Class and Crime

There is an impression that criminality is more widespread among people of lower social class. It is a mistake to assume that being socially disadvantaged means being criminal. Many wealthy and powerful people carry out crimes whose consequences can be much more far-reaching than the often petty crimes of the poor.

If we extend our definition of crime beyond street offences to include white-collar crime, then the ‘common criminal’ looks affluent.

White-Collar Crime

The concept of white-collar crime was first introduced by Sutherland in his book White-Collar Crime in 1949.

It refers to the crimes carried by those in the more affluent sectors of the society. ‘Crimes committed by persons of high social status and respectability in the course of their occupation’ (Sutherland).

The term covers many types of criminal activity, including tax frauds, illegal sale practices, securities and land frauds, embezzlement, the manufacture and sale of dangerous products as well as straight theft. The distribution of white-collar crimes is even harder to measure than that of other types of crime.

White-collar crimes can be divided into two categories by power of the affluent. Firstly those crimes that mainly involves the use of middle class or professional position to engage in illegal activities. Secondly

Crimes of the powerful are those in which the authority conferred by a position is used in criminal ways – as when an official accepts a bribe to favor a particular policy.

The cost of the white-collar crimes is much higher than the crimes by the lower class. In the USA in 1986, it has been calculated the amount of money involved in white-collar crime (defined as tax fraud, insurance frauds, home improvement frauds and car repair frauds) is forty times as great as that in ordinary crimes against property (robberies, burglaries, latency, forgeries, and car thefts)

Corporate Crime

Offenses committed by large corporations in society. Pollution, mislabeling, violations of health and safety regulations affect much larger number of people than petty criminality. The increasing power and influence of large corporations, and their rapidly growing global reach means that our lives are touched by them in many ways. Corporations are involved in producing cars that we drive and the food we eat. They also have an enormous effect on the natural environment and financial markets, aspects of life, which affect all of us.

Slapper and Tombs (1999) have listed six types of violations by corporations:

Administrative (non-compliance of rules).

Environmental (pollution, permits violations resulting in disasters. Victims).

Financial (tax violations, permits violations).

Labor (working conditions, hiring practices).

Manufacturing (product safety, labeling).

Unfair trading practices (anti-competition, false advertising)

Victims of corporate crime don’t see themselves as such.

Difficult to see as a victim of whom? Who is the perpetrator? Great distance in time and space when the offence was committed and its appearance.

Don’t know who has victimized, how to seek redress for crime.

Effects of corporate crime are often experienced unevenly in society.

Poor workers are victims of pollution, safety hazards.

Violent aspects of corporate crime are less visible than in cases of homicide.

Pollution leading to physical harm/death, and there are side effects of drugs as well as contraceptives. Such crimes are often seen as ‘complaint-less’.

Organized crime syndicate such as the mafia may choose to resemble legitimate business but employ corrupt or illegal organizations to secure loan repayment, avoid taxes or to discipline labor.

Organized crime refers to the forms of business that appears to be legal but actually is illegal. It embraces smuggling, illegal gambling (sports, lotteries, and horse races), drug trade, prostitution, large-scale theft, and protection rackets. It often relies on violence or threat of violence to conduct its activities.

It has become increasingly transnational networks in scope. It provides illegal goods and services to mass consumer (Money laundering, sale of nuclear material)

International organized crime greatly facilitated by recent advances in information technology. Advances in technology have provided exciting new opportunities and benefits, but they also heighten vulnerability to crime. Cyber-crime i.e. criminal acts committed with the help of information technology are already there.

The examples of technology based crimes are: eves-dropping, electronic vandalism and terrorism, pornography, telemarketing fraud, stealing telecommunications services, electronic funds transfer crimes, electric money laundering, criminal conspiracies

Ethnicity and Crime

Both race and ethnicity are strongly correlated to crime rates.

In UK and in USA far more blacks than whites brought to court and sent to prison.

Explanation:

Prejudice related to color or class prompts white police to arrest black people more readily and leads citizens more willingly to report African Americans to police as suspected offenders, which means that people of color are overly criminalized. It is just racism.

Race in USA closely relates to social standing and affects one’s likelihood of engaging in street crime. Blacks mostly belong to working class (or under class). Poor people living in midst of affluence come to perceive society as unjust. They are more likely to suffer from the feeling of relative deprivation and are more likely to turn to crime.

Black and white family patterns differ. In US 2/3rds of the black children (compared to one-fifth of white children) are born to single mothers. They have less supervision and high risk of growing up in poverty, hence more chances of criminality.

Official crime index excludes white-collar crimes, which are more committed by whites. This omission contributes to the view of the typical criminal as a person of color.

Different ethnic backgrounds are related to crime rates. In UK the Asians and the Africans differed in their expectations at new place.

Also they had different cultural and colonial background. It has been seen that the local Asian communities support the new entrants but for blacks there appears to be no such resource. Blacks have been found in situations that encountered racism. Blacks’ resistance to discrimination got politicized in mid 1970s. The young blacks got stereotyped with mugging problem, hence got extra attention by police with the impression that the black immigrants had difficulties in observing the rule of law. Therefore they got to be disciplined and punished. It amounted to racism

The black’s behavior may have been due to their sense of relative deprivation, their subculture, their marginalization, and willingness to challenge law and order by the youth.

[Marginalization: Young blacks feel that they have been pushed to the edge of society –Doing less well in school, getting badly paid jobs, -being likely to be unemployed, and few outlets for political expression.

Relative deprivation: greater expectation of material success.

[Subcultures emerge due to mismatch between aspirations and the constraints of reality.]

Some categories of population have usually low rates of arrest, and Asians are one of those. They have higher than average educational achievements, good jobs, and above average income. Also