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Is crime in the UK an endless matter?

by J.N. PAQUET (writer), London, UK, June 10, 2010

Credit: Photo by Clara Natoli
Crime in the UK

Is there a correlation between media frenzy about crime and criminals, and the actual rising levels of crime?

WHAT IS CRIME?

There is no clear and unambiguous answer to that question. Defining crime is simply not easy for it usually raises more questions than answers. Social Scientists say that it is a socially constructed act. However, there are at two important definitions which we should consider — the legal and the normative definitions — since they are the most important differences in the meaning of what crime is.

The legal definition says that “crimes are acts which break or contravene the letter of the law”, while the normative definition says that “crimes are acts which break or contravene a set of formal or informal norms and codes” (1). Sometimes legally-defined crimes are considered to be legitimate acts in other contexts (historically, across societies or amongst different social groups), and therefore don’t result in prosecution or imprisonment. For that reason, both definitions get often into some kind of conflict.

CRIME, MEDIA AND COMMON-SENSE STORIES

In the contemporary UK, rising levels of crime, regularity in anti-social behaviour, sexual violence, vandalism and incivility, are the ingredients that make our society frightened by crime and criminals, through endless reporting of crime by the media. But at the same time, the same media indulge us with murder stories, fictional crime thrillers, “true life” TV documentaries about the Police or serial killers, TV crime-prevention programmes such as Crimewatch or even TV series such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

So, is there a correlation between media frenzy about crime and criminals, and the actual rising levels of crime? Or is crime simply misrepresented in the society through narratives and common-sense stories that make people feel that they, and the social order, are more under threat today than they actually were in the past? Are the risks and dangers we face, individually and collectively overestimated? And how can we explain the crime problem then?

QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE EVIDENCES

Was there really less crime in the Victorian time than there is today? In 1730, Daniel Defoe wrote that “the Robbers and Insolence of the Night are such that the citizens are no longer secure within their own Walls or safe even in passing their Streets, but are robbed, insulted, and abused, even at their own Doors…” (2)

This example certainly shows that the fear of crime as well as the risks and dangers that are so firmly emphasised in the media don’t belong to our times only. And the fear of crime is certainly fuelled by the tendency, described by social historian and criminologist Geoffrey Pearson in his book Hooligan, that the middle-aged of every generation has to look back at their past and see it nostalgically as a heaven forever lost behind a corrupted contemporariness.

If we know through the Quantitative evidence of data (3) that recorded crime increased significantly throughout the twentieth century, then we can admit that Common sense is confirmed. But we know that not all crimes are recorded. That means that the level of crime could actually be decreasing even though it is more reported. In order to get more evidence, we need to look at the Qualitative evidences, which mean interviews with victims and offenders, direct observations, surveys with “hidden” offenders and victims.

One thing that does not decline is the public concern about crime, and it can often result in moral panics focusing on a particular part of the population. But the crime problem is not solely a moral panic.

FOUR MODELS OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR

So what is at the origin of crime? There’s a long tradition of claims that it could be biological, for example through studies of identical twins compared with non-identical twins (4), but the results of the studies showed that the criminal behaviour of twins can be explained by their shared social experience, not their shared DNA.

Another claim is the pathological or problem families (5), where it appears that criminal careers stem from anti-social personality syndrome, that this syndrome comes out of problem families (with poor or inappropriate parenting) and that the poor parenting seems to be transmitted from one generation to the next. Does that mean that these families are doomed?

A third claim is about culture structures. Through Quantitative data, the Chicago School of sociology showed that young offenders join gangs because they are immune to the normal cultural prohibitions on criminal behaviour because they live within a male sub-culture (6). They also showed that these cultures come to be attractive to them because of the economic factors. But not every youth joins gangs!

CONCLUSION

Therefore, the best way to know why people commit crimes is probably to ask them. If crime is more a way of life than a biological or a social condition, we need to explore the claim. We may then be able to find the root of the problem, not in the media, not in the data, but in the listening and understanding of the offenders.

Sources:
- (1) DD121, Open University, 2004.
- (2) Defoe, 1730, quoted in Reiner, 1996, p.2.
- (3) DD121, Introductory chapter – Table 2, Recorded crime, 1945-2000 – p.16.
- (4) Christiansen, 1977.
- (5) David Farrington, 1994.
- (6) Shaw and McKay, 1969.



About the Writer

J.N. PAQUET is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Is crime in the UK an endless matter?

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By Dan Ehrlich on June 10, 2010 at 02:04 pm

Crime in the UK is complicated because of the equally complicated fabric of society there. This is further complicated by a welfare state that makes work only and option and self respect something that one gets from one's mates. A few years ago MP Claire Short warned of an entire generation of aimless disposessed young men. Women now outnmber men at college but college grads have a tough time finding jobs.

Guns may be outlawed, but criminals still use them and knife crime has skyrocketed, especially among the young.

On the other hand, as tough as times may be, young people have no trouble buying and paying for cell phones and computer games.

The answer: Probably none right now...the future: better parental upbringing.

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By JJFCPA on June 10, 2010 at 04:04 pm

You pose an interesting question. I doubt that the answer for the UK will be similar to the US and many developed countries. I agree with Dan's comment too that better parenting is needed but what about the situation where a parent with a child had poor parenting as well - i.e. no good example to follow.

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By Rjennings3000 on June 12, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The problem is that the UK bans guns. Gun bans prevent law abiding from getting guns. Criminals get guns illegally. BBC say handgun crime increase despite the ban.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/1440764.stm

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By MUGISHO N.THEOPHILE on June 15, 2010 at 02:29 am

I agree with Dan and JJFCPA that better parenting is the right way to go. The success here will occur in case the background is solid. This because for example here inAfrica, you may find a parent who is not really interested in his children morality. Such a parent will not be helpful to his offspring. However, a parent who got a positive background will be useful to his childen because they are benefitting from the positive guidance of their parent.

In addition to this, the government has to strongly involve in this. For example, by trying to give employment to the youth, send them to school, make them busy. Most of cases, gun crimes are committed by hooligans. The population should be aware about human rights, that all people have equal rights to life. In brief, to dismantle gun crime, both the population and the government should collaborate hand in hand to dislodge the criminals; the government should ban the possession of guns by particular individuals and also avoid illegal immigration.

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