Emile Durkheim stated that “crime is inevitable and a natural response to society.” His viewpoint emphasizes how deviance is the first step towards social change and is a natural part of human existence and society. On the other hand, crime negatively affects society. Therefore, social control institutions are required to keep the amount of crime in check.
Crime may be defined as an act that violates the social norms or legal codes of the country. What is a crime and what is not a crime is up to the law, as per Oxford dictionary. However, throughout history, its understanding has been influenced by social norms and dynamics. Legally, it is defined as any form of conduct that is harmful and punishable by law.
A criminal act is committed to causing harm. A crime can be committed out of impulse, with motive, or with pre-planning & calculation. In addition to that, frustration, pressing circumstances, or habits can also cause crime. Crime is a concept as old as time. However, with time, we have changed how we view it as well as deal with it.
Crime directly or indirectly impacts every person in society and the community as well. With the increase in statistics about crime, there is also some consequential fear of crime in society. Therefore, individuals who have not experienced crime also feel fearful about the possibility of a future crime occurring. Fear of crime is one of the most significant impacts on individuals and the community. Hence, it can adversely impact public health and psychological well-being.
Criminologists have classified different types of crime into major heads such as:-
- Predatory Crime, in which the perpetrator enjoys the entire benefit of the crime. The exploitation of the victim becomes very prominent. It includes crimes, such as theft, dacoity, or extortion.
- Another group is Violent Crimes which is a species of predatory crime. These are grave offenses that are committed with such frequency and magnitude of the crime and violence that it adversely affect public peace (for, e.g., murder, arson, robbery, rape, etc.).
- Organized crimes involve illegal activities carried out in a systematic manner committed by members in cooperation. For instance, it includes gambling, labor racketeering, narcotics syndicates, etc.
- White-collar crimes involve people in power positions abusing their power and position for their personal or professional gains (e.g., embezzlement, tax evasion, etc.).
- Victimless Crimes involve illegal activities but don't have a direct victim. It refers to the criminal offenses where there is no complainant and no readily recognizable victim, for example - prostitution, public drinking, etc.
According to Canter & Young, “The study of crime is the main avenue to understanding what makes the society function.” Crime is seen as an aspect of society, not just something that is an activity committed by individual/s. When different aspects of criminality and its consequences come to light, it can help us understand, accept it as a natural aspect of society that can be changed for preventive measures.
Criminology is a social science. Therefore, its study is influenced by changes in the nature & variety of crime that progresses with civilization. Consequently, there are many schools of criminology. Moreover, each school proposes a different point of view, and explanation of crime, along with its causes and suitable measures.
The Positive School was propounded by Cesare Lombroso, who is regarded as the father of modern criminology. It proposes that the cause of criminality could be explained through anthropological features. Lombroso was the first to attempt to empirically understand this, shifting the focus from crime to criminal. He devised a set of physical characteristics as indicators of criminality and classified criminals into three types - hereditary or born criminals, insane criminals, and criminoids (who commit crimes to overcome survival needs). Lombroso was of the view that one-third of the criminals were born criminals.
Another exponent was Enrico Ferri, who said criminality is not merely due to biological factors, but emotional reactions, social infirmity, or geographical conditions also play a significant role. He classified criminals into - born, occasional, passionate, insane, and habitual criminals.
The Clinical School emphasizes the study of human psychology to understand offenders' criminal behavior as a product of their biological and inherited factors (internal factors), which are conditioned in their development by their experiences in life (external factors). It is suggested that offenders who commit antisocial acts due to social conditions should get correctional methods (i.e., probation, parole, reformation institutions, etc.) The offenders who do not favorably respond to such correctional measures should be imprisoned for longer or life.
The Sociological School explains the causation of crime through social conditions & environment. Further classification within the sociological school is:
- Social Structure: The most influential theorist from this school is Edwin Sutherland, whose theory is called the Differential Association. It emphasizes the relationship between human personality and culture. He explained that a person acquires criminal behavior by association with others. It involves the learning of both the techniques of committing a crime, as well as the attitudes. Hence, they suggest applying humanitarian methods to treat the offenders.
- Social Subculture: Another theory called the Labelling Theory explains that an individual's behavior may be influenced by terms used to describe or classify them. When an individual is labeled as a ‘criminal,’ it becomes a matter of status and self-image. It builds pressure on them to behave as a deviant. According to one of its exponents, Howard Becker, labeling offenders lawbreakers leads to becoming ‘outsiders’ to the law-abiding society.
- Social Control: Control Theory of Crime propounded by Emile Durkheim believed that crime occurs when social and personal controls that prevent most people from engaging in criminal activity weaken. This means that social control institutions are not working as effectively.
The Psychogenic theories/school explains crime through the personality of an offender. According to one of the significant theorists Henry Goddard, delinquency & crime could be presented through a very low intelligent quotient. William Healy explained criminal behavior through personality traits, emotional disturbances, and mental disorders. According to him, delinquency was purposive and a consequence of frustration resulting from not being able to fulfill basic drives, and so on.
The Psychoanalytic thought propounded by Sigmund Freud is used to explain criminal behavior by Alfred Adler, August Aichorn, Friedlander, etc. It explains that:
1) Behaviour is largely guided by unconscious forces, drives, or instincts.
2) Criminality arises out of conflicts related to these innate and basic drives.
3) To modify criminal/antisocial behavior, we must help the individual achieve insight into these unconscious responses to control such impulses. When there is an imbalance in the personality’s components of Id, Ego, and Superego, there is disharmony leading to antisocial behavior.
The word crime comes from the Latin word “Cerno,” which means “I decide, I give judgment,” whereas the original Latin word ''crimen“ means ''cry of distress.” However, the definition of crime in the 13th century was “sinfulness.” In the 14th century, the meaning changed to “offense punishable by the law of the land.”
Earlier, the holy covenant of the ten commandments in the genesis of the Bible or the holy covenant of each culture or tribe defined crime and criminality. In the current context, crime is defined as an act that is not only harmful to some individuals but also a community, society, or the state. It refers to the action that is punishable by the law.
There have been different events recorded in history or mythology that elucidate the changing picture of crime and criminality. According to biblical records, Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve who offered sacrifices to God from their produce. God favored Abel, after which Cain murdered his brother.
After that, God punished Abel by condemning him to a life of wandering, which is one of the first written records of crime. The roman era, the Indus valley civilization, the British empire, etc., were all times of rulers, kings where many practices were common but in the current context are considered crimes against humanity or society.
The French revolution (5 May 1789 – 9 Nov 1799), a major social upheaval, sought to completely change the relationship between the rulers and those they governed to redefine the nature of political power. Many of its ideas are considered fundamental principles of Western liberal democracy.
Slavery in American and British colonies was a common and acceptable aspect of society. After the revolution, abolitionist laws were passed in most Northern states, and a movement developed to abolish slavery.
Mass Murder of Humans pre, during, and post-world wars’ was a common consequence of wartime. A vast scale of violence only left destruction in its path. The second world war led to the creation of the first concentration camps, which were established in March 1933, immediately after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
They used six extermination camps, also called death camps or killing centers, in Central Europe from 1933 - 1945 during World War II to murder over 2.7 million people (mostly Jews). The victims of death camps were primarily killed by gassing, either in permanent installations constructed for this specific purpose or through gas vans.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act, also called the Sarda Act, was a law to restrict child marriage. Its goal was to eliminate the dangers placed on young girls who could not handle the stress of married life and avoid early deaths putting a restrain on the crime of child marriage.
Sati or suttee was a historical Hindu practice in which a widow would sacrifice herself by sitting atop her deceased husband's funeral pyre. In 1987 Sati Prevention Act was implemented that criminalized the aiding or glorifying of sati as a virtue of a good wife. Although, this principle did not apply to men.
Throughout history, cultural aspects are observed to be violent or criminal in hindsight but were acceptable parts of society at a certain point of time. There was a time when slavery, rape, discrimination, or abuse based on caste, creed, color, religion, or sexual orientation, was considered normal rather than a crime against humankind.
In the current context, there are crimes like sex rackets, human trafficking, economic or capitalist deprivation, child labor, etc. It reinstated that human nature's good and evil traits would always find a way to commit a crime and commit good deeds till we humans exist.
The concepts of crime and punishment progress with societal dynamics, which can be understood through a recent example of the decriminalization of homosexuality in section 377 of IPC. Up until September 2018, it was a legal offense, but with the progression of society, it was struck down as it was irrational to criminalize consensual sexual activity between homosexual adults. Hence, it can be seen that social change in a society is inevitable and dynamic. Furthermore, social disorganization, conflict, and consequent social control are also considered as a natural progression of society.
Danny Trejo is popularly known for his acting in many Hollywood blockbusters. As a child, he was a drug addict and an offender. He served time in San Quentin state prison. He had been in and out of custody multiple times during his teen years and early 20s. After his release, he immersed himself in jobs but remained a part of the recovery community. He started working as a drug counselor.
After 16 years of being sober and not involved in criminal activities, Danny got the opportunity for the role of a convict in the movie Runaway Train (1985). Since then, he built his career as a movie star for hardened roles. He has become a very prolific identity in Hollywood. Not only that, but he also became an entrepreneur, starting a chain of restaurants called Trejo’s Tacos in 2016. However, with everything he has achieved or built, Danny still finds time to attend and speak at recovery meetings regularly. He says, “I honestly believe this sobriety and being clean depends on your support system,” highlighting the importance of surrounding yourself with people who support you.
Judge Gregory Mathis is known as the youngest ever district court judge in Michigan’s history. He talks about turning one’s life around, and people listen to him because of his own gang-to-gavel story. At age 15, he had gathered a juvenile criminal record after he became involved with Errol Flynns, a Detroit criminal street gang. He had dropped out of school and was engaging in anti-social activities. At age 17, when Mathis was arrested, his mother came to visit him and expressed her disappointment about his life decisions which he promised to turn around.
He got the opportunity to earn his General Equivalency Degree (GED), which he continued pursuing after his release from county prison. He went to earn his law degree and became the youngest judge in Michigan. He is known for being earnest, sensible, and street smart in his courtroom. He uses himself as an example for those who appear before him in the court of law. His story is so inspiring that a reality-based court show called JUDGE MATHIS, starring himself, was produced that is still running and even won a daytime Emmy award.