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Society's Influence on Criminal Behavior

  • 11 Pages
  • Published On: 25-11-2023
A. WHY DO PEOPLE COMMIT CRIME?

The society has inhabited and shaped people from time immemorial. It is the development and progress of society over a period of time that reflects the mindset, belief system, moral and cultural values that people abide by. The legislations governing a particular country is also largely a product of the customs and cultural practice in a society at large, therefore, there is a complex interrelationship between people and the society. As much as the society designs a place for decent citizens, they are as much a result of deviants. A society cannot be free of sin and therefore, a large contributor to criminal behavior and criminal activities are a product of society itself. The question has been asked for over decades and in any scenario, the enforcement authorities often go behind the search for the motive behind any criminal activity that arises. The motive or intent exhibits plethora of reasons as to the prime catalyst and instigator of the expressed criminal intention.

Criminal activities vary from a mere breaking of traffic light to murder and surprisingly all the offenders are listed down in the same category and tagged as offenders from the go. It could be close to impossible to give one defined understanding of crime but to suit sensibilities beyond territories, a criminal act can be understood as the violation of a moral code that is functional in a country or society. These moral codes are often segregated into different arenas be it; political, sociological, cultural or psychological domains. Every aspect of an individual is governed and affected by these domains who is a living and breathing citizen under a particular legislative framework.

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The form of punishments meted out to criminals be it of a high intensity crime or not, have changed over the years. Earlier death penalty was given out to criminals involved in high intensity crime or a term of imprisonment depending on the crime as laid down by the respective legislation. The perspective on death penalty has been reviewed and tackling criminals have also reformed over the years. Initially, the course of punishments was much more stringent and the behavioral influences were hardly recognized but today, an in-depth analysis concerning the sociological and psychological impacts are studied that give birth to these criminals. Earlier, retribution was adhered to but today a rehabilitative approach is being taken with respect to their time while they are incarcerated.


  1. Dimkov, Petar. (2019). Why do people commit crimes? Theoretical models of criminal justice. 10.13140/RG.2.2.17666.32960.
The Chicago School Theory

Crime investigators often look deep behind the childhood of an offender and the social influences that have impacted the motivation behind the act and the Chicago school theory has studied the impact of social disorganizations leading to the growth in deviants. The absence of the basic necessities, like food, clothing, shelter often leaves a family to be in the constant struggle and search which may provoke an individual to even commit thrifty crimes like stealing out of their daily struggle with poverty. The neighbourhood that some deviants grow up in often sheds wrong influences as they are hardly bound by moral odes and the fight for survival precedes any moral influences. Generally, society acts as the food for such deviant motivation of an individual.

Strain Theory

This theory focusses on how the strains that develop on an individual lead them to experience strong negative emotions. These unattended negative emotions of anger or mere frustration needs a channel and are expressed through extreme activities taken up by individuals to help them express revenge or alleviate all such emotions of disappointment and the primary cause of strain. Emile Durkheim had first developed the theory and later it was related with criminology by Merton. It has been researched that the failure in achieving a monetary standard and mostly unemployment has been the driving factor in the strain theory that responds to crime even though, a very small percentage of people are driven by this factor appearing to rest mostly in the middle-class people.

Sub-Cultural Theory

The sub-cultural theory was explored by many theorists beginning with Fredrick M. Thrasher, where the culture and growth of gangs were studied which threw light on the growing space for delinquent behaviour due to the social disorganization and the growth of gangs in general. This was followed by studying the basic trope of broken social homes and gradual existence of an underclass. Walter Miller researched and theorized in alignment with Albert K. Cohen that the people belonging to the lower class of the society is more prone to criminal activities as their social ties are generally weaker and most have no social housing or a structured family to begin with leaving them to take assistance of and join gangs that are closer to addressing their feeling fraternity and functions as their alternative family.


  1. Hardyns, Wim & Pauwels, Lieven. (2017). The Chicago School and Criminology. 10.1002/9781119011385.ch7.
  2. Jang, Sung Joon & Agnew, Robert. (2015). Strain Theories and Crime. 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.45088-9.
  3. Black, Pamela. (2014). Subcultural Theories of Crime. 10.1002/9781118517383.wbeccj254.
Conclusion

Along with these basic theories that lead to the development of a certain mindset to commit crime, many psychological theories also aid in making the rational choice to commit a crime are not which mostly is driven by the feeling of exclusion by society. Especially, being in a disadvantaged position, these experiences of driving their early behaviour, supported by the behavioural theories that are merely a more active and reformed stimulus of a person. There are multiple factors be it the peers, the economical structure of a country, the demographics, institutions or the personality developed through different means. The course of punishment and the discourse behind it are increasing and evaluated to a greater extent today. The perspective and mindset behind any criminal activity is the germ of this huge phenomenon and driven by many factors and starts with home. Leaning on to psychological studies regarding deviant behaviour shows the possibility of a psychopath to become a criminal more than any other human being. However, the perspective and awareness regarding the criminal justice system are being explored and studied in consonance with legislation, sociological studies as well as psychological understanding.

B. PRISON CRISIS

The incarceration of any individual for committing an offence often are subjected to trial and prisoners are immediately incarcerated in order be rehabilitated but concerns regarding the growing crisis in the prison system in England and Wales. A lack of a strong planning and steady operational management has led to the crisis concerning the safety of the inmates. The prisons are supposed to provide a safe environment and maintain standards for an offender to be treated and kept under humane condition with facilities that is required for the growth and progress of an inmate while they are serving their time. The purpose of incarceration has travelled from a retributive system to a rehabilitative system as the criminals are born in the society and fed by the society, therefore, a large part of the onus lies on the societal structure that lend to the birth of deviants. Therefore, it is mandatory that the time while they are serving for the crimes, they commit may have some larger purpose and is structured in a way that it reforms the individual as these individuals are still a part of the society and will be therefore, the reformation of perspectives are important. Therefore, giving a decent standard of living with good hygiene, protection from violence committed within the prison and proper utilization of their time. The primary issues that give rise to the term ‘Prison Crisis’ as has been used by researchers and journalists all over are discussed below.

  1. Ibid
  2. Ibid
Over-crowding

The dearth of a systematic management structure and problems in executing the operational strategies in prison. The number of issues that particularly draw attention are the problem of over-crowding in prison which gives birth to the problems with giving sufficient housing facilities as well as over crowding also instigates episodes of conflicts and breakouts within the prison. Over-crowding is particularly detrimental to many prisoners, their social health, their mental health. Dearth of space builds up tension within the inmates and that is often through the expression of negative emotions birthing violent behaviour endangering the safety of the other inmates who are merely spectators, often become involved in these breakouts. These also, give rise to many psychological problems within the prisoners.

The growth of prison population is always at a peak and currently, the study shows that the number has reached over 85,000 approximately which was below 20,000 in the 1950s. This exceeding rate of population arises due to mismanagement of budget, lesser budget allocation in turn creating a financial pressure on the management. This may jeopardize the provisions allotted for inmates to secure their well-being. The lack of private space has led to rise in number of violence and assaults that has been recorded as 260 assaults per 1000prisoners standing in 2016. Depression and anxiety often seems to be a recurring issue with inmates and rates of suicides have also seen to increase by 2016 as has been reported by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. As much as the growth in inmates, the funding has been cut short creating the vacuum of such incoherence.

  1. Alison Liebling and Amy Ludlow, “Suicide, Distress and the Quality of Prison Life,” in Handbooks on Prisons, ed. Yvonne Jewkes, Jamie Bennett and Ben Crewe (Devon: Willan Publishing, 2016), 226.
  2. International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS), “Dealing with Prison Overcrowding,” Guidance Note 4 (London: King’s College London)
  3. “World Prison Population List (11th edition),” Roy Walmsley, (Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), n.d.), last modified November 2014, www.prisonstudies.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/world_prison_population_list_11th_edition_0.pdf
Shortage of Medical staff

It was acknowledged that shortage of staff has an aggravating effect on the mental health of prisoners. Besides ensuring safety and security of prisoners, providing counselling and therapy to prisoners are of importance since the psychological motivation of an offender can be backed by trauma or dee end unresolved issue which must be catered to. Rehabilitation requires providing enough space and time for prisoners to recover and come to terms about their radical action and reflect on the necessity of the crime. It was argued and concerns were raised by the lord Chancellor and Secretary of the state that the primary reason of prison inmates facing violence and are untreated due to the acute shortage in staffs. A considerable drop has been seen in the number of frontline staff workers including workers from different sectors. It included officers, guards, supervisors, managers etc. Prisons are getting shut down due to unavailability of management and lack of staffs. This had detrimental effect on the prisoners indirectly as lesser staff meant lesser eyes to watch over prisoners which would substantially effects their time out during the day or being able to participate in any activities other than being locked up in four walled rooms.

Rehabilitative measures
  1. Safety in Custody Summary Tables to December 2018,” GOV.UK, last modified April 25, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/safety-in-custody-quarterly-update-to-december-2018.
  2. Ibid
  3. Hung, J, Cornell Policy Review, (2019) “ The Prison Crisis in England and Wales: How incarcerated population are psychosocially harmed” < https://www.cornellpolicyreview.com/the-prison-crisis-in-england-and-wales-how-incarcerated-populations-are-psychosocially-harmed/> accessed on 15th December, 2020
  4. “Breaking Point: Understanding and Overcrowding in Prisons, Research Briefing,” The Howard League for Penal Reform (2014) https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Breaking-point-10.07.2014.pdf

It has been researched that inmates are less prone to depression and anxiety if they are engaged in activities outdoors. The quotient of self-harm reduces drastically and the daily limit of ten hours outdoors reduces the risk of isolation or violent behaviour as well. This was considered a driving factor in maintaining a healthy mental state of the prisoners if they were given daily tasks and provided with an environment as socially viable and remains as close to the outer world. Prisoners having resource to educational materials and having access to information assures them of their position in the world but its been researched that only up to 42% of prison population practically get access to such facilities.

Conclusion

Crisis in prisons in different areas and factors have been in the rise in England and Wales which needs to be addressed and sufficient policies regarding the funding and operational managers need to be revisited. Structural changes must be brought about to handle the prison crisis that is highly responsible for the failure to rehabilitate prisoners and help prisoners in being responsible citizens of the nations. Prisoners are not just punitive machines and holds a far more responsibility in reforming criminals so that they can be a desired fit in the society without being a danger to their fellow citizens. Intervention is a mandate when tackling the mental well being of prisoners which holds a lot of value if addressed sufficiently. Criminals are very much a part of the society and the onus is completely on the governmental and legislative policies that ensure their reformation.

C. MEDIA DISCOURSE AND CRIME

Media is ingrained in the society and functions as a limb to the societal structure. As much as entertainment takes up space in media, viewing crime and transcending criminal notions amongst classes of society is a well performed affair from time immemorial. Crime has turned to become an essential in the media houses and fuels the moral codes of a society. Media is the intervener and interpreter of what the society holds as values and customs and views the disruption of such moral standards as means of reaching out to people. Media also is a great carrier of perspectives and opinions concerning social knowledge and ensures high dependability of people. Standards of justice are often interpreted and shown under the light as per the discretion of media houses and remains palatable to most people. Media’s discourse with crime began in the 1960s but today it has transcended disciplines and is relevant in all social science disciplines along with communication and criminology per se. The effect and extent of any criminal activity is communicated via media and new channels and it remains the first-hand communication that the reader or viewer is aware of. Therefore, biases and perspectives play a magnificent role in this.

  1. Dora Rickford and Kimmett Edgar, “Self Harm in Custody,” Troubled Inside: Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Men in Prison (London: Prison Reform Trust, 2005): 76
  2. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, last modified June 5-16, 2017, 38, https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/Yarls-Wood-Web-2017.pdf.

Media has also faced backlashes and has been criticized for sensationalizing any event making it more palatable to readers and often instigate a social commotion. It accentuates the sensibilities and expectations of speedy justice that it may contribute to a untimely judgement which might be just a result of over sensationalisation.The primary job of media to be a carrier but over time the role of media has become extremely important and is not strictly limited to being carrier of the truth but its laden with biases, opinions and often dramatized to titillate the public for better attention span. Researchers have spoken of moral panics that have been created, effect of outsiders and the role of police in amplifying deviant behaviours. Media houses have a great lot of power in terms of bringing about structural change in policies and often secures a place for mass dissent as well. However, the role of media was also criticized as being the medium of exaggeration of reality and portraying an untrue picture of society to have selling power and the more titillating the news, the bigger sales it brings.Instilling unreasonable fear amongst people was one of the concern of media discourses as well.

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  1. Cohen, S. and Young, J. (eds) (1973) The Manufacture of News: Social Problems, Deviance and Mass Media, London: Constable (revised edition 1981).
  2. Ibid
  3. Young, J. (1971) ‘The Role of the Police in the as Amplifiers of Deviancy, Negotiators of Reality, and Translators of Fantasy: Some Consequences of our Present System of Drug Control as Seen in Notting Hill’, in S. Cohen and J. Young (eds.), Images of Deviance, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  4. Sacco, Vincent F. “Media Constructions of Crime.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 539, 1995, pp. 141–154. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1048402. Accessed 15 Dec. 2020.

Cohen studied The Mod and Rocker Study and developed moral panic which was further emphasised by Hall et all in studying mugging. The concept focussed on the impact of distortions committed by media houses in a case with deliberate dramatization and using effective language to imprint the case within the minds of public. The actual facts of the case were far from the description portrayed by media houses as per the study initiated by Cohen, spreading a sense of disregard towards the youth and targeting them as primary deviants in any society. The unhealthy commotion and fear dwindled among the public leading to polarized opinion about the youth and leaving lesser space for sympathy and conformity for the youth community. Media discourses are highly responsible for shifting and remoulding social beliefs and values that may largely impact the understanding of responsibilities that a society has based on the exaggerated picture of the deviant behaviour. The term “Mugging” had received a wide acknowledgement due to the over use of the term even though it had been a crime way before that but medias influence had impacted the acknowledgement of the crime.

The control over the content of a news is often managed and operated externally and internally through governmental mediums, depending on many other factors. However, primarily the value of engagement that can be procured through a news item is more often measured and any piece of news that has latent facts are often a playground of media houses to dive in and fill gaps through their position as a medium and is only promoted to attract readers. The sensibilities of the people are often predominant factors on choosing the content as ‘newsworthy’ along with other operational pressures that may exist.

The fear of crime and dependency showed by people often becomes a source of repression which may make them vulnerable. This may justify the legislations are designed to repress a certain section as it helps in restoring and evoking a sense of control on people which otherwise could be difficult.

  1. Horton, J. (1979). Stuart Hall, et al.: "Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order". Crime and Social Justice, (12), 59-63. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29766074
  2. Supra 18
  3. UKEssays. (November 2018). Examining Media Discourse And The Amounts Of Crime Criminology Essay. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/criminology/examining-media-discourse-and-the-amounts-of-crime-criminology-essay.php?vref=1

Conclusion

Beginning from the position of Marxists and institutional readings, the media discourse with crime has sustained a period of time. Many scholars and researchers have evaluated the position and influence of media over a society and it has either been detrimental to accurate justice or has promoted justice standards being the judge, jury and executioner themselves. Even though the role of media is instrumental in shaping the minds of the society but it also plays an important role in changing the stream of law and order. At the end of the day, the whole purpose of media is to sustain a piece of news in the market by gaining attention and in order to compete and retain position, dramatization and sensationalization has been one of the driving factors of media.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
ARTICLES/ JOURNALS
  • Dimkov, Petar. (2019). Why do people commit crimes? Theoretical models of criminal justice. 10.13140/RG.2.2.17666.32960.
  • Hardyns, Wim & Pauwels, Lieven. (2017). The Chicago School and Criminology. 10.1002/9781119011385.ch7.
  • Jang, Sung Joon & Agnew, Robert. (2015). Strain Theories and Crime. 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.45088-9.
  • Black, Pamela. (2014). Subcultural Theories of Crime 10.1002/9781118517383.wbeccj254.
  • Alison Liebling and Amy Ludlow, “Suicide, Distress and the Quality of Prison Life,” in Handbooks on Prisons, ed. Yvonne Jewkes, Jamie Bennett and Ben Crewe (Devon: Willan Publishing, 2016), 226.
  • International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS), “Dealing with Prison Overcrowding,” Guidance Note 4 (London: King’s College London)
  • “World Prison Population List (11th edition),” Roy Walmsley, (Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), n.d.), last modified November 2014, www.prisonstudies.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/world_prison_population_list_11th_edition_0.pdf
  • Safety in Custody Summary Tables to December 2018,” GOV.UK, last modified April 25, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/safety-in-custody-quarterly-update-to-december-2018.
  • Hung, J, Cornell Policy Review, (2019) “ The Prison Crisis in England and Wales: How incarcerated population are psychosocially harmed” < https://www.cornellpolicyreview.com/the-prison-crisis-in-england-and-wales-how-incarcerated-populations-are-psychosocially-harmed/> accessed on 15th December, 2020
  • “Breaking Point: Understanding and Overcrowding in Prisons, Research Briefing,” The Howard League for Penal Reform (2014) https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Breaking-point-10.07.2014.pdf
  • Dora Rickford and Kimmett Edgar, “Self Harm in Custody,” Troubled Inside: Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Men in Prison (London: Prison Reform Trust, 2005): 76
  • Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, last modified June 5-16, 2017, 38, https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/Yarls-Wood-Web-2017.pdf.
  • Cohen, S. and Young, J. (eds) (1973) The Manufacture of News: Social Problems, Deviance and Mass Media, London: Constable (revised edition 1981).
  • Young, J. (1971) ‘The Role of the Police in the as Amplifiers of Deviancy, Negotiators of Reality, and Translators of Fantasy: Some Consequences of our Present System of Drug Control as Seen in Notting Hill’, in S. Cohen and J. Young (eds.), Images of Deviance, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Sacco, Vincent F. “Media Constructions of Crime.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 539, 1995, pp. 141–154. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1048402. Accessed 15 Dec. 2020.
  • Horton, J. (1979). Stuart Hall, et al.: "Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order". Crime and Social Justice, (12), 59-63. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29766074
  • UKEssays. (November 2018). Examining Media Discourse And The Amounts Of Crime Criminology Essay. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/criminology/examining-media-discourse-and-the-amounts-of-crime-criminology-essay.php?vref=1

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