criminology, the study of crime, society's response to it, and its prevention, including examination of the environmental, hereditary, or psychological causes of crime, modes of criminal investigation and conviction, and the efficacy of punishment or correction (see prison) as compared with forms of treatment or rehabilitation. Although it is generally considered a subdivision of sociology, criminology also draws on the findings of psychology, economics, and other disciplines that investigate humans and their environment.
In examining the evolution and definition of crime, criminology often aims to remove from this category acts that no longer conflict with society's norms and acts that violate the norms without imperiling society, although decriminalization of certain acts may be accompanied by attempts to enforce codes of morality (as, for example, in the response to pornography). Criminologists are nearly unanimous in advocating that acts involving the consumption of narcotics or alcohol, as well as nonstandard but consensual sexual acts (known among criminologists as crimes without victims) be removed from the category of crime. In dealing with crime in general, the emphasis has gradually shifted from punishment to rehabilitation. Criminologists have worked to increase the use of probation and parole, psychiatric treatment, education in prison, and betterment of social conditions.
The Nature and Causes of Crime
Many criminologists regard crime as one among several forms of deviance, about which there are conflicting theories. Some consider crime a type of anomic behavior; others characterize it as a more conscious response to social conditions, to stress, to the breakdown in law enforcement or social order, and to the labeling of certain behavior as deviant. Since cultures vary in organization and values, what is considered criminal may also vary, although most societies have restrictive laws or customs.
Hereditary physical and psychological traits are today generally ruled out as independent causes of crime, but psychological states are believed to determine an individual's reaction to potent environmental influences. Some criminologists assert that certain offenders are born into environments (such as extreme poverty or discriminated-against minority groups) that tend to generate criminal behavior. Others argue that since only some persons succumb to these influences, additional stimuli must be at work. One widely accepted theory is Edwin Sutherland's concept of differential association, which argues that criminal behavior is learned in small groups. Psychiatry generally considers crime to result from emotional disorders, often stemming from childhood experience. The criminal symbolically enacts a repressed wish, or desire, and crimes such as arson or theft that result from pyromania or kleptomania are specific expressions of personality disorders; therefore, crime prevention and the cure of offenders are matters of treatment rather than coercion.
Prevalence of Crime
Crime rates, although often blurred by the political or social agenda of those recording and reporting them, tend to fluctuate with social trends, rising in times of depression, after wars, and in other periods of disorganization. Particular types of crime may be prevalent in response to specific conditions. In the United States organized crime became significant during prohibition. Within cities, poverty areas have the highest rates of reported crime, especially among young people (see juvenile delinquency).
One major category that was relatively ignored until recent decades is that of white-collar crime, i.e., property crimes committed by people of relatively high social status in the course of their professional or business careers. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1967 concluded that about three times as much property is stolen by white-collar criminals as by other criminals outside organized crime.
See S. Glueck and E. Glueck, Criminal Careers in Retrospect (1943, repr. 1966); H. Mannheim, ed., Pioneers in Criminology (2d ed. 1960, repr. 1972) and Comparative Criminology (2 vol., 1965); R. Hood, Key Issues in Criminology (1970); E. Sutherland and D. Cressey, Criminology (8th ed. 1970); S. Schafer and W. Knudten, Reader in Criminology (1973); E. Sutherland, White Collar Crime (1983); L. Ohlin, Human Development and Criminal Behavior (1991).
Approaches and theoretical traditions are diverse. Thus, criminology as the study of crime will be interested in the distribution of crime, and in the techniques and organization of crime. Criminology as the study of criminals might seek explanations for criminal behaviour in biology, psychology, or in the political economy of society. The related sociology of law may be interested in the processes of making and breaking laws and in issues such as proportionality—making the punishment fit the crime. During the 1960s and early 1970s, a sociology of deviance developed as a source of sociological opposition to the law-enforcement and establishment-orientation or traditional criminology, and as an epistemological critique of unquestioned assumptions about what constitutes crime or deviance. In the 1970s and 1980s external and internal influences on criminology encouraged the development of critical criminology and feminist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, CRITICAL and CRIMINOLOGY, FEMINIST). The latter drew attention to the near invisibility of women in criminological work and gave significant impetus to rectifying the past neglect of victims of crime. Generally speaking, the politics of these new positions has been identified with supporting and asserting the rights of minority groups.
Sometimes seen as a sub-field of sociology, sometimes as a discipline in itself, criminology is clearly a mixed but dynamic enterprise, drawing on (among others) sociology, economics, history, psychology, and anthropology. It can be criticized for its inability to produce an overall explanatory theory; nevertheless, the subject continues to develop. Some commentators have suggested that its principal concern ought to be the study of the production and disruption of order—in other words control rather than crime—while critics have invoked a postmodern vision of the death of criminology. Yet others argue that such announcements are premature, and are promoting new directions in crime prevention, and critical and realist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, REALIST). John Hagan et al. , Criminological Controversies (1996
), provides an excellent introduction to the theoretical and empirical issues that dominate the field. See also BROKEN WINDOWS THESIS; CRIMINAL STATISTICS; CRIMINOLOGY; LABELLING; CRIMINOLOGY, POSITIVIST.
) and conventionally interpreted as the advocacy of a humane alternative to the arbitrary and unjustly severe sentencing and punishment of offenders. Underpinning this rationalist approach was an attempt to achieve administrative uniformity; a scale of punishments proportionate to the objective harm caused by the offence; and a belief in the aim of punishment as deterrence not retribution. A social contract is held to be agreed between the individual and society—and deemed to be a rational agreement in everyone's interest. To break the contract, and in so doing the laws of society, demonstrates free will and choice; but it is also a failure to meet one's social responsibilities, which must be met by appropriate punishment on behalf of society, in order to deter others.
Orthodox classicism was criticized for not taking account of circumstances, either of the offender, or in which the offence itself was committed. Critics maintained that, for this reason, punishment that is unvarying, or laid down according to a fixed scale, will be unjust. In this way other considerations are raised, for example the issue of causation (whether environmental or biological), and classicist free-will rationality comes eventually to be replaced by nineteenth-century positivist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, POSITIVIST) as a dominant perspective. However, the classical perspective has been adapted over time, and a contemporary neo-classical form remains influential in some areas—for example in debates about responsibility for crime. The best recent appraisal of the tradition is Bob Roshier's Controlling Crime: The Classical Perspective in Criminology (1989).