Crime: Meaning, Concept, Characteristics, Classification

Crime: Meaning, Concept, Characteristics, Classification

Crime is an act that violates criminal law (in the case of an organized state) or norms of society (in the case of a tribal community or most of the earlier human societies that did not have formal law and state) and is subject to punishment. Why does society consider some wrongs as crimes and allow others to be settled in private?

Natural law philosophers, for centuries, believed in universal rightness and wrongness of some human behaviors and accordingly viewed some behaviors as innately criminal, for which all the societies denounced them equally. Homicide and theft are said to be categorized as crimes by all societies, but surprisingly, this is not the case.

Historical Perspectives on Crime

Roman Law of Twelve Tables, Babylonian Code of Hammurabi and other early legal systems did not list homicide or ordinary theft among crimes.

The perpetrator could be exonerated by giving compensation or by surrendering to the injured clan as a substitute worker for the victim clan. For societies that had not developed the concept of property, theft was not a problem.

Socioeconomic condition of a society, therefore, determines which acts are crimes and need to be controlled by law, or by any other mechanism of social control.

In the modern sense of the term earlier societies had no legal systems, yet they had their mechanism to punish the offenders and to control the wrongdoing.

Societal Values and Crime Definition

The economic, social, and environmental reality of a society is reflected in the crime category made by it. In the Inca society of Peru, the destruction of a bridge was the most serious crime as it was a country, which was crisscrossed by ravines and canyons and bridges were the only ways of communication.

A person without a horse or a blanket was in danger of death among North American Plains Indians, so theft of a horse or of a blanket was the most heinous crime in that society.

In the ancient Germanic tribes, honey was the only source of sugar for food and drink. As beehives produced the honey, if anybody stole a beehive he was punished seriously.

The Influence of Power and Morality on Crime

Some argue that crimes are defined by a small group who hold the rein of control in a society or in an organized state.

To them, those activities which are likely to threaten their vested interest are crimes. Sometimes, the categorization of crime depends on the existing values and morality, which vary from society to society.

For example, adultery is not an offense in some society, but it is so in many countries. Incest was not punishable in many earlier societies. Later on, it was prohibited by law.

The legal definition of crime is convenient in distinguishing crime from sin and moral wrongs, and it gives a basic premise for characterizing criminology as scientific and precise.

Paul W. Tappan defined crime as “an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law (statutory and case law), committed without defense or justification and sanctioned by the state as felony or misdemeanor.”

To become a crime, any conduct must be an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law. If some defense or justification is available for the alleged act or omission, it will not come within the purview of crime.

An act or omission does not need to be always intentional in order to be crime. It can be made punishable with reference to knowledge, recklessness, or negligence, or on the basis of strict responsibility, which does not require any reference to the mental element of the wrongdoer.

Exploring Social Definitions of Crime

Exponents of social definition do not consider legal definition sufficient and suitable for the purpose of criminology. They have defined crime as “an act which the group (social) regards as sufficiently menacing to its fundamental interests, to justify formal reaction to restrain the violator.”

Raffaele Garofalo rejected the juridical conception of crime and formulated his own definition of ‘natural crime’.

In the language of Garofalo, crime is an immoral and harmful act which offends two altruistic sentiments of common people, namely, the sentiments of probity and pity. Garofalo was very correct in pointing out that two basic sentiments of individuals got hurt when they saw any commission of crime.

People become sympathetic (pity) to the victim of any crime and develop a sense of justice (probity) when property rights are violated.

Societal Implications and the Role of Values in Defining Crime

Radcliffe Brown has defined crime as a violation of usage that requires the use of penal sanction. Thomas defined crime as an antagonistic action to the solidarity of a social group.

Edwin H. Sutherland considered crime as “a symptom of social disorganization and probably can be reduced appreciably only by changes in social organization.”

He went on to say, “Just as pain is a notification to an organism that something is wrong, so crime is a notification of a social maladjustment, especially when crime becomes prevalent.”

Social definitions of crime, as mentioned by Sutherland, involve three elements:

  1. There must be a value that is politically important and appreciated by a group or part of a group;
  2. There must be some people who do not appreciate the value or appreciate it less highly and later on attempt to violate it;
  3. The people appreciating the value should decently resort to coercion to the people who disregard the value.

Social definitions imply that in a society (or group) the bulk of the people have to follow some values, which they consider very sacred and necessary to maintain social solidarity.

There are some people (few in number), who have no regard for these values and they have a tendency to overstep the socially erected limit. Then the society (on behalf of the bulk of the people) provides penal sanction for the violators of the values.

Both the legal and social definitions have been accused of not being scientific in approach. Whether any act or omission is a crime is usually determined by the existing values and not by the intrinsic worth of the act or omission.

The legal definition has been criticized for its dependence on existing values, which are relative, and that makes the study of crime unscientific.

The categories set up by criminal law do not emerge intrinsically from the nature of the subject matter; rather, they are of an accidental nature.

Not only the legal attitudes in different situations vary, the social norms also vary with the changing circumstances. The exponents of legal definition also point out the relative phenomenon of social norms.

Criminal law defines crime and provides procedures to punish the offenders. Social definition of crime, comparing with the legal one, has no utility as it does not provide any machinery for enforcement. It only bears some social and moral value.

Legal definition, therefore, enjoys the advantage of being clear and specific which social definition lacks. Paul W. Tappan explained the utility of legal definition in the following words:

The validity of this contention (based on social definition) must depend, of course, upon the nature of the subject matter.

These scholars suggest that, as a part of the general study of human behavior, criminology should concern itself broadly with all anti-social conduct and behavior injurious to society. We take it that anti-social conduct is essentially any behavior that violates some social interest.

What are these social interests? Which are weighty enough to merit the concern of the sociologist to bear the odium? What shall constitute a violation of them?

Particularly where, as is so commonly true in our complicated and unintegrated society, these interests are in conflict?

Roscoe Pound’s suggestive classification of the social interests served by law is valuable in a juristic framework, but it solves no problem for the sociologist who seeks to depart from the legal standards in search of all manner of anti-social behavior.

However desirable the concept of socially injurious conduct may be for purposes of general or abstract description, it does not define what is injurious. It sets no standard. It does not discriminate cases but merely invites the subjective value-judgment of the investigator.

The sociological discourse tries to study crime and criminals scientifically by bringing all the anti-social behaviors within its ambit.

The criminal law establishes substantive norms of behaviour which are specific and clear. The criminological discourse cannot be advanced without knowing the answers to two questions— which activities are crimes, and who are criminals?

Criminal law answers both the questions by defining crime and punishing the offenders. Criminologists can then start their inquiry into the etiology of crime, whether sociological, biological, or psychological.

The research findings will help modify criminal law, set new legal standards, and develop new legal principles. The relationship between criminal law and criminology is, therefore, complementary.

Modern criminal law, for instance, acts on the premise of individual responsibility of an offender. If any person kills another, the murderer will be punished for their individual responsibility.

However, the concept of individual responsibility has undergone radical change with the development of genetic science. If any person murders another due to abnormal genetic traits, how will their responsibility be determined?

This type of finding by researchers can help in resetting the legal standard. The Criminologists, thus, need to have a clear idea about the legal standards and social norms. For them, both the legal and sociological definitions of crime play a complementary role.

But they should be aware of the problems of both definitions. Bohm and Haley have summarized the problems in the following words:

A typical social definition of crime is behavior that violates the norms of society or, more simply, anti-social behavior.

A typical legal definition of crime is an intentional violation of the criminal law or penal code, committed without defense or excuse and penalized by the state. There are problems with both definitions.

Problems with the social definition are that;

  1. there are no uniform norms of behavior accepted by all society,
  2. norms of behavior are subject to interpretation,
  3. norms change from time to time and from place to place.

Problems with the legal definition of crime are

  1. overcriminalization,
  2. nonenforcement, and
  3. undercriminalization.

Sutherland, Gellin, and Clinnard have widened criminological research beyond the ambit of criminal law. Paul W. Tappan and Jerome Hall consider criminology as the sociology of criminal law.

Stephen has very correctly defined crime to suit criminology. In his language, crime means an act that is both forbidden by law and revolting against the moral sentiments of society.

Characteristics of Crime

The criminal law defines different kinds of crimes: murder, robbery, kidnap, etc. Legal scholars have extracted a number of principles from these definitions which apply ideally to all crimes. These principles are being used as criteria in determining whether any particular behavior is a crime or not.

The Essential Elements of a Crime

First, an act must have some harmful consequences to become a crime.

Mere intention or mental condition is not enough. If any person becomes angry with another person and plans to do some harm to that person, but before doing it, changes his mind and finally abstains from doing the planned act, he cannot be considered to have committed a crime.

To fall into the crime category, an individual must commit some act that harms society.

Harmful act must be proscribed by the penal law

Second, the harmful act must be proscribed by the penal law. An act cannot be considered a crime because it is anti-social unless it is defined and prohibited by law. Penal law must specifically prohibit an act without having any retrospective effect.

Sanction against the enactment of ex post facto legislation is a long-practiced principle of criminal law. A person cannot be punished by a law enacted after the commission of any act, defining that act as a crime, which was not a crime during its commission.

Intent and Responsibility in Criminal Acts

Third, an intentional or reckless action or inaction must bring about the harmful consequence. The crime should be caused by some intentional or reckless conduct.

Criminal Intention

Fourth, Mens rea or criminal intention is the fourth element of a criminal act. Jerome Hall views that scholars often confuse intention with motivation. Intention means the deliberate functioning of a person to achieve a target. Motivation means the reasons or grounds for end-seeking.

Mens rea is identified with intention, not with motivation. A man can decide to kill his starving children to liberate them from the pain of starvation. Here his intention is criminal, but his motive is good. The insane persons are exonerated due to the absence of mens rea.

Fifth, the mens rea and conduct must concur. Without this concurrence, an act cannot be considered a crime.

Legally forbidden misconduct

Sixth, legally forbidden harm and intentional misconduct must have causal relation. A person may die of a heart attack after hearing the sound of heavy firing.

Here the relation between death and firing is not so clear-cut. The harm caused by the offender must be clearly proved beyond any reasonable doubt, and the causal relation between harm and conduct must be established.

Penal law must prescribe some punishment for the forbidden act

Seventh, penal law must prescribe some punishment for the forbidden act. If any law defines a number of acts as crimes without providing any sanction, it will encounter the same criticism as any social definition does.

So, criminal law must carry a threat of punishment to those who will overstep the limit. Penalty is a very important element without which the words of law will be mere resonance of precepts like a soldier without a weapon.

Principles and Exceptions in Criminal Law

The above-mentioned characteristics should ideally be adhered to when considering a crime.

However, all the seven elements are not separately considered when any decision is taken. If any intentional act causes harm and causal relation between harm and misconduct is established, that act falls into the category of crime and is worthy of punishment.

Briefly, the above characteristics represent some principles with which lawyers and academicians must deal.

The above seven elements represent some general principles of criminal law and set a standard legal norm that has exceptions. Deviation from the legal standard is logical and ideal.

For instance, criminal intent must not be present in strict liability cases. Here a person held responsible for his conduct regardless of his intention. Moreover, many court decisions have confused ‘motive’ and ‘intention.’

Evolving Concept of Crime Through History

The concept of crime has been undergoing continuous change after its emergence. Crime and criminal law are both relative as they vary from society to society and from time to time.

Once, most of the offenses were religious in nature, and these remained important until recent times. Many of the acts once considered crimes are no longer considered so.

Printing a book, professing the medical doctrine of blood circulation, selling coins to foreigners, having gold in the house— all these have been crimes at different times. On the other hand, earlier generations did not know many of the present laws.

Classification of Crimes: Mala In Se vs. Mala Prohibita

On the basis of inherent character and general agreement of people, crimes are classified into mala in se and mala prohibita. Theft, robbery, murder, rape, arson, assault, etc., are mala in se crimes as these are innately bad and create harmful consequences for society.

There is general agreement that these acts are criminal. Mala prohibita crimes are those about which people are not in consensus that they are inherently bad, rather they are considered evil because they are prohibited by law.

Traffic violations, gambling, public drunkenness, and violations of municipal laws are examples of mala prohibita crimes.

These violations are made criminal to make life more predictable and orderly, and the violators are subjected to little stigma other than a fine.

Historically, there existed little difference between mala in se and mala prohibita crimes as most earlier societies did not distinguish between morality, sin, and law.

Categorizing Crimes Based on Motives and Offenses

On the basis of the motives of the offenders, W. A. Bonger classified crimes as

  1. economic crimes;
  2. sexual crimes;
  3. political crimes, and
  4. miscellaneous crimes.

For statistical purposes, crimes are frequently classified as crimes against a person, crimes against property, crimes against public decency, public order, and public justice.

For long, common law classified criminal offenses as felonies or misdemeanors.

Section 2 of the Criminal Act of 1967 introduced arrestable and non-arrestable offenses in the UK instead of old categories. A police officer or a public member can arrest an offender without a warrant who has committed an arrestable offense.

Most of the arrestable offenses are indictable offenses. Based on trial procedure, criminal offenses are again classified into indictable and summary offenses.

More serious offenses are tried on indictment in the crown court (they are called indictable offenses ), and less serious offenses are tried summarily in magistrates’ courts (they are called summary offenses).

Exploring the Intersection of Criminal Law and Morality

The relationship between criminal law and morality is important, as some argue that criminal law should regulate the morality of individuals in addition to its function to regulate their criminal behavior. Determination of the morality of any conduct is difficult.

  • The question is— who is to determine the morality or immorality of any conduct? Should legislators decide the issue?
  • Or should it be determined with the help of the judgment of the hypothetical average person in a society?
  • Should morality be divided into private and public, and should private morality be kept beyond the ambit of law as suggested by the Wolfenden Committee in England?

Debating Morality in Law: Public vs. Private Morals

Lord Devlin came out heavily with the recommendation of the Wolfenden Committee. He argued that criminal law should not be confined within the horizon of public morality, which is concerned with preserving order and decency and the protection of the lives and property of the citizens.

  1. First, whether the conduct is independently harmful or has repercussions on the general moral code?
  2. Second, will the whole moral fabric of society be broken down if the harmful act is not declared criminal?

Victimless crimes involve a serious question of morality. Illegal use of drugs, adult consensual sexual behavior, gambling, and prostitution are examples of victimless crimes.

  • Why should they be considered criminals when they are harming themselves?
  • Why should they sustain stigma in the absence of any harm to others and of any complaint?
  • If criminal law cannot deter prohibited activities, what is the worth of making the law?

Criminal laws concerning homosexuality, abortion, and gambling remain ineffective, and those create contempt and cynicism towards the law. These laws facilitate the scope of blackmailing.

Persons related to homosexuality, abortion, and drug addiction become victims of the law, where no complaint is lodged against that person, or he/she is not even identified as an offender.

Its coming into being must be justified by the necessity of the society, and it must be made with an intention to implement it properly.

Crime and Sin

Any act which is committed in violation of criminal law is a crime. Any omission by any person who is under lawful compulsion to do that is also a crime. In order to become a crime, an act must have some harmful effect on the social fabric.

Crime is a matter pertaining to mundane affairs and is usually defined and executed by the positive law of human society.

The Nature of Sin: A Religious Perspective

Sin is a violation of moral or religious rules. Hebrew scriptures consider sin as hatred of God or defiance of his commandments.

The New Testament views sinfulness as the inherent condition of human beings. Jesus came into the world to heal the sin.

In Islam, sin is a deviation from the way of Allah, who sent Muhammad and other prophets to turn people back to the true path. In Hinduism and Buddhism, an individual’s good and bad deeds affect his/her rebirth in the next. Sin is a theological term usually used for wicked behavior, individual or corporate.

Distinguishing Sin from Crime and Vice

First, sin should be distinguished from crime, a legally defined act for which society imposes punishment for its members.

Second, sin should be distinguished from vice, a term that is injurious to morality.

Sin distinguishes any conduct having a wrong attitude towards God and alienates the sinner from the absolute entity. In spite of their differences regarding the interpretation of the meaning, all major religions have their own concept of sin.

Hinduism provides the doctrine of Karma, bringing human action at the center, which works itself out in retribution or reward by rebirth in another existence. The grip of the senses loosens through positive activities.

Karma and Rebirth: Hindu and Buddhist Views

The cycle of Karma and the transmigration of souls bind the sinner more strongly when he/she commits evil activities.

Through continuous altruistic activities and successive rewarding rebirths when the soul ceases to desire, final deliverance from the round of rebirths comes, and the soul is absorbed into the divine entity from which it came.

Buddhism does not recognize the idea of sin as it believes in the cause-effect theory based on Karma or action. To Buddhism, intentions, which may be good or bad, are the causes of Karma. Vipaka is the result of an individual’s karma.

It may create a low quality of life, hardships, destruction, and all means of disharmony in life, or it may create healthy living, easiness, and harmony in life. Good activities bring good results and bad deeds produce bad results. Karma and vipaka constitute one’s action and result.

Ethical Living: The Buddhist Path to Enlightenment

Followers of Gautama Buddha have deliberately undertaken Pancasila, the fundamental code of Buddhist ethics.

Under this code, a Buddhist takes an oath to refrain from destroying living creatures, refrain from taking that which is not given, refrain from sexual misconduct, refrain from incorrect speech, and refrain from intoxicants that lead to carelessness.

To get rid of suffering, a Buddhist follows the Noble Eightfold Path, which is: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right work, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

If any Buddhist practices these Eightfold paths, suffering will come to an end, and he becomes free of Samsara. Then he achieves nirvana, final deliverance.

Sin in Abrahamic Religions: A Comparative Overview

The religious texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam bring about a concept of sin, which is an offense against a personal God. Sin is considered a transgression of the command of God in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.

Adam and Eve, the first pair of human beings, committed the first sin when they violated the divine injunction, and the effects of that sin were transmitted to their descendants.

Due to this original sin, Christian theology pictures human beings as taking birth as sinners, and the tendency to sin is rooted in their nature. In Christian theology, a sin is not only a deed but also a thought and motive contrary to the eternal law of God.

Deadly sins, pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth, have illustrated the concept. A sinner is separated from the grace of God when he/she continuously practices the sin of pride.

The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ made deliverance possible, which redeems the repentant sinner from the penalty and power of the sin.

Islamic Perspective on Sin and Repentance

In fact, sin is any word, deed, or thought contrary to the will of God. In Christian theology, sins can be classified into original sin and actual sin.

Original sin was the first sin committed by Adam and Eve in violation of divine command. Actual sins are those that individuals commit as distinct from an inherited infirmity and liability to do so. There are material sin and formal sin.

Apart from knowledge, consent of the transgressor when any sin is committed in violation of Divine will or law is called material sin. When material sin is committed deliberately and knowingly, that becomes formal sin.

Augustine argued that Adam’s sin contaminated the whole nature of human beings. All human beings are born as sinners because the guilt and penalty of Adam are transmitted to all his offspring. That’s why they pursue evil and vice, and they are incapable of satisfying God.

Pelagius put forward an anti-doctrine. Semi-Pelagianism insists that in spite of hereditary sinfulness, human beings are not fully inclined to evil. They have a strong fascination with spirituality, and they have a positive initiative to promote the cause of humanity.

Islamic concept of sin, emanating from the holy Koran and Hadith, is similar to the concept provided by the Old Testament. Islam recognizes the omnipotent power of God, who can forgive the repenting sinner with his/her infinite mercy.

To Islam, sin is something that goes against the will of Almighty Allah. Islam, like Judaism, views that sin is an act and not a state of being. The Koran states that “the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil unless the Lord bestows His Mercy.” Even the prophets cannot exonerate a sinner of the blame.

According to the Islamic version of sin, Iblis (Lucifer) has been identified as the enemy of humankind who tempts them towards committing sin.

The way Satan allured Adam, similarly he tempts every Muslim. Allah bestows a law to human beings who obey, instead of eternal law, his own low desires and do not guard themselves against the allurement of Satan.

Thus he violates Allah’s command and commits sin. He becomes justifiably liable to the judgment and afflictions of Allah, who is the Most Merciful and Oft-Forgiving and can forgive the repenting sinner. In many Koranic verses, Allah has promised to forgive sinners who believe and do good deeds.

In the Islamic state, some of the major sins, like murder, theft, and adultery, are legally punishable, but most are left to Allah for punishment, for example, backbiting, hypocrisy, arrogance, filial disrespect, lying, etc.

Crime vs. Sin: Distinct but Interconnected Concepts

Sin is, therefore, distinct from crime.

  1. First, the concept of sin has originated from religious texts, whereas crime is a legally proscribed conduct.
  2. Second, sin results in the violation of the command and rules of God, but crime is committed in violation of positive law made by humans.
  3. Third, a sinner is punished by God, whereas a criminal is punished by the state.
  4. Fourth, in the case of sin, there is no visible injury, but a crime causes harm to individuals and society.
  5. Fifth, a sinner has to undergo penance for deliverance, but a criminal is subjected to punishment like death penalty, imprisonment, or a fine.

Economic Condition and Crime

From the very beginning of human society, material condition, more specifically economic condition, has played such an important role that no individual or society can deny. The economic explanation ignores biological and psychological influences on human behavior.

Biological and psychological elements, without fail, mold human behavior, which proponents of the economic explanation cannot admit. They focus on a society’s economy and an individual’s economic condition.

They ponder over the economy as a catalyst for social transformation and try to explain human behavior in terms of economic conditions.

Economic Conditions and Crime: An Empirical Examination

The economic discourse has paved the way for many empirical studies concerning the relationship between economic conditions and crime. Some of these studies inquired into how far variations in economic conditions can influence the variation in the crime rate.

If poverty causes crime, then there should be more crime where more poor people reside. The researchers compared economic prosperity and economic slump times between wealthy and poor areas of a country.

They tried to find out whether there was any difference in the frequency of crime. Later studies analyzed the existing inequality and unemployment situation and their consequences on the rate of criminality.

Historical Perspectives on Crime and Economy

The relationship between crime and economic conditions is a very important area of research.

Many researchers have conducted studies on this relationship, and the outcomes of the research drew contradictory conclusions. The researchers started their inquiry as far back as the early 19th century when national crime statistics were available in France.

Guerry and Quetelet compared wealthy areas of France with poor areas, but neither found more crimes in areas where more poor people resided, which both expected to exist in real life before they made the comparison.

Findings of Early Researchers

Guerry found that there were more property crimes but fewer violent crimes in the wealthiest regions of France. He concluded that more opportunities created higher property crime rates, as the wealthy provinces had more things to steal.

In addition to the same picture depicted by Guerry, Quetelet pointed to the great inequality between rich and poor people in the wealthy provinces, generating rancor among the poor. He revealed that places with more poverty and unemployment actually had less crime, as in those places, all people were more or less equal in terms of economic condition.

Economic Prosperity vs. Crime Rate: The Contradictory Evidence

So, in those places, the crime rate is low.

However, poor and unemployed people committed more crimes in those places where there were many wealthy and employed people because more wealth created more opportunities for crime

In Europe and in the United States, hundreds of studies have been published on the relationship between crime and economic conditions since the early 1800s.

The primary assumptions were that the crime rate would be high during an economic slump, and during economic prosperity, the crime rate would be low.

The United States’ Experience with Economic Conditions and Crime

However, the studies did not subscribe to those assumptions because crime does not always increase during an economic slump, and economic prosperity does not always cause crimes to happen at a lower frequency.

The United States gave a contradictory picture concerning the relationship between crime rate and economic boost-up. The United States, for instance, experienced great economic expansion during the 1960s and early 1970s, but it encountered increased delinquency at the same time.

Again, the United States entered a long period of economic prosperity in the early 1990s, but this time, crime started to decrease, and at the outset of the 2000s, the frequency of crime remained at its lowest in over thirty years.

Thus, during two different times of economic expansion, one in the 1960s and another in the 1990s, the crime situation ran in opposite directions.

Poverty and Crime: An Ongoing Debate

The relationship between poverty and crime has long been inquired into to see whether places with more poor people have a higher rate of criminality.

Studies made on this subject also generated contradictory results. Some researchers showed that poverty was not associated with crime, while some presented very strong evidence of poverty being a vital factor influencing the crime situation.

Crime and Unemployment: A Complex Relationship

Common sense observation is that unemployment causes poverty, and poverty creates the ground for crime commission. However, this assumption is not substantiated by studies. Glaser and Rice found that juvenile delinquency is inversely related to unemployment.

Other studies concluded that delinquency is directly related to juvenile unemployment, i.e., when unemployment is high, the crime rate is high. Some researchers did not find any relationship between delinquency and juvenile unemployment rate.

Diverse Findings in Unemployment and Crime Studies

But Calvin observed a direct relationship between unemployment and crime for African American youths; he forcefully argued that those who did not admit a close relationship between the two presented faulty interpretations by using incorrect data. Research on the relationship between unemployment and adult crime also produced diverging results.

Crime Rates and Unemployment: The Early 1980s Research

Several reviews of the research by the early 1980s concluded that higher crime rates accompany higher unemployment rates, though the relationship is insignificant and weak.

Chiricos’s Analysis on Crime and Unemployment

After reviewing sixty-three studies of crime and unemployment, Chiricos in 1987 concluded that the relationship between unemployment and crime is positive and very important, specifically the relationship of the two had a great impact on the commission of property crime.

Counterarguments and Further Insights

Land, Cantor, and Russell dissected the work of Chiricos and commented that all the evidence together substantiated a weak negative relationship between crime and unemployment from 1960 to 1980. In their view, crime decreases to some extent when unemployment goes up.

They agreed, however, with Chiricos that the positive relationship between crime and unemployment is more likely to exist in smaller units (e.g., neighborhoods) rather than larger units (e.g., nations), and property crime is more likely to happen as a consequence of the relationship between crime and unemployment.

Impact of Economic Changes on Crime

Using data from 1970 to 1990, White found that increased poverty and unemployment occurred due to the decline in manufacturing jobs, resulting in increased robberies, burglaries, and drug-related offenses. But it had no impact on violent crimes such as murder or grievous injury.

Shihadeh and Ousey found that the unavailability of low-skilled jobs in central cities caused increased poverty, which then led to increased violence among both African Americans and European Americans.

Societal Transformation and Crime

“As societies become larger and more complex, the emphasis in law shifts from the collective conscience to the individual wronged, and law becomes restitutive.

This shift from mechanical to organic solidarity is characterized by an increased need for division of labor, a division that may be forced and, therefore, abnormal, leading to the creation of unnatural differences in class and status.

People are less homogenous, and the traditional forms of social control appropriate to a simple homogenous society are ineffective in controlling behavior.

Greater loneliness, more social isolation, and a loss of identity result, with a consequent state of anomie, or normlessness, replacing the former state of solidarity and providing an atmosphere in which crimes and other antisocial acts may develop and flourish.