The Science of Criminology: Understanding Crime From the Inside Out

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Could criminology reduce the number of crimes? Image by kconnors

Why do people study crime – and what is crime, anyway?

Crime is a social phenomenon which includes the breaking of laws, the making of laws, and the ways in which people react to the breaking of laws.

Criminology covers a substantial body of verified principles of knowledge. These include biology, neurology, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, political science and economics regarding the process of the law, crime and treatment. Criminology helps us gain understanding into criminal behavior as well as explain and prevent criminal behavior and its societal patterns.

Why is Crime a Social Phenomenon?

Criminologists find similarities and differences in crime patterns as well as crime cultures, and gather data from these patterns. To take it a step further, researchers want to know why the crime happened, where it started and where it has spread.

In one example, criminology professor Ronet Bachman and sociology professor Russell Schutt researched the emergence of youth gangs in the 1980s. They intended to find out what it was like being a gang member, and how gang members interpreted their own situations. Previous research shows that some individuals possess certain character traits that can increase the likelihood of criminal and antisocial behavior.

Bachman and Schutt concluded that developmental and sociological factors played a role in a person’s inclination towards exhibiting criminal behavior, and that some people may have genetic dispositions that potentially make them more susceptible to criminal behavior. This research concludes that the sociological factors also contribute to shaping criminal behavior. As a result, criminologists also consider environmental factors, social interaction and personal relationships when investigating a crime.

Criminology: What’s the Purpose?

The purpose of criminology is to understand why people break the law. What caused the issue to start? What is the most effective way to eliminate it? Criminologists find an association between the crime, the criminal, and how the law defines the crime. The science of criminology may result in legislative strengthening or creation of laws while eliminating others that are ineffective.

Criminology also looks at trends in crime; identifying the trends as being influenced by social, economic, demographic or personal factors. For example, criminologists look at age structure, an identifier when looking at teenagers, a demographic with a very high crime rate. 

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, law enforcement arrested just over 2 million youths under the age of 18 in 2008. Of these, 95% were for non-violent crimes. In 2010, out of nearly 100,000 youths, law enforcement arrested 26% for property crimes such as burglary, arson or theft only. For non-violent youths, criminologists believe that incarceration does more harm than good to them because the large facilities are ineffective in providing the services that the youths need.  As a result, this ineffectiveness combined with a lack of capacity means that the recidivism rate (re-arrest within a year) is extremely high. 

Economy Affects Crime Rates

Criminologists also look at the state of the economy; when the economy does well, crime rates decrease.  Conversely, when the economy is bad, crimes-especially violent crimes-increase. According to Fitz Foley, associate professor of Harvard Business School, crime rises when welfare recipients in the U.S. run short on cash. Foley’s research shows that cities that make a monthly payment of cash have a monthly time cycle of crime, whereas cities that spread the payments out do not. He concluded that more frequent payments would lower the crime rate.

Seasonal Crime Patterns

Researchers have also established crime patterns over the years. According to a massive study conducted by Weber State University in August 2013, criminals commit more violent crimes during the summer months.  When the study authors contacted police lieutenant Shawn Horton in Layton, Utah, he confirmed that violent crimes were up during the summer months.  

Criminologists believe that this is because during the summer, people tend to spend more time outside, or they are away on vacation and act a bit more carefree. According to Siegel, the rise in temperature may also add to stress and tension caused by the heat; extreme temperatures causes the body to generate stress hormones, which research has linked to aggression. This shows that the elements do have an effect or influence on some people’s emotions and behavior.

This also affects children, whether during the summer time on their holidays or home alone after school. According to the After School Alliance, a 2007 study showed there was a definite link between self-care and boredom amongst these kids – and a 50% likelihood they will turn to criminal behavior. 

Evaluating Crime for Patterns and Solutions

Overall, criminology is a way for professional analysts to figure out what makes the criminal think the way that he or she does, and what laws or punishments need strengthening in an effort to have a better grasp on the cycle of illegal behavior. It opens up every criminal matter on hand for review and critical thinking, and allows us to determine whether the criminal justice system works very well, or if it is flawed. Criminology serves the public in the interest of creating and sustaining a better society.

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