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Crime Essay

In this essay, discussed is the causes and solutions for crime according to right and left realists. The questions answered are going to be, is crime a real problem or is it socially constructed according to the labelling theory or is the root cause of crime the fact that society is unequal or that control and punishment isn’t strong enough. Discussed in this essay is going to be right realist ideas on society into crime and deviance. This will come from the likes of James Q Wilson and Richard J. Hernstein who believe that that crime is caused by a combination of biology and social factors.

Charles Murray however believes that most crime comes from the underclass (working class people behaving in an anti social way, so one believes that people are socialised into crime. One other right realist theory is Ron Clarke’s idea that people decide whether to commit crime or not based on weighing up the costs and benefits, called the Rational Choice Theory. The final theory is the tacking crime theory which was devised by Wilson and Kelling in an article ‘broken windows’ who believes that it is essential to maintain an ordered society as any sign of deterioration could cause further crime.

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On the other side of the argument, discussed will be the left realist view who see society as an unequal capitalist one. However, unlike Marxists left realists would like to reform than revolutionise. Discussed from the left realist theories so going to be Young and Lea who believe they have the answer to why crime is caused. One believed that it was a combination or relative depravation (people who believe they are deprived around others) and individualism which are the desire for freedom. These pair of sociologists believes that these two combined make a lethal combination.

Young extends the debate by saying that subcultures still subscribe to the values and goals of mainstream society. One other topic in the left relist debate is marginalisation. These groups lack clear goals and organisation to represent them, which cause frustration leading to violence and rioting. Modern society and exclusion has been highly influential for helping sociologists to understand crime. Young believes that the economy is moving away from skilled and unskilled jobs which are causing the working class to be unemployed and excluded as the upper class are pricing them out of the market.

The final point being made is how the left realists think society should do to tackle crime, who believes that crime needs too have a multi agency approach. In conclusion it will become clear throughout the essay that although the solution could be a left realist view of informal social control such as better housing, however there have too be more forceful measures into deterring criminals, such as the views of the right realists. They believe that it would be best for crime and deviance to be solved by formal social control such as harder prison sentences due to the fact that it will deter people from doing the crime again.

It is not a good idea either for rehabilitation for the deviants in society due to the fact that this may not contain the threat of social cohesion. Out of these right realists theories, Charles Murrays idea that the working class are welfare dependant that can cause anti social behaviour, is a very strong case that formal social control such as reducing or withdrawing benefits should be done. Realist approaches emerged in the 1970’s and 80’s in the political context of a shift to the right wing in politics.

On both sides of the Atlantic, New right conservative governments came to power, led by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Regan in the US. These policies include people should pay less tax, and the welfare state should go and people should take responsibility for them. They believe in the individuality theory, which people should work to strive the goals set by them, but by not society as a whole. This makes them different from left wing politics such as the Labour party in England who believes that society should be collectivist so that people should work together and help out the deprived.

Unlike the right wing conservatives, they believe that people should pay the amount of tax they can afford so some people may end up paying more than others. They also believe that society needs the welfare state because it acts as a safety net to catch those who need it in society such as the disabled. These right and left wing political policies have influenced sociologists into determining if society should be controlled formally or informally. Right realists reject the idea put forward by Marxists and others that structural or economic factor such as poverty and inequality are the cause of crime.

James Wilson and Richard Hernstein put forward a biosocial theory of criminal behaviour. In their view, they believe that crime is caused by a combination of biological and social factors. Biological differences between individuals make some people innately more strongly predisposed to commit crime than others. For example, personality traits such as aggressiveness and risk taking put some people at greater risk of offending. This biological idea is also backed up by Herrnstein and Murray who argues that the main cause of crime is low intelligence, which they also see biologically determined.

However there are disagreements, as its view that criminals are rational actors freely choosing crime conflicts with its view that their behaviour is determined by biological and socialisation. It also over-emphasises biological factors, for example, according to Lilly, IQ differences account for less than 3 percent of differences in offending. This shows that biological factors do not have a very big influence on crime and deviance. However, while biology may increase the chance of an individual offending, effective socialisation decreases the risk, since it involves learning self-control.

For right realists such as Charles Murray, say the best agency of socialisation is the nuclear family. Murray argues that the crime rate is increasing because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ who is defined by their deviant behaviour and who fails to socialise their children properly. According to Murray, the underclass is growing in both the USA and the UK as the result of welfare dependency. This welfare state has led to the decline of marriage and the growth of the lone-parent families, because women and children can live off benefits.

This also means that men no longer have to take responsibility for supporting their families, so they no longer need to work. Murray believes that the absence of a father means a lack of male role-model breaking down crucial primary socialisation. For Murray, the underclass is not only a source of crime, but its very existence threatens social cohesion by undermining the values of hard work and personal responsibility. One says the problem is the government supports these people and encourages them to be dependent on the state. One radical decision that Murray says is to reduce or withdraw benefits.

However, if someone cannot work due to a disability, then they should be allowed to be dependent on the state for some money as they are unable to work. This theory talks about people who turn to crime due to being dependent on the state, but it ignores the wider structural causes such as poverty and the effect that has on crime in society. Socialising people into a crime orientated person is also a big factor of crime in this country. They argue the way young people are socialized contributes to whether they commit crime or not. A strict discipline in school and home encourages young people self-control.

This self control can have the person more control over what they do, so they may not engage in deviant activities. However, society has a growing culture of instant gratification (quickly getting what a person wants) which is a less effective learning environment for many young men therefore more likely to commit crime. The UK has got this society where people get what they want unlike many cultures. However, these people who get into a good school will learn better core values than people who cannot afford to get into school due to material deprivation.

So an informal control of better housing and education would be a good way to sort out his material deprivation which is socialising these ‘criminals’ into deviance. An important element in the right realist view of crime comes from rational choice theory which assumes that individuals have free will and the power of reason. Ron Clarke argue that the decision to commit crime is a choice based on a rational calculation of the likely consequences. If the perceived rewards of crime (money) outweigh the perceived costs of crime (prison) then they are more likely to commit.

Or if the rewards of crime appear to be greater that those of non-criminal behaviour, then people will be more likely to offend. Right realists argue that currently the perceived costs of crime are low and this is why the crime rate has increased. Marcus Felson argues that for a time to occur there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target (victim or property) and the absence of a capable guardian (police). However, Ron Clarke overstates offender’s rationality and how far they make cost-benefit calculations before committing a crime.

While it may explain some utilitarian crime such as robbing a bank, it may not explain much violent crime. Right realists do not believe it is fruitful to try to deal with the causes of crime, since these cannot be easily changed. Instead they seed to devise practical measures to make crime less attractive. Their main control is on control, containment and punishment of offenders rather that eliminating the underlying causes of their offending or rehabilitating them. Wilson and Kelling article ‘broken windows’ argues that it is essential to maintain the orderly character of neighbourhoods to prevent crime taking hold.

They say that any sign of deterioration, such as graffiti or vandalism must be dealt with immediately. The pair advocates a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards undesirable behaviour such as prostitution, begging and drunkenness. The role of the police should be to focus on controlling the streets so that law-abiding citizens feel safe. Crime prevention policies should reduce the rewards and increase the costs of crime to the offender, for example by ‘target hardening’ (making public places more difficult to break into), greater use of prison and ensuring punishments follow soon after the offence to maximise their deterrent effect.

There are some criticisms of Wilson and Kelling’s idea of advocating a zero tolerance policy due to the fact that it gives police a free rein to discriminate against ethnic minority youth, the homeless and people underprivileged. It also results in displacement of crime to other areas. One theorists Jones notes that right realist policies in the USA failed to prevent the crime rate rising. It also overemphasises control of disorder, rather than tackling underlying causes of neighbourhood decline such as a lack of investment.

Having such a formal control such as longer prison sentences and zero tolerance can have a negative impact on people having respect to society. Lower class may riot as they have not got the freedom to live with the police and CCTV watching them move. However, unlike other right realist ideas that are preoccupied with petty street crime and ignores corporate crime, which may be more costly and harmful to the public. The broken windows idea is where it is the petty street crimes that lead on to the deterioration of society which leads onto larger crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing.

Left realists unlike right realists believe we need to develop explanations of crime that will lead to practical strategies for reducing crime. Lea and Young identify two related causes of crime: relative depravation and individualism. One believes that crime is committed by the lower classes to lower class people in urban inner city areas. However, they seek to understand why this social class in so willing to turn against its own. Young and Lea believe that relative deprivation can explain who is offending.

This is where people judge themselves against others and may perceive themselves to be deprived in relation to other people in their social class. However, a combination of relative depravation and individualism is lethal according to Young. Individualism is a concern with the self and one’s own individual rights, rather than those of a group. It causes crime by encouraging the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others. For left realists, increasing individualism is causing the disintegration of families and communities by undermining the values of mutual support and selflessness on which they are based.

This weakens the informal controls that such groups exercise over individuals, creating a spiral of increasing anti-social behaviour, aggression and crime. However there are criticisms, as relative deprivation cannot fully explain crime because not all those who experience it commit crime. For example the middle class could be relatively deprived and individualistic, yet don’t commit as much crime. This theory over-predicts the amount of crime that the deprived commit. The pair also focuses on high-crime inner city areas as well which also gives an unrepresentative view and makes crime appear a greater problem than it is.

Someone might be deprived in a nice area that is not being noticed and commit crime. This are may not have been looked at as there is not a high level of crime around so it is harder to generalise to the population. The left realist view of criminal subcultures owes much to Merton, Cohen and Cloward and Ohlin. For left realists, criminal subcultures still subscribe to the values and goals of mainstream society, such as materialism and consumerism. For example, Young notes there are ghettos in the USA where there is ‘full immersion in the American Dream: a culture hooked on Gucci, BMW and Nikes’.

However opportunities to achieve these goals legitimately are blocked, so they resort to street crime instead. So utilitarian crimes such as robbery would cause these subcultures to gain an advantage on people in their own subculture by stealing some clothes that the less deprived can afford. However, their use of subculture theory means left realists assume that value consensus exists and that crime only occurs when this breaks down. So instead of taking a left wing Marxist like approach, they are going to a more conservative approach when talking about subcultures which is on the other side of the spectrum they say they are in.

Marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisation to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as better pay and conditions) and organisations (such as trade unions) to put pressure on employers and politicians. As such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals. By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised. They have no organisation to represent them and no clear goals, just a sense of resentment and frustration. Being powerless to use political means to improve their position, they express their frustration through criminal means such as violence and rioting.

However, in modern society in Britain there are more necessities for everyone. The minimum wage and housing conditions have never been better in Britain. The minimum wage has been increased so that the lower class has got more disposable income to spend on goods that they want. Young argues that we are now living in the stage of late modern society. Since the 1970’s, instability, insecurity and exclusion have increased. De-industrialisation and the loss of unskilled manual jobs have increased unemployment and poverty, especially for young people and ethnic minorities, while many jobs are now insecure, short term or low paid.

These changes have destabilised family and community life and contributed to rising divorce rates, as have New Right government policies designed to hold back welfare spending on the poor. All this has contributed to increased marginalisation and exclusion of those at the bottom. The excluded are those who are at the bottom of the class structure who are excluded from society as the middle and upper classes monopolise areas by pricing them out of the market. This leads the lower class to become glued to their television sets striving for the promise of wealth and success which they will struggle to achieve.

Jock Young describes this as the bulimic society which is where lower working class live in a society that is constantly exposed to material goods which are taken for granted by the rest of society but are unable to consume them, in a sense they are starving. Them being ‘starving’, causes frustration and crime such as robbery and vandalism. To try and tackle crime left realists’ try to devise solutions to the problem to crime. They argue that we must both improve policing and control, and to deal with the deeper structural causes of crime.

Unlike the right realist views, the left believe that formal social control (police) can have a limited impact on crime. Kinsey, Lea and Young argue that police clear-up rates are too low to act as a deterrent to crime and that police spend too little time actually investigating the crime with 90% or crimes reported to the police, however only 40% is recorded. The theorists believe that they need a multi agency approach such as the police, public, housing, social services, schools and victim support. If all these agencies work in cohesion then this will help reduce the crime.

These left wing theorists also believe that it would be best for an informal social control in society which can be the likes of good job prospects for the future and building nice houses to reduce the relative depravation problem. However, some people argue that it is impossible to get rid of relative depravation due to the fact that no time in history there have not been people deprived going back to when humans first evolved. One way of helping crime to reduce according to left wing theorists, would be to build up relationships with the police.

Low clear up rates and a decline in public confidence have made members of some communities reluctant to help the police, although public intervention is crucial when dealing with crime. A more democratic control of the police with a genuinely accountable police force may help the flow of information towards the police so that crimes are sold more successfully. However Henry and Milovanovic disagree as they argue that it accepts the authorities’ definition of crime as being street crime committed by the poor, instead of defining the problem as being one of how powerful groups do harm to the poor.

Marxists argue also that left wing theorists fail to explain corporate crime, which is much more harmful even if less conspicuous. The essay question has aimed to question if crime is the result of biological factors and therefore best solved by formal social control (such as the police), or if it is down to social factors and best solved by informal social control. The debate began with an explanation of Wilson and Hernstein who believed that crime was caused by the combination of biology and social facts and determined if people were innately likely to be deviant.

Following on from this is an explanation from Charles Murray who says that most crime come from the underclass who get supported from the government from the welfare system which makes them dependant on the state. This extended further into the rational choice theory where Ron Clarke believed that people weigh up the pros and cons before coming to a rational choice onto whether to do it. Finally, on the right realist perspectives, discussed was how they believe the government should do to tackle crime.

They believe that it is best to control, contain and punish with Wilson and Kelling in ‘broken windows’ describing how people should have a zero tolerance policy. The left wing perspective on crime and deviance differs quite remarkably to the right wing ideas. Young and Lea described crime being committed due to a combination of both relative depravation and individualism. The pair believes that these two combined make a lethal combination for discontent which leads to crime amongst other things.

Young also described subcultures and say that they are aiming for the goals of mainstream society, however they can’t achieve it legitimately, but have to immerse into the ‘American Dream’ illegitimately. Marginalisation is also a big contributing factor with the lower class that lack clear goals and organisations which leads to resentment and frustration leading onto violence and rioting. Young also believes that we are living in a late modern stage we are moving away from unskilled labour (working class jobs) so that they are turning unemployed. This means that they are getting excluded from society from the middle and upper class.

Finally, to prevent crime, the left realist believe that police do not have a very big impact on society but it needs all the agencies to work together in order for crime to decline and a more informal social control. In answer to the essay question it has been argued that left wing realists perspectives on how to solve crime are useful, however in modern society it is very hard to get rid of relative depravation which they believe is on of the main cause. In Britain, the minimum wage and housing has never been better and to tackle crime, one idea from the left realists is to give them better housing condition and better jobs.

However, with the housing getting better and the increase in pay, the lower class are able to live much better lives than what the left realists say. The right realist’s perspectives are better at providing answers to why and how people commit crime due to the fact that harsher prison sentences and zero tolerance policies would deter criminals who have either committed a crime, or about to commit one. Ron Clarke’s rational choice theory in particular has demonstrated why people would commit a crime by weighing out the costs and benefits.

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