Is one social group more involved in crime than other social groups? If so, what predisposes one social group to be more criminal than another? Many theories of crime are based on partly on official statistics provided by the police, courts and the government. In countries like Britain and the USA these show that some groups are more involved in crime than others. According to official data, the working class, the young and some minority ethnic groups are more likely to commit crimes than the middle class, the elderly, females and whites. Sociologist have taken these figures to try and explain why this is the case. Merton, Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin all presume that working class men are the main offenders but differ in their explanations to why this is the case.
In Britain official statistics on crime are produced annually. These provide criminologists, the police and the media with two types of data. The first is the total amount of crime committed. These allow comparisons to be made about crime from previous years. These figures are often publicised through the media and if there is shown to be a particular high increase this can lead to the concern that the country “is being engulfed in a crime wave”. This can lead to moral panics. The second type of data official statistics provide is the social characteristics of those that have been convicted of crimes by age, gender, class and ethnicity. However it is important to remember that not all crimes that take place are recorded. There is evidence of a dark figure of crime.
According to the national prison surveys a large number of inmates are from the lower levels of the class system. A large minority of males (41%) come from unskilled or skilled manual employment. Most self-report studies suggest a link between social class and crime. Street crimes are typical of the poor and are a police priority. They are also the types of crimes that are likely to appear in self-report studies and structured interviews. Crimes such as fraud and domestic violence are not as visible and so are less likely to appear in self-report studies and so it is no wonder that the working class and the poor seem as though they commit more crimes.
Urban areas have more crime than others. According to a Home Office report, 60% of robberies take place in 3 urban areas: Manchester, London and the West Midlands. However, as these are three densely populated areas, this would be expected. More crime takes place in cities as there are more opportunities for crime. The bulk of the 2011 riots in English cities took place in highly populated areas where there is deprivation and where those likely to engage in criminal activity know that the police are likely to be overstretched if they have too many cases to deal with and therefore the chance of ‘getting away’ with a criminal offence increases.
Inner cities: 15.3% of vehicle theft, 5.3% of burglaries and 5.8% of violent crimes.
Urban: 10.3% of vehicle theft, 3.3%of burglaries and 4.4% of violent crime
All non-rural cities and towns: 10.8% of vehicle theft, 3.6% of burglaries and 4.6% of violent crimes.
Rural: 6.5% of vehicle theft, 1.9% of burglaries and 2.7% of violent crimes.
It is argued that young people (17 to 19 years old) commit more crime because their lifestyle takes them to the environment where crime takes place. Young people’s crime is also more visible than white collar crime committed by older people. Young people are also more closely watched by society and are more likely to be convicted in court as they cannot afford the fees of lawyers and so will end up in official statistics indicating the high proportions of crime among the young.
Research by Hall states that high levels of unemployment among young black men may lead them to opt out of society and turn to crime. However others have argued that historic police racism has resulted in higher suspicion against black people and argue that this is clearly indicated by the fact that black youths in inner city areas are far more likely to be ‘stopped and searched’ by the police than while youths. The McPherson Report concluded that the police were institutionally racist.
Representation of ethnic groups at different stages of the criminal justice process: black people made up 2.8 per cent of the UK population but accounted for 14.1% of stops and searches and 8.8% of arrests in 2004/2005. However, in self-reported crime there is little difference between black and white youths in terms of crimes being anonymously admitted to.
It is only in recent years that researchers have started to examine the number of women who commit crimes and their reasons for doing so. Smart puts forward a number of reasons for this neglect. Women tend to commit fewer crimes than men so are seen as less of a problem for society. Many crimes committed by women are seen as being of a trivial nature and so are seen to be considered unworthy for research. Sociology and criminology are dominated by men.
Men outnumber women in all major crime categories. Between 85% and 95% of offenders found guilty of burglary, robbery, drug offences, criminal damage or violence against the person are male. Although the number of offenders is relatively small, 98% of people found guilty of, or cautioned for, sexual offences are male.
Theft was the most commonly committed offence by both men and women in 2002. For indictable offences, 57 per cent of female offenders were found guilty of or cautioned for theft and handling stolen goods compared with 34 per cent of male offenders.
Men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than women. Over 5% of men and 3% of women aged 16 and over in England and Wales were the victims of some sort of violence in the twelve months prior to interview in 2002/03. Men and women aged 16 to 24 are the most at risk age group. Around 15% of men and 7% of women of this age have reported that some sort of violence had been used against them. Domestic violence is the only category of violence where the risks for women are higher than for men. Risks of stranger violence remain substantially greater for men than for women, with men four times more likely than women to suffer this form of attack. Despite being more likely to be the victim of crime, men are less worried than women about most types of crime. Women are between two and three times more likely than men to be very worried about being mugged or physically attacked and five times more likely than men to be very worried about being raped. Roughly equal proportions of men and women are worried about theft of, or from, a car.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex