Criminology & Penology

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Criminology & Penology

Criminology & Penology

Criminology looks at theories around crime commission.

Penology deals with how society looks at and responds to crime.

There are many types of crimes and criminals e.g. rapists, murderers, etc and all crimes must be addressed specifically and then tied down to theories.

How the media report crime does and what makes them report the way they do? E.g. the post election violence. What are the influences?

Bias in the criminal justice system in criminology. The assumption is that it is working in a just and fair manner. USA has the issue of blacks and whites and Kenya has blue and white collar offenders. Some offenders get priority by judges. How do judges deal with offenders? Is there bias? Do we consider white collar crimes? Why are there so many weapons in the crimes? Is it deliberate or not? Internet and technology is the new order of crimes.

How is crime statistics formulated? Petty thievery and murder, what does that suggest about society? The response to crime will depend on this. Police reports on crime statistics and trends are they true or false? What is the motivation in lowering or hiking the figures? How are they interpreted? The figures can be flawed to support a given target.

The three areas we will focus on include;

  1. White collar crimes.

  2. New ways of breaking the law e.g. kidnapping and cyber crime.

  3. Youth delinquency- Gang culture



What is criminology?

Crimen means crime. Logos means rational speech/science concerning crime. It is the discourse concerning crime and the methods by which society deals with crime.

An author, Wayne Morrison in his book “Theoretical Criminology from modernity to Post modernism” 1995 @ pg 5, he argues that given the topic, it is not surprising that criminology is a broad area , covering a large set of discourses and diversity of materials.

Materials which may at times verge on the political, sociological, philosophical, rhetorical and the technical.

Criminology has also been defined to include the study of:

  1. Characteristics of a criminal.

  2. Extent of crime.

  3. Effects of crime on victims and society.

  4. Methods of crime prevention.

  5. Attributes of criminals.

  6. Characteristics and workings of the Criminal Justice System (Penology).

  7. Types of crimes.

Critical questions in criminology.

Given the first area of concern, a number of queries have arisen;

  1. As to whether the material can be read as having a central core or as a coherent domain, or whether it is totally unstable. A mass of perspectives which tease the reader of an article into thinking that the discourse encountered has sensed, but negates this as soon as various other articles are read.

  2. There is another tension between criminology as a special discipline in its own right with its own topic i.e. the analysis of crime and regarding criminology as a synthesis of social sciences such as jurisprudence, sociology, anthropology, psychology etc, of which they may be uncertain as to their own constitution.

  3. Modern criminology work is purported to be factual and based on scientific study. Therefore, criminology = science which is factual, and study that records information often in statistics, arrives at results of studies and embodies the conclusions drawn from such results and therefore is readily capable of proof or disproof. (It is objective, empirical). There are two valid view points on this question;

  • There is one group that upholds that criminology is not a science because a science has to be stable i.e. firmly established and homogenous. If one person tests and everyone does the same test, the results must always be the same e.g. (H+ O2 H2O) and since crime is neither stable nor homogenous, it cannot be a science. A man known as George Wilber argues that antisocial behavior in society cannot be scientifically interpreted. Other schools argue that since criminology has not developed its own scientific methodology, but borrow heavily from others it is not a science.

  • The other viewpoint is that criminology is a science and bases the argument on the fact that even amongst the natural sciences, like botany and zoology deal with facts which are not strictly speaking unique and individual and which do not deal with general phenomena. Further, that criminology is based on other social sciences just like medicine is based on anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry etc. that neither medicine nor criminology is purely the identical, they have a meaning which derives from their practical approach. The justification for medicine lies in the therapeutic and public health, that of criminology lies in penal reform, penology and prevention of crime.

Importance of Criminology

  1. It is important for the understanding of the individual and the best way to treat and reform him/her.

  2. For lawyers; to allow them to better understand their client and their particular circumstances for purposes of giving proper legal advice and pursuing a logical line of defense.

  3. For judicial officers to be able to understand the offender for the purpose of awarding appropriate sentencing and also understand the society’s perspectives and emotions on a two given offence.

  4. For law enforcement for purposes of investigation, prosecution, surveillance and crime prevention.

  5. For prison officers, social workers, psychologists, etc to understand the criminal better or more.

  6. To enhance official understanding of criminology, the types of offences, the prevalence of offences committed generally or specifically by a class of people or in certain localities. This kind of understanding is supported by the date which is important for crime detection and control.

The government is based to plan better in terms of allocation of resources towards fighting different types of crime.

  1. For the vocational criminologist, he will also be concerned with research that will lead to alternative theories that can lead to improving the immediate practices of the criminal justice system, to bring about reform of some kind e.g. a program, an institution or strategy. Often, the goal is to solve an administrative difficulty within the existing system.

  2. For the critical or analytical strand of criminology, the research or study will be aimed at making major changes within the existing institutional frameworks of the criminal justice system. The approach looks into the deeper philosophical questions of the day and also the bigger questions as to why do we continue to have and use institutions such as prisons when we do not work to prevent offending or re-offending? The approach here is not to suggest improvement, to the existing penal system; but to question whether it is valid or viable to begin with. Indeed, on informed opinion might simply advocate. Both approaches are however, relevant.

  1. Defining Crime

There is no straight forward answer to the question ‘what is crime.’ Even the central ideas of what are a crime and who is a criminal has no definite answer. There are two numbers of reasons why it is difficult to define crime;

Ideological issues: any theory or explanation of crime obviously has several dimensions built into it from the start. Even the most scientific or neutral theory will reflect to some extent the existing ideological or political sentiments of the day. At the very least, most criminology theories can be classified as conservative, radical or liberal or some analytical combination of the three, yet, in theory, two specific explanation of some phenomenon including one of crime and criminals is supposed to be value-free uncontaminated by emotions and political circumstances; but in reality if the research is funded by an arm of government, it may tend to serve the interest of the government.

A conservative perspective of society tends to be supportive of the legitimacy of the status quo and generally accepts the traditional way of doing things and that the role of institutions is to preserve the dominant order of the good of society generally and also that the values and institutions should apply equally to all people regardless of social background and historical development.

A liberal perspective on society accepts the limits of the status quo but encourages limited changes in societal institutions. This approach tends to avoid questions relating to the whole structure of society, instead advocates the need for action on particular limited social problems (tokenism) e.g. racism, poverty, sexism etc. Without any fundamental changes to the economic or social structure. (AFFIRMATIVE ACTION- Problem never really addressed).

The radical perspective on society wishes to undermine the legitimacy of the status quo. It looks at society as a whole but sees social conflict as the control concern. The key issue is who holds power and resources in a particular community? The focus of the radical perspective is fundamental change in the existing social order. Specific issues such as poverty are explained in rational terms e.g. between the poor and the rich, and the solution is seen to involve dealing with the structural imbalance and inequalities that led to the problem in the first place. It would therefore be quite apparent that politics play a central role in criminology and there is therefore, no value-free criminology and conservative, liberal and radical values are embedded in the criminology enterprise. Therefore, the political orientation of the particular approach has major implications for how crime is defined e.g. the radical view of crime (pg.6 of outline) would categorize crimes into crimes of the powerful which would be mostly economic crimes like pollution, violation of labor laws, state brutality, corruption and violation of civil rights.

The other category is crimes of the less powerful like work place theft, fraud, prostitution, rape, murder, etc, whereas the conservative approach would categorize crimes by emphasizing the so-called crimes of the powerful. They do not see it as two power issues, but as a social issue.

  1. Objectives and methods used in Criminology reflect certain underlined ideas and concerns of the writer. In reading criminology material, it is important to examine the assumption of the writer, the key concepts they use, the methods on agreements used to support their theory and also the sentences in a particular theory i.e. what questions are not being asked and why not.

  2. It is important to consider the social relevance of the theory or perspective. What does it tells us about our society and the direction that our society is or ought to be heading.

  3. Ideas, perceptions and conceptions regarding what constitutes criminal behavior keep changing. To a certain extent, both crime and criminology are uncertain in the sense that one’s definition of crime is dependent upon one’s particular interest and world view.

  4. There are competing views on crimes as crime is always socially defined. This of course can lead to debate e.g. should crime always be defined by law? Or could it instead be based on moral or social conceptions such as social harm. Is crime something only legally defined by law? Or can it be something else? Like moral wrongs such as adultery not being criminal by law, yet it is normally wrong. If the definition is purely and legalistic one, i.e. purely and creation by law, how can social science study it? Should criminology subject matter be restricted to conventional legal definitions?

An activity becomes criminal due to the social response which leads to it being classified as a crime, therefore, colonialism was a social phenomenon and there was a feeling that slavery was wrong, but there was no law to it and people consider whether to make it a crime against humanity.

To illustrate the differences on defining crimes, consider the following;

  1. Why some behaviors which are defined as criminal while others which may also be damaging are not.

  2. Why are certain people who have committed crimes convicted, while others allowed escaping conviction?

  3. In Nazi Germany, there are Germans who assisted the Jewish people despite the law prohibiting such assistance.

  4. Who defines the law? Al-shabab passed a decree/rule/law/proclamation on that no woman should wear bras People are now committing crimes by wearing brass.

What about cases where people may actively break the law in the name of social justice? There are unjust systems in the world. It may well be the case that many legal definitions are built on highly contentious and unjust or unfair prepositions.

Definition of Crime.

It follows therefore, that there are very many diverse conceptions of crime, each of crime, each of which reflect a different scientific and ideological viewpoint.

It is important to note that the variation in definition as real consequences upon how different types of behavior are dealt with at a practical level. According to the author Rob White, crime is not inherent in an activity. It is defined under particular material circumstances and in relation to specific social processes e.g. the prohibition in drinking alcohol; killing al-capone who sold alcohol illegally. A crime was created and many people were engaged in selling illegal alcohol and many people were killed. Then the prohibition was uplifted.

Kenny defines crime as a wrong whose solicitation is punitive and which is no way remissible by any private person but is remissible by the crown.

Keeton-crime is an undesirable act which the state finds most convenient to correct by the institution of proceedings for the infliction of a penalty rather than leaving the remedy to the discretion of the injured person.

Sutherland- Criminal behavior is behavior which is a violation of criminal law. No matter what the degree of immorality, reprehensively or indecency of an act, it is not a crime unless it is prohibited by law.

For much of its history, criminology has accepted the legalistic definition of crime as human behavior which is punishable by sanctions specified by the criminal law, but more recently, this automatic link between crime, the criminal law and liability for punishment has not been universally accepted by criminology. This is in part because what can be defined as a crime by the powerful agencies of store varies over time and place. The struggle to find a method by which the criminologists could specifically define an object of study (crime deviance) has been an on-going feature of criminology since its modern formulations.

Legal and Sociological conceptions of Crime.

There are many diverse conceptions of crime, each of which reflects a different scientific and ideological view points. A man known as Hogan J. in his book ‘modern criminology’ defines at least 6 broad approaches to the definition of crime:-

  1. A formal legal definition of crime is one which says that what the state identifies as a crime is a crime i.e., if something is written into the criminal law and is subject to state sanctions, in the form of a specific penalty, then that activity is a crime.

  2. A social harm conception of crime involves both criminal offences such as assault and civil offences such as negligence so that each type of action or inaction brings with it some type of harm so each should therefore attract some sort of penalty. (Looks at the impact of harm that should therefore have a penalty).

  3. A cross cultural universal norm argument states that crime is essence does not vary across different cultures, thus murder is murder regardless of society and we can therefore postulate conduct norms that are across diverse cultural backgrounds.

  4. A labeling approach to the definition of crime argues that crime only really exists where there has been a social response to a particular activity that labels that activity criminal. If there is no label, there is in effect no crime.

  5. Human rights approach says crimes occur whenever a human right has been violated, regardless of the reality or otherwise of the action. Such a conception also expands the definition of crime to include oppressive practices such as racism, sexism, tribalism and class-based exploitation.

  6. A human diversity approach which defines crime in terms of the language, post moderns school that looks at things as a science which itself is biased. Criminals’ voice is not listened to when establishing what a crime is. They must accept human diversities as a right. Thus, criminology study and research looks beyond the formal legalistic approach to conceptions of crime in as much as this is also acknowledged.

Criminology perspectives.

As we have indicated, there are competing definitions of crime. This produces kinds of responses to crime. Criminologists vary in how they approach the study of crime. For the sake presentation, it is useful to present ideal types of the various theoretical strands within criminology. Of course an ideal type does not exist in the real world, rather the intention behind the construction of an ideal type is to obstruct exaggerate these elements in order to highlight the general tendency or themes of a particular perspective. So, an ideal type is an analytical tool, not a moral statement about what it ought to be. It refers to a process of identifying different aspect of social phenomena and combining them into a typical model.

There are tree broad levels of criminology explanation;

  1. Individuals

  2. Situational

  3. Social-structural

Different theories within criminology tend to locate their main explanation for criminal behavior at one of these levels. Occasionally, a theory attempt to combine all three levels in order to provide a more sophisticated and comprehensive picture of crime and criminality.

  1. Individual; The main focus is on the personal or individual characteristics of the offender or victim. The study may consider e.g. the influence of appearance, dress, public image or things such as tattoos. This level of analysis tends to look at the psychological or biological factors which are said to have an important role in determining why certain individuals engage in a criminal activity. The key concern is to explain crime or deviant behavior in terms of the choices or characteristics of the individual person.

  2. Situational; The main site of analysis is the immediate circumstances or situations within which criminal activity or deviant behavior occurs. Attention is directed to the specific factors that may contribute to an event occurring such as how the participants define the situations, how different people are labeled by the others in the criminal justice system and the opportunities avail for the commission of certain types of offences.

  3. Social-structural; this approach tends to look at crime in terms of the broad social relationships and the major social institutions of society as a whole. The analysis makes references to the relationship between classes, sexes, different ethnic and racial groups, the employed and unemployed; and various other social divisions in society. It can also involve the investigation of the operation specific institutions such as indication, family, work and the legal system in the construction of social responses to crime and deviant behavior.

Criminology Schools of Thought.

A school of thought is a point of view held by a particular group or a belief or system of belief accepted as authoritative by some group of school.

  1. Classical Criminology; is a label used to make sense of a period of writing in the 18th and 19th Centuries which reformed the system of investigation and punishing of criminal offenders. A reasonable coherent rational intellectual structure was developed which legitimated the creation of a system of criminal justice which predominates today. This period was known as the enlightenment and it introduced a recognizably modern form of analysis of the study of crime and stressed the role of reason and free will in human affairs. The enlighten represented the development of a whole range of thought concerning the nature of human beings and their relationship with each other, with institutions, society and the state. The writer of the enlightenment were concerned with social conditions and they responded to the ideas of the African and French Revolutions which prompted changes in ideas concerning Human Rights (people wanted a new order, there was a lot of crime in the society due to taxpaying etc at these eras). Classical criminology can be given a wide or narrow reading. Most textbooks give it a narrow reading as it sees it as concerned with setting up a rational framework for a modern system of criminal justice. However, it is also part of an attempt to provide answers to the question of structuring of government. When man is in a social situation devoid of a foundational touchstone such as God. There were many writings during the period, but Beccaria, Bentham and John Austin are fairly representative of this enterprise.

Cesare Bacceria (1738-1794), in this book on crimes and punishment, Bacceria considered crime as an injury to society. It was this injury to society that was to direct and determine the degree of punishment. The role of the law was to lay out minimal rules of social life which would bind the society and guide it by laying out clear and rational rules. Bacceria proposed that torture, execution and other irrational activity be abolished and in their place, there was to be quick and certain trials and in the case of convictions, carefully calculated punishments. He proposed that accused persons be treated humanely before trials. It is often said that classical criminology ignores the causes of crime. But Bacceria certainly held that economic conditions and bad laws could cause crime and that property crimes were committed primarily by the poor and mainly out of necessity. He suggested that every night and facility be extended to enable accused persons bring evidence on their own behalf. He called for a swift and sure punishment. This meant that there would be a punishment prescribed and therefore would be certainly of that punishment that had to be written, thus the penal code. He was of the view that a carefully matching of the crime and its punishment is keeping with the general interest of the society could make punishment a rational instrument of government. This is circled around the severity of the punishment to the crime, likewise the crime to the punishment, such that small crimes would not carry too severe punishments. He discovered that with a system being presumed unfairly reads to no trust in the system. People will commit more crime as people feel less motivated to be part of that society. When punishment exceeds the degree of crime, it is torture.

Bentham (1748-1832). He was a radical utilitarian. He believed in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This that what the society wants would be the law. What of the minorities then? Acts could then be measured in terms of goodness or badness, right or wrong. He believes that prevention of crime was the only justifiable purpose of punishment. He recommends that penalties be fixed so as to impose an amount of pain in excess of the pleasure that Bentham believed would deter crime. He argued that capital punishment should be restricted to offences which in the highest degree shock the feeling. He also attempted to radicalize imprisonment as an institution then used to hold persons awaiting trial for debtors as an instrument of correction. He argued for the establishment for the office of the Public Prosecutor and he furthered the nation that crimes are committed against society rather than against individuals.

The Classical Approach

Social contract theories like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke believed in the idea that legitimate government is the artificial product of the voluntary agreement of free moral agents and that there is no such thing as natural political authority as asserted by the monarchial regimes. The rise of all sovereigns is derived originally from the consent of every one of those who are to be governed. John Locke developed the concept of the general will i.e. citizens have to be a collective interest in the well being of the community. He traced the foundations of law and political society in the idea of the general will. The basic concepts of the classical theory are premised upon the notion of individual rights of human capacity to reason and the rule of law. The theory assumes a particular view of human nature i.e. that human beings are self seeking and self interested individuals with free will and individual choice, therefore we are seen as being ultimately responsible for choosing what to do with our time and energy and for the consequences that may arise from our actions, i.e., the classical theorists believed in volunteristic view of human nature.

Secondly, the theory emphasizes the status of human beings and rights holders, individuals are deemed to have an equal capacity to reason and to act in accordance with what is rational from the point of view of their own self interest. Institutionally, each individual is to be given guaranteed equal rights under law. The fundamental objective of the law is to protect individual rights and to allow the free exercise of choice among individual as far as is possible without leading to social harm.

Thirdly, to guarantee both individual rights and some semblance of order, classical theory considers the role of the state to be central, i.e. the notion of the social contract between right holders and the state. There is an implied consensus or agreement that individuals give up certain rights to the state in return for the protection of their rights and security of their person and property from other individuals and from the state itself. Hence, the role of the state is to regulate human interruptions and to be a site where rights in general can be protected by not allowing their infringement in specific instances. Fourthly, the legal manifestation of the social contract is expressed in the phrase “the rule of law,” meaning that everyone is to be treated equally without fear or favor in the eyes of the law i.e. equal protection of rights and that even the law makers are bound by the law, set down for the general population.

Further, the law is seen as intrinsically good and to reflect the reasoned benefits and value of the law makers i.e. the theory assumes a consensus in society of good and bad. This is reflected in Criminal Law. Crime is therefore, defined as a violation of the law. Criminality is seen as primarily a matter of making the wrong choices by violating the law.

Individuals are to be held responsible for their actions. The social contract is mentioned in practice through the use of punishment of deterrence of individual and state at large. The response of the justice system is focused on criminal acts.

New Classical School

Arose out of the attempt to apply the principles of the classical school. There were a number of challenges.

  • To make such general principles serve the interests of justice and equality when faced with a specific defendant in court. (Laws applied to everyone equally). Some defendants clearly do not conform to the abstract concept of being rational and equal e.g. children and people with mental illness. To cope with this “reality of life” rules were developed to deal with specific circumstances where individuals could be deemed not to be totally responsible for their actions.

  • The second challenge to classism comes from vested rights. Those in positions of power viewed classism as a challenge to their entrenched authority. The codification of legal principles threatened the autonomy of the aristocracy who naturally resisted changes, therefore, in some countries what ended up being put in place e.g. U.K. and Australia are high breeds of classical and pre-classical models.

The new classical school therefore primarily represented the modification necessary for administration of criminal law based on practical experience. It presented no particular break with the basic doctrines of the classical school.

Examples of perspectives in contemporary Justice System;

  1. Classical thinking is evident in the legal in the legal doctrine that emphasizes conscious intent or choice i.e. the notion of mens rea or guilty mind.

  2. It is evident in sentencing principles e.g. the idea of culpability or responsibility.

  3. It is evident in the structure of punishment e.g. the grading of penalties according to the seriousness of the offence.

  4. It is evident in the approach to sentencing is the use of just desert approach (get what you deserve).

Just deserts approach

  1. No one other than a person found to be guilty of a crime must be punished for it. (Standard of proof has to be beyond reasonableness).

  2. Anyone found guilty of a crime must be punished.

  3. Punished must not be more than of a degree commensurable or proportional to the nature of gravity of the offence and culpability of the criminal.

  4. Punishment must not be less of a degree commensurable to or proportion to the nature of gravity of the offence and culpability of the criminal.

Critique of the Classical Theory.

  1. Problem of fairness in individual cases because despite reforms this still remains a problem where system focuses on the offence and not the offender.

  2. People are not endorsed with equal capacity to reason. The decision to offending or may not be the result of an irrational choice and the theory gives the insight into how to deal with cases where offending results from an incapability to reason.

  3. If as espoused by the theory offending results from a temporary irrationality, how is it that distribution of crime is not spread equally through the social structure. Most studies place the bulb of offending among those with low income. These findings suggest that for some people, offending may be entirely rational in a manner that not amendable to the deterrence resulting from punishment. In a world of deep social inequalities, universal inequalities cannot be realized by treating everyone equally before the law. Rational choice may lead some to afford precisely because of social inequalities. Equality before the law masks this reality.

  4. It has long been recognize that there are clear differences between formal (written) law and substantive law (practiced). The way the law is written tends to assist some individuals who understand it know how to exploit it; while disadvantaging others who do not have the same access to lawyers who know a powerful individual or organization appear able to avoid the spirit of the law while complying with the letter of the law.

  5. Legal process is itself influenced by broader social inequalities. Some people are more equal than others and this in turn affects the legal process. The wealthy have legal to legal advice that in turn affects how they are dealt with by the justice system. Furthermore, punishments may be proportionate to the crime but will be experienced in markedly different ways. The rich may retain their income and wealth while the poor lose out on income and future work opportunity. Despite these problems, in conclusion, the classical theory had a real and positive effect on the justice system which promoted a more open systematic approach to justice when compared to previous systems which were based on arbitrary whim of aristocracy. Classical principles argue for rights of an individual in a system and places limits on judicial discretion. Finally, it espouses a humanity approach to punishment when compared to barbaric practices of previous eras.

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