20 March 2012 Written by  Mrs. Glory Nirmala.k

Understanding Criminology

Defining Criminology

Criminology maybe defined asthe scientific study of the causation, correction, and prevention of crime”. Criminology (from Latin crīmen, "accusation"; and Greek -λογία, -logia) is the social science approach to the study of crime as an individual and social phenomenon. Although contemporary definitions vary in the exact words used, there is considerable consensus that criminology involves the application of the “scientific method” to the study of variation in criminal law, the causes of crime, and reactions to crime (Akers 2000).

Criminological research areas include the incidence and forms of crime as well as its causes and consequences. They also include social and governmental regulations and reactions to crime. Criminology is an interdisciplinary field in the behavioral sciences, drawing especially on the research of sociologists and psychologists, as well as on writings in law. An important way to analyze data is to look at quantitative methods in criminology. In 1885, Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo coined the term "criminology" (in Italian, criminologia). The French anthropologist Paul Topinard used it for the first time in French (criminologie) around the same time.

Nature and Scope of Criminology

Criminology is an inter-disciplinary field of study, involving scholars and practitioners representing a wide range of behavioral and social sciences as well as numerous natural sciences. Sociologists played a major role in defining and developing the field of study and criminology emerged as an academic discipline housed in sociology programs. However, with the establishment of schools of criminology and the proliferation of academic departments and programs concentrating specifically on crime and justice in the last half of the 20 century, the criminology emerged as a distinct professional field with a broad, interdisciplinary focus and a shared commitment to generating knowledge through systematic research.

One ultimate goal of criminology has been the development of theories expressed with sufficient precision that they can be tested, using data collected in a manner that allows verification and replication.

As a subdivision of the larger field of sociology, criminology draws on psychology, economics, anthropology, psychiatry, biology, statistics, and other disciplines to explain the causes and prevention of criminal behavior. Subdivisions of criminology include penology, the study of prisons and prison systems; bio-criminology, the study of the biological basis of criminal behavior; feminist criminology, the study of women and crime; and criminalistics, the study of crime detection, which is related to the field of Forensic Science. Much research related to criminology has focused on the biological basis of criminal behavior. In fact, bio-criminology, attempts to explore the biological basis of criminal behavior. Research in this area has focused on chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal and brain chemical imbalances, diet, neurological conditions, drugs, and alcohol as variables that contribute to criminal behavior.

Criminology has historically played a reforming role in relation to Criminal Law and the criminal justice system. As an applied discipline, it has produced findings that have influenced legislators, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, Probation officers, and prison officials, prompting them to better understand crime and criminals and to develop better and more human sentences and treatments for criminal behavior.

Criminologists also study a host of other issues related to crime and the law. These include studies of the Victims of Crime, focusing upon their relations to the criminal, and their role as potential causal agents in crime; juvenile delinquency and its correction; and the media and their relation to crime, including the influence of Pornography.

Significance of Criminology

The true effect of criminology upon practices in the criminal justice system is still subject to question. Although a number of commentators have noted that studies in criminology have led to significant changes among criminal laws in the various states, other critics have suggested that studies in criminology have not directly led to a reduction of crime.

In Mc Cleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S. Ct. 1756, 95 L. Ed. 2d 262 (1987), an individual who had been sentenced to death for a murder in Georgia demonstrated to the U.S. Supreme Court that a criminologist's study showed that the race of individuals in that state impacted whether the defendant was sentenced to life or to death. The study demonstrated that a black defendant who had killed a white victim was four times more likely to be sentenced to death than was a defendant who had killed a black victim. The defendant claimed that the study demonstrated that the state of Georgia had violated his rights under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as under the Eigth Amendment's protection against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

The high court disagreed. Although the majority did question the validity of the findings, of study's it held that the study did not establish that officials in Georgia had acted with discriminatory purpose, and that it did not establish that racial bias had affected the officials' decisions with respect to the death sentence. Accordingly, the death sentence violated neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Eighth Amendment.

Criminology has had more of an effect when states and the federal government consider new criminal laws and sentencing provisions. Criminologists' theories are also often debated in the context of the death penalty and crime control acts among legislators and policymakers. In this light, criminology is perhaps not at the forefront of the development of the criminal justice system, but it most certainly works in the background in the determination of criminal justice policies.

Sociology and Criminology uring the twentieth century, the sociological approach to criminology became the most influential approach. Sociology is the study of social behavior, systems, and structures. In relation to criminology, it may be divided into social-structural and social-process approaches.

Social-Structural Criminology Social-structural approaches to criminology examine the way in which social situations and structures influence or relate to criminal behavior. An early example of this approach, the ecological school of criminology, was developed in the 1920s and 1930s at the University of Chicago. It seeks to explain crime's relationship to social and environmental change. For example, it attempts to describe why certain areas of a city will have a tendency to attract crime and also have less-vigorous police enforcement. Researchers have found that urban areas in transition from residential to business uses are most often targeted by criminals. Such communities often have disorganized social networks that foster a weaker sense of social standards.

Another social-structural approach is the conflict school of criminology. It traces its roots to Marxist theories that saw crime as ultimately a product of conflict between different classes under the system of capitalism. Criminology conflict theory suggests that the laws of society emerge out of conflict rather than out of consensus. It holds that laws are made by the group that is in power, to control those who are not in power. Conflict theorists propose, as do other theorists, that those who commit crimes are not fundamentally different from the rest of the population. They call the idea that society may be clearly divided into criminals and non-criminals a dualistic fallacy, or a misguided notion. These theorists maintain, instead, that the determination of whether someone is a criminal or not often depends on the way society reacts to those who deviate from accepted norms. Many conflict theorists and others argue that minorities and poor people are more quickly labeled as criminals than are members of the majority and wealthy individuals.

Critical criminology, also called radical criminology, shares with conflict criminology a debt to Marxism. It came into prominence in the early 1970s and attempted to explain contemporary social upheavals. Critical criminology relies on economic explanations of behavior and argues that economic and social inequalities cause criminal behavior. It focuses less on the study of individual criminals, and advances the belief that existing crime cannot be eliminated within the capitalist system. It also asserts, like the conflict school, that law has an inherent bias in favor of the upper or ruling class, and that the state and its legal system exist to advance the interests of the ruling class. Critical criminologists argue that corporate, political, and environmental crime are underreported and inadequately addressed in the current criminal justice system.

Feminist criminology emphasizes the subordinate position of women in society. According to feminist criminologists, women remain in a position of inferiority that has not been fully rectified by changes in the law during the late twentieth century. Feminist criminology also explores the ways in which women's criminal behavior is related to their objectification as commodities in the sex industry.

Others using the social-structural approach have studied Gangs, juvenile delinquency, and the relationship between family structure and criminal behavior.

Social-Process Criminology Social-process criminology theories attempt to explain how people become criminals. These theories developed through recognition of the fact that not all people who are exposed to the same social-structural conditions become criminals. They focus on criminal behavior as learned behavior.

Edwin H. Sutherland (1883–1950), a U.S. sociologist and criminologist who first presented his ideas in the 1920s and 1930s, advanced the theory of differential association to explain criminal behavior. He emphasized that criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others, usually in small groups, and that criminals learn to favor criminal behavior over noncriminal behavior through association with both forms of behavior in different degrees. As Sutherland wrote, "When persons become criminal, they do so because of contacts with criminal patterns and also because of isolation from anti-criminal patterns." Although his theory has been greatly influential, Sutherland himself admitted that it did not satisfactorily explain all criminal behavior. Later theorists have modified his approach in an attempt to correct its shortcomings.

Political CriminologyPolitical criminology is similar to the other camps in this area. It involves study into the forces that determine how, why, and with what consequences societies chose to address criminals and crime in general. Those who are involved with political criminology focus on the causes of crime, the nature of crime, the social and political meanings that attach to crime, and crime-control policies, including the study of the bases upon which crime and punishment is committed and the choices made by the principals in criminal justice.

Although the theories of political criminology and conflict criminology overlap to some extent, political criminologists deny that the terms are interchangeable. The primary focus points in the new movement of political criminology similarly overlap with other theories, including the concerns and ramifications of street crime and the distribution of power in crime-control strategies. This movement has largely been a loose, academic effort.


Definitions of Important Terms

Deviance: Deviance is a violation of social norms defining appropriate or proper behaviour under particular set of circumstances. Deviance often includes criminal acts. Deviance is also referred to as deviant behaviour. It is behavior that is sharply different from a customary, traditional, or generally accepted standard.

Delinquency: Delinquent means one who fails to do that which is required by law or by duty when such failure is minor in nature. A delinquent is often used to refer to a juvenile who commits a minor criminal act—juvenile delinquents.

Juvenile Delinquency: It refers to criminal acts performed by juveniles. Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers. Juvenile delinquency may refer to either violent or non-violent crime committed by persons who are (usually) under the age of eighteen and are still considered to be a minor. There is much debate about whether or not such a child should be held criminally responsible for his or her own actions.

Crime: Crime is an ‘act’ or ‘omission’ which is prohibited by criminal law. Each State sets out a limited series of acts (crimes) which are prohibited and punishes the commission of these acts by fine, imprisonment or some other form of punishment. In exceptional cases, an omission to act can constitute a crime, such as failing to give assistance to a person in peril or failing to report a case of child abuse.

Inter-Relation Between Criminology, Penology and Criminal Law

It must be reiterated that criminology is one of the branches of criminal science which is concerned with social study of crimes and criminal behavior. It aims at discovering the causes of criminality and effective measures to combat crimes. It also deals with custody, treatment, prevention and control of crimes which, for the purposes of this study, is termed as penology. The criminal policies postulated by these twin sister branches (i.e., criminology and penology) are implemented through the agency of criminal law. Thus for the sake of convenient study the entire subject may be classified under the following heads:

It is generally said that criminal law is an index of civilization because it is sensitive to the changes in social structure and reflects mental fiber of a given society. This is why Prof. Friedman calls it a barometer of moral thinking. According to Wechsler, “crime is a formal social condemnation of forbidden conduct buttressed by sanction calculated to prevent it”. Criminologists are thus confronted with three major problems, namely:

  1. What conducts should be forbidden and an inquiry into the effect of environment on these conducts ;
  2. What condemnation is appropriate in such cases ; and
  3. What kinds of sanctions are best to prevent these conducts?

It is thus evident that criminology, penology and criminal law are inter-related and one cannot really function without the other. The formulation of criminal policy essentially depends on crime causation and factors correlated therewith while its implementation is achieved through the instrumentality of criminal law. It has been rightly observed by Prof. Sellin that the object of criminology is to study the sequence of law-making, law-breaking and reaction to law-breaking from the point of view of the efficacy of law as the method of control. According to Donald Taft, criminology is the scientific analysis and observation of crime and criminals whereas penology is concerned with the punishment and treatment of offenders. In his view, the development of criminology has been much later than that of penology because in early periods the emphasis was on treatment of offenders rather than scientific investigation into the causation of crime.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 13:05