Why do people commit crime?

Number of crimes committed in the UK, listed by category of offenceNumber of crimes committed in the UK, listed by category of offenceHOME OFFICE, JULY 2012

There are many theories to explain why people commit crime, but there is general agreement on how people become criminals. Criminal behaviour fits into one, or more than one, of these categories:

  • criminal behaviour can be caused by a person's free choice
  • criminal behaviour can be caused by a person’s environment, eg a broken home or failure at school could be a catalyst for the change to becoming a criminal
  • criminal behaviour can seem like the only option for a person if they are unable to conform to society
  • criminal behaviour can develop through being associated with other criminals

What are the aims of punishment?

People are punished for a purpose. Often the aims of a punishment overlap, eg the death penalty aims to protect the public from the individual who has committed a specific crime whilst deterring others from committing similar acts. There are six recognised aims of punishment:

  • deterrence - punishment should put people off committing crime
  • protection - punishment should protect society from the criminal and the criminal from themselves
  • reformation - punishment should reform the criminal
  • retribution - punishment should make the criminal pay for what they have done wrong
  • reparation - punishment should compensate the victim(s) of a crime
  • vindication - the punishment makes sure that the law is respected