Causes of Crime

Sign prohibiting drinking in the street
Sign prohibiting drinking in the street

The Oxford Dictionary defines a crime as an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law. A crime is a fact, a matter of law and it is not an opinion. As society changes, some actions which used to be criminal are no longer so. Likewise some actions which were legal can become prohibited.

An example of this is the introduction of by-laws which allow local authorities to prohibit drinking in designated public places. Laws are made by the politicians we elect democratically - we may not agree with the law but there are democratic opportunities to change it.

In a democratic society someone charged with a crime has the opportunity to defend him/herself. He or she will be deemed innocent until proven guilty by a criminal court. Punishments traditionally reflect the seriousness of the crime, the most serious are those which involve violence and/or loss of life.

The causes of crime are complex. Poverty, parental neglect, low self-esteem, alcohol and drug abuse can be connected to why people break the law. Some are at greater risk of becoming offenders because of the circumstances into which they are born.

Individualist and collectivist approach

Individualists tend to focus on personal weakness as the reason a crime is committed. If someone chooses to offend, that is their responsibility and if caught, they should suffer the consequences. Individualists believe that if punishments were stronger and the police and courts had more powers, there would be less crime.

Individualist and collectivist approaches to crime and punishment.

Collectivists feel that society is unequal and some people are at greater risk of being influenced by criminal behaviour, often through the actions of parents or friends.

In order to tackle crime, collectivists feel that social conditions which create the catalyst for crime need to be addressed. This could be through better housing, improved employment opportunities and a more equal society to make crime less of an attraction. If people are in work and are content with life they will be less likely to break the law.

Most recent governments at a UK and Scottish level see merit in both the individualist and collectivist beliefs and accept that there are underlying causes of crime. But individuals also need to accept responsibility for their actions. It is the government’s job to tackle crime, both its causes and the offenders. Former Prime Minister David Cameron said the government must think hard about dealing with the causes of crime not just the results of crime.