The high prevalence of crime is a matter of global concern. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has recorded increasing crime statistics in almost all countries, with rape topping the list as the most common type of reported crime. Other prevalent crimes include Trans-national organized crime which is considered to be the single biggest threat to human security and a hindrance to political, social and economic development of societies worldwide. It manifests itself in different activities which include drug and human trafficking, fire arms smuggling, terrorism, money laundering among others. An increasing number of countries are reporting prevalence of crimes such as murder, burglary, theft, fraud and assault. Universally, the crime rates of victim surveys are higher than those of the official records, suggesting a high incidence of underreporting. High crime rates have severe implications on society but central to finding a solution, we should first examine the issue of causality (UNODC).
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Causes of Crime
Criminologists have tried to explain the reasons behind a criminal or deviant mind. There is no universally accepted explanation but various theories have been put forward. Classicism theories attribute crime to free will and the result of rational calculations while positivist theorists believe that the criminal and deviant individuals have no control over their actions an did not possess free will. Some biological explanations that try to link physical traits to behavior have also been put forward. Cesare Lombroso, a renowned biologist came to the conclusion that criminal types could be recognized by the shape of the skull or the facial characteristics which he referred to as the stigmata. His views suggest that criminals are biologically inferior to non criminals (Joyce, 2006).
Psychologists view crime as a symptom of internal neurological disorders or deeply hidden personality disturbance within an individual. Human behavior is believed to be governed by the processes of the mind and crime is linked to unconscious conflicts that may have taken place in the mind of an individual and which were probably never resolved. This largely involves traumatic childhood experiences. In this respect, corrective emotional experience may assist in rehabilitating an offender (Joyce, 2006).
Sociologists do not attribute criminal behavior to the human body or the mind, but rather, they view it as a result of the social setting or the environment surrounding an individual. For instance, if ones neighborhood is sprawling with criminals then chance are high that he or she will become a criminal. Most crime prone neighborhoods have a subculture of initiating people into their gangs through criminal activity and youth especially boys, out to prove their masculinity may be unwittingly initiated into crime. Peer pressure is also a major contributing factor as is unemployment, teenage rebellion, broken families and drug abuse. Poverty appears to be the driving force behind most criminals (Joyce, 2006).
Impact of Crime on Society
Effect on the economy
Crime is a major hindrance to the economic advancement of a country. This is in terms non- remitted taxes, loss of earning potential due to violent death or hospitalization, money lost to medical care and legal proceedings, lost investment, property damage and profit loss of a company to gun toting criminals, thereby rendering the company incapable of meeting its targets. This may lead to loss of investor confidence, leading to capital flight as they choose to invest in a safer environment where their businesses are protected. The United Nations lists the US as the leading country in terms of financial loss due to violent crimes; the loss estimated to be to the tune of 45 billion dollars. Bringing criminals to justice also translates to high cost to the economy in terms of money allocated to the law enforcement budget that could have been used in other more crucial sectors such as social services or medical research (The Associated Press, 2008).
Crime also has severe psychological effects on the individual. Whether one has been a victim or not, there is always the constant fear that they may be attacked. If crime is perceived to be out of control, then it may lead to mass hysteria. Victims of crime may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and low self esteem, especially if the crime was an upfront to their dignity such as in rape. The realization by the victim that he or she is powerless against the offender may drive him/her to abuse substances so as to escape the emotional pain and he/she may alienate himself from the family. This also affects the family’s well being.
Crime kills the community spirit. People living in crime prone neighborhoods tend to isolate themselves from others in an effort to protect themselves. In most instances, the perpetrators are well known to the community as they are more often than not, born and bred in the same neighborhoods. This may hinder any communal efforts as people do not want to associate themselves with criminals. Crime may also to contribute to environmental poverty as people are scared to of accumulating wealth which could easily make them prey for the criminals.
Measures to Reduce Crime, Violence and Other Forms of Deviance
The problem in society is not that of crime alone but also other forms of violence that destroys the fabric of our society and threatens our well being. Domestic violence, child abuse, sexual misconduct and assault are other forms of violence and deviance that need to be done away with. Given the negative impact of violence in our society, there is a real and felt need to implement measures that will reduce the crime rates and restore the people’s faith in law enforcers. These measures are outlined as follows:
National Action Plan
There is need to create a national action plan that outlines the national response to incidences of crime, stating clearly the punitive measure to be taken as well as the nation’s policy on various crime related issues. This serves as a deterrent to criminals who know what to expect in the event that they commit crimes. The plan should also include a witness protection program that changes the identities of whistleblowers so that they don’t fall victim to the criminals’ revenge (WHO, 2004).
Proper remuneration of law enforcers
There is also need to pay and pay well, those entrusted with maintenance of law and order. Underpaid police officers lack the necessary motivation for them to fight crime. Given their financial woes, they are more susceptible to bribes which unfortunately come in plenty from wealthy, criminal tycoons. A recent survey by the transparency international shows the countries with underpaid police officers has the highest incidence of corruption among the police force. Countries should therefore consider an upward reviewing of salaries for law enforcers.
Investing in the youth
Young people are more susceptible to crime and other forms of deviance, with criminal activity reaching its peak at the age of 16-25 years. This implies the need to adopt a youth led approach in the effort to reduce violence. This can be achieved by enrolling them in schools probably through free compulsory education, initiating social and recreational activities such as sports or other social programs that occupy their leisure time and assisting them to get into gainful employment so that they do not feel the need to engage in crime to earn a living. These programs should be targeted especially at crime prone neighborhoods where the risk factors for engaging in crime are high (WHO, 2004).
In most cases, the perpetrators of crime are well known to the community. However, they still roam the streets freely as the area residents are either too scared of the repercussions of reporting them or lack faith in the police force. Whatever the reason may be the general outcome is that many people are not at peace in their own homes; they are very suspicious of each other and have no community spirit. This individualistic attitude actually serves to fuel crime activity. Community policing therefore should be encouraged as a forum for area residents to complain. It may be in form of a neighborhood watch where neighbors form groups that take turns to protect the neighborhood or pay for night guards. It also involves reporting known criminals to the police. This should be done anonymously so as to protect the whistleblowers with the option of witness protection if they are found out (WHO, 2004).
Governments must invest in more and more research on the incidence of violence. Crime as a field in research has not been adequately invested in. the causes, trends and risk factors of crimes are subject to change. The causal factors of crime today may not be the same the following year. There is need therefore to be in touch with the situation on the ground so as to keep on revising national policy on crime and initiating new relevant measures. Constant surveys should be done to monitor crime statistics so as to identify any weaknesses in the current plan of action and take appropriate measures (WHO, 2004).
Promote social equity and gender equality
High incidences of crime and violence are substantially related to poverty. Crime prone neighborhoods are typically low class neighborhoods whose residents feel cheated by society which has divided them into the rich and the poor. Criminals typically convey a deep seated dislike for their rich(er) counterparts and violence against them is usually an act of revenge. Women and children who experience abuse of whatever form are victims specifically because they are helpless and have no means of protecting themselves. Gender violence is a game of power whereby the abusive spouse gains satisfaction from the weakness of his spouse. Gender and social equity can therefore be seen as preemptive factors to crime. Gender equality empowers the victim to be able to resist violence while social equity empowers the criminal therefore making him less susceptible to the risk factors associated with crime (WHO, 2004).
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Crime, violence and other forms of deviance need to be dealt with adequately and appropriately. Some of the above measures have been implemented but a lot more can still be done. Even as we fight crime and implement the above measures, there is need to rehabilitate ex offenders back into society, otherwise the pre-emptive measures will be an exercise in futility. At the end of the day, one would want to see a society with fewer criminals and those who are convicted, successfully reintegrated back into society.
UN: Armed killings cost the U.S $ 45 billion yearly. The Associated press, 2008.
World Health Organization, Preventing violence: A guide to implementing the recommendations of the world Report on violence and health. Geneva, 2004.
Peter Joyce 2006, Criminal Justice: An introduction to crime and the criminal Justice system, Willan Publishing.
Narvin E. Wolfgang, Leonard Savitz,Norman Johnston 1962, The sociology of crime and delinquency , John Wiley and sons.
The periodic United nations Survey of crime trends and operations of criminal Justice systems. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.