Crime is a common occurrence in the society. As different people with different ideas and views about life live together in the same setting, they are bound to get into conflicts. The criminal justice system is responsible for handling such cases and ensuring that the rule of law is upheld. It consists of different structures such as the police, whose work is to maintain law and order, the prosecutors, courts and correctional institutions. As the way of life and the world in general changes, crime becomes more rampant and diverse. Criminals are designing new ways of committing their acts without being caught. This brings the need for change in structures of the justice system as well as the mode of execution of justice.
In order to effectively combat crime, one has to think and behave like a criminal. This means that those in the justice system have to understand why criminals commit crime as well as how and when they do it. Understanding the reasons behind crime helps in stopping it by applying the right measures. There are different theories that explain the reasons behind crime. The anomie theory states that the society forces people into crime while the social control argues that the motive behind crime comes from the criminal. The routine activity theory talks about setting an environment that favors a crime and how such can be applied to stop crime. These theories are important, and if incorporated in the criminal justice system, the war on crime would be effective.
The criminal justice system includes the structures put in place by the government to uphold the law through social restraint and punishing offenders. It consists of law enforcers, prosecution, courts and correction institutions. Currently, the United States of America is faced with overcrowded correctional facilities and numerous pending cases which bring the need to reform the justice system. There are over 2.4 million people living behind bars, and the numbers continue to swell as a result of loss of values and basic norms in the society (Heuvel, 2014). The criminal justice system focuses on punishing the criminals as opposed to assisting in reformation. This breeds a group of return criminals who go through prison and then get back to their old ways.
An effective justice system is one that succeeds in changing the behavior of a criminal. In this case, concentrating on behavioral reforms as opposed to punishing offenders is essential in achieving success. Law enforcers and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system should understand why people commit crime in order to counter this social vise. The motivation to commit a crime is based on various theories. For instance, an individual may indulge in crime because of lack of moral upbringing, which shapes one’s life at a young age. Various pressures of life and the need to acquire wealth could also force people into crime (Minor, 2007). The main theories which explain why people commit crime include anomie/strain theories, social bond theory and routine activity theories as discussed in this paper.
Anomie and Strain theory
The anomie/strain theory states that the community and social structures, beliefs and norms shape an individual’s behavior. All people have similar views and ambitions in life. However, the society presents diverse opportunities and hindrances. Some people are favored by situations while others are disadvantaged and fail to achieve their economic goals. This makes them frustrated and angry to the point of losing hope. This is referred to as a point of strain, and the individuals at this stage are easily swayed into engaging in acts of crime. Unlike other theories, the anomie and strain argue the internal factors and motivation does not contribute to criminal activities but the motive or decision to commit a crime is shaped by the society. The structures in a social setting force people to engage in criminal activities by exacting the pressures of life to the point of strain (Minor, 2007).
The two theories are related because they explain the same concept but differ in their approach and subject matter. Anomie theory explains why some societies have more cases of crime than others. On the other hand, the strain theory has a more micro effect as it focus more on the issues affecting individuals and how the same contribute to crime. The society today has changed, and people are more concerned with gaining economic power to the extent of ignoring the basic social norms. The dynamic and busy world today has given room to a society with fewer regulations whereby people strive to acquire wealth under any means resulting to crime. For instance in the united states of America and other major economies, achievement in life is measured in monetary terms making everyone focus on increasing his or her income. This scramble has resulted into a degraded society with no moral background. Children are not shaped well to face societal challenges as they spend less time with their parents forcing them to engage in unlawful activities such as drug abuse.
One thing that is shared by all people across difference social structures and classes is the urge to succeed in life. However, there are limited resources and opportunities in life which creates a ‘struggle for the fittest’ setting where people compete for the few available opportunities. At the same time, the low class in the society is locked out and is not able to effectively compete. Basic social amenities, as well as formal education, are also not accessible to all. The environment created by having limited opportunities and high levels of poverty brings about the culture of anomie where people ignore social norms and laws.
In order to change the current challenges facing the criminal justice system, focus needs to shift from gauging achievement in terms of economic gains to other aspects of life such honesty, innovation and service to mankind. The focus should shift from acquiring wealth to good morals and changing the living standards of other members of the society. Values and norms should be the guiding principles of the social structures in the community. The main social institutions which include economy, family, political governance and education should be balanced to ensure that individuals have a strong foundation in life. These four institutions contribute greatly in shaping an individual’s life and should be empowered more through good governance. For instance, the family offers support in life as well as basic education at the tender age. If empowered, it will ensure that positive values are instilled to help individuals make informed decisions in life. Education should also be accessible across social classes to enable people tackle life related challenges. This should be achieved by ensuring the economy is stable and through proper governance by political structures.
Social bond theory
The social bond theory states that people’s decision to engage in criminal activities is influenced by the connection that exists between them and the society. The self-restraints originate from the social connection which is paramount in strengthening the control and prevent crime. This idea was developed Travis Hirschi, and it brings out the use of three main perspectives of theories about crime namely; cultural deviance, social control and strain (Siegel, 2009). The three perspectives are different and are tested independently in order to understand their contribution to criminology. He however, downplayed the effects of strain and cultural deviance in preventing crime and concentrated more on the social bond arguing that the decision to commit crime is mainly based on the bond between an individual and the society in which they live in. This theory is divided into four elements; attachment, commitment, involvement, and beliefs.
The element of attachment emphasizes on the aspect of indirect control over an individual’s life through psychological presence brought about by the connection with the social structures of the society. The first connection is through emotions especially with one’s family which plays a major role in incorporating an individual into the society. This theory focuses more on the relationship between members of the society and the act of sensitivity and respect of other people’s views. The family bond is crucial in shaping people’s behavior in the society. When the attachment is strong, the possibility of indulging in crime is reduced. The bond helps people make informed decisions when faced by the push and pull factors of engaging in criminal activities.
The element can be easily incorporated into the criminal justice system as it mainly acts on safeguarding the interests and views of other people. This is mainly in terms of how an individual relate with his neighbors. Concern over the other person is essential, and if these values are instilled in people’s lives at a tender age, crime could be prevented. Currently, the justice system is more concerned on punishing criminals as opposed to preventing crime. If they are taught from childhood to respect other people and their property, they could not engage in crime. For instance, if an arsonist or a rapist took time to think about the effects of their actions on the victim’s life and that of their families, they would refrain from committing such acts. These values should also guide those in a system to treat suspects well as it affects their attitude to change.
The other element of the social bond theory is commitment which brings out an aspect of rational thinking on whether to commit crime or not. This is imperative because an individual is able to understand and consider the contribution of the society in shaping the behavior of its people. They are, therefore, responsible for the loss of morals. In addition, commitment involves attachment to conformity and refrains from engaging in crime by evaluating the consequences versus the benefits. This element also creates the fear of committing a crime as well as the fear of losing the benefits of a society that is free from crime. It prevents people from committing a crime as they take time to reflect on their current society as well as the social structures they will develop by indulging in crime. Although a crime comes from within, the society is influential in shaping one’s life and behaviors as portrayed by this theory.
The criminal justice system should shift its focus to crime prevention through psychological development and nurturing of good morals at a tender age. It is essential for members of the society to understand the benefits of a crime free society in comparison to the costs of crime. This should be taught from the very basic family union as well as formal schools and other institutions in the society because the effects of crime are felt by everyone regardless of whether they follow the laws or not. Weeding out criminals should be a collective responsibility with the main focus being prevention rather that punishment. Too much focus on punishment creates a negative attitude and could end up breeding a group of rebellious individuals who commit crime just to hit back at the system.
The social bond theory also stresses on involvement of members of the society. Be it to their individual activities or those of the community, individual involvement is crucial in preventing crime. As it is stated, an “idle mind is the devils workshop," when people are less involved they become susceptible to being lured into criminal activities. The society keeps its members involved and encourages them to manage time properly. Encouraging people and keeping them busy also prevents other negative aspects in life such as frustrations and strain that could lead to involvement in crime. Involvement plays a major role in maintaining and strengthening the bond between members of the society which in turn affects commitment and attachment.
Effective crime prevention can be achieved when people, especially the youths are kept engaged in various social activities. This limits the chances of engaging in criminal activities because the little time available is used for constructive activities. One way of engaging the youths is through strengthening the basic social structures and institutions such as a family and the education sector. These two institutions teach individuals how to face life and in the process keep them involved. Involvement should also be incorporated in the corrective institutions like the prisons to ensure rapid reforms. The government should formulate policies that encourage the creation of opportunities for young people to keep them involved.
The fourth element of the social bond aspect is the belief. This is where individuals have respect for their society and its set rules or norms. It is this respect and faith that ensures that the theory succeeds. The variation into the level of belief in the societies set laws is directly proportional to the crime. This means that when the level of belief diminishes there is a higher possibility that acts of crime will increase. The society should always strive to make its members believe in its structures as the world and life related issues are becoming more dynamic to the extent of affecting the family and social setting. Issues of enlightenment could affect the level of belief in the society and in turn provide a loophole for crime to take place.
Strong belief and faith in the criminal justice system is the first step towards winning the fight against crime. The justice system should have strong structures that ensure cases of crime are handled in the right manner. It should also avoid any incidents that compromise its credibility as well as focus on the mission of reforming other that punishing. Proper investigations should be done to ensure that people are not convicted for crimes they did not commit. The social norms should not only be applied on the criminals but also the justice system should use them together with the law. For instance, issues of plea bargaining should be handled properly to prevent rogue prosecutors from convincing innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. The correctional facilities, on the other hand should be properly developed to ensure that convicts live in humane conditions.
Routine activity theory
The application of routine activity theory is another method that can play a crucial role in preventing crimes. As opposed to anomie, strain and social bond theories, the routine activity was derived as a way of understanding the actual drives of crime rather than the social perspectives of what motivates the perpetrators. In other words, routine activity theory focuses on how daily activities stimulate the occurrence of crime and how they can be altered to prevent such acts. Since its development, the routine activity theory has played an important role in preventing the crime by applying the three elements of the theory. These include a motivated offender, an accessible victim and availability of a guardian (Einstadter & Henry, 2006).
Developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson, routine activity theory sought to focus on the normal activities that happen on a daily basis. The authors stated that these activities contribute to crime as long as there is a motivated criminal who needs something from the victim. This trend, as Cohen and Felson stated, is overlooked in the preceding theories and criminal justice research studies. The theory can be used to prevent crime by focusing on occurrences of the previous acts in terms of the time, place and circumstances surrounding the act, rather than focusing on the social factors that motivate a perpetrator into committing a crime. As the authors argue, altering the circumstances that stimulate the occurrence of the crime is the most effective way of preventing the actual act. Since its development, research has been conducted as a way of determining the validity of the theory. The theory has also been applied in tracking complex criminal operations such as narcotics and serials killings.
The application of the routine activity theory focuses on ways of altering the elements surrounding the criminal act. It states that for a crime to take place, there are three crucial elements that must come together in a given place and time. The elements include an accessible target, a motivated and willing offender and the absence of a guardian who could deter the crime from taking place. A motivated criminal plans and executes the act by monitoring the routine activities of a targeted victim. Such a person is likely to execute the act when the target is accessible, and there are no available guardians to deter. The target could be in form of a person, an item, a household or any place that is accessible, has value, visible and inertia for the criminal’s objective. A guardian, on the other hand, includes human elements such as the police, a security guard, neighbors and friends, home owners, and passersby. It could also involve gadgets such as alarm systems and CCTVs with an indirect person monitoring the cameras all the times.
As a way of preventing the occurrence of predatory crimes caused by routine activities, two methods which involve altering the elements of accessible victim and guardian are applicable. However, the third element is hard to identify and manipulate. Changing or altering the routine activities is one way that could help in preventing the crime. This includes, for instance, changing the routes used to travel to school or workplace, or the means of transport among other factors. Also walking in groups could alter the possibility of a criminal to strike. Other than alterations, making the daily activities unknown or unpredictable to potential crimes could help in reducing criminal acts. For instance, the current use of social media has made people vulnerable to potential crimes by updating every move. Instances such as updating that someone has traveled give the burglar an opportunity to break into a house especially if there is no guardian present. Other activities such as posting pictures of valuable items on social sites make people vulnerable to frauds and thefts.
The theory states that the criminal justice considers police patrols and security guards as the most suitable guardians to prevent the occurrence of a crime. Routine activity theory, on the other hand insists on the importance of considering any other willing person as a potential guardian provided the fact that they could alter the motive of the criminal. For instance, presence of a neighbor could prevent a potential criminal from breaking into a house and stealing an accessible gadget for the fear of being identified and subsequently arrested. In addition, a stalker is more likely to attack a lone walker than a person walking in a crowded place. Therefore, ensuring that there is always an available guardian could help in preventing crimes such as burglary, rape, assault among other acts.
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