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Crime linked to social conditions

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Crime has definitely escalated to unprecedented and uncontrolled proportions and is now being regarded as an intrinsic part of our social life. It is daily destroying the moral, religious and physical aspect of our wonderful cosmopolitan population whom many would acquiesce are now living in great fear and discomfort.


But what are the underlying and primary factors that are deeply responsible for the high spate of crime? Many would contend that the inability of the Government to implement policies and programmes and the constant lack of basic needs or daily living are quite justified, while others may say that it is the inevitable product of certain psychological, physiological or economic conditions.



Some criminologists have conceived the idea that man is not driven to crime because he is poor, but generally because he passes rapidly from a state of comfort to one of misery. In my view, however, crime is attributed to the significant reflection of the varied social conditions under which we survive.


The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.



Prof William Adrian Bonger, a Dutch criminologist of high academic repute wrote: “The fluctuations of the mind of the person in whom the criminal idea is born may be compared to the oscillations of a balance and it is upon sociology that must devolve the task of examining the forces which throw a weight on one side or the other. All the various forms of crime—economics, vengeful, sexual and political—reflected in Bonger’s eyes, the relationship between the classes, the conditions in which they were reared and in which they lived.


Apart from the egotistic tendency of the political system, there were the system’s adverse influences, social and moral, to which individuals were subject in each class of the society. The education and opportunities of the wealthy, the struggle of survival of the middle class, the deprivations of the proletariat, all impelled them towards egoism. Above all, the lower proletariat, subject as it was to many kinds of exploitation, of social and economic neglect, was robbed of all motive for altruistic feelings towards those in power. Bad living and working conditions, unemployment, lack of education, combined to brutalise its members from childhood onwards and it was inevitable that they should commit the greatest mass of offences.


Bonger went on to say that “he who is born with weak social instincts runs more danger of becoming a criminal. But the certainty that he will become such does not exist—that depends on the environment.” To the Marxists, observed that great political philosopher John Plamenatz, “crime flourishes under capitalism because of what capitalism does to human nature.”


So long as social conditions remained unchanged crime rates also would be constant and predictable from year to year. But social conditions have been changing faster and faster and crime rates have increased in time with them. Moreover, though the connection between the swift rhythm of contemporary life and the increase in crime may be subtle and hard to define, there is little doubt that it is real. There is another way, in some respects still more startling, of looking at the degree which crime permeates a society.



Almost everyday the columns of newspapers run stories of robberies, incessant rape, violence, and murder. Even these fail to give anything like a complete picture of the pervasiveness of crime. Further, the available statistics can include at most, only offences known to the police. It has been one of the great merits of 20th century criminology to have turned its searchlights upon what has been called “the dark figure of crime.”


My own view is that the crime fully brought into the open and punished represents no more than 20 per cent of the total. At every stage the total is increased: offences go unnoticed or unreported, offenders go undetected, unprosecuted or unconvicted. Who can say what our attitude towards the criminal—in emotional terms as well as in terms of practical policy—would be if the whole, or at least a large segment of the dark figure were brought to light to the recorded figures?


The growth of the sheer bulk of crime has been accompanied by changes in its proportions. It may even be true to say that new frontiers of crime have been opened up by the affluent sectors of the society. Has contemporary crime assumed a new physiognomy? Let me illustrate eight features which may be regarded as prima facie evidence that it has.


First the growth of the motivation, destruction, hooliganism. Second, certain other kinds of violence. Third, expansion of new forms of stealing, such as automobile thefts and very lucrative robberies. Fourth, a shift towards disintegrated social behaviour and drug consumption. Fifth, a spread of occupational crime, white collar or blue collar criminality, or of illegal conduct by those generally presumed to be law abiding.



Sixth, a stronger contingent of offenders from the middle strata of society as compared with the working classes. Seventh, an increased proportion of crime by the younger and the young adult groups.


Eight, the influx of first offenders and their relatively greater share in crime as compared with recidivists. Can crime be eliminated? Can it even be substantially reduced? Two burning questions we as a people must ask and address ourselves. Just a few years after the star of the 21st century we still see no signs of a turn in tide.


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