The social construction of crime

A key idea in the sociology of crime and deviance is that crime is socially constructed which means that whether an act is criminal or not is determined by social processes. In the case of crime, the introduction of new Acts of Parliament which change the law constantly change the nature of crime.

As a result, there are many things that were not illegal in the past which are criminal and thus illegal now.

A brief timeline of some recent changes to the law illustrate this…

1973 – Motorcycle helmets made compulsory

Before 1973 it was perfectly legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not so from 1973.

(Source)

1991 – rape within marriage made illegal.

Previous to this it was held that men could not rape women within marriage, because the marriage union was equivalent to consensual sex at any time. The illegality of rape within marriage was not formalised until the 2003 sexual offenses act.

Source: The Week

1994 – informally organised Raves made illegal (sort of)

In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was aimed at clamping down on anti-social behaviour. It effectively gave the police new powers to break up raves, or any informally arranged gathering of 100 or more people listening to music involving a series of repetitive beats.

The 1992 Castlemorton rave, the biggest ever informally organised rave in British history, is one of the events that led to the establishment of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Anti-Social Behaviour Act…

NB the act didn’t technically make it illegal for you and your mates to organise a rave, it just makes it easier for the police to break them up, slap an injunction order on you, and then arrest you the next time for breaking the injunction order.

This notorious act also made it easier for the police to break up road protests, move on travellers and arrest hunt saboteurs.

Source:Wiki

2007 – the smoking ban

Made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places such as public transport and bars.

2016 – The Psychoactive Substance Act

In 2016 the selling of so called ‘legal high’s such as Spice was made illegal through the  the psychoactive substance act

Acts restricting (or allowing) the use of psychoactive substances are useful examples in themselves to illustrate how ‘crime’ is socially constructed. While the UK has been toughening up its drug laws increasing numbers of states in America have been making the growing and sale of cannabis legal.

2020 – parents to be banned from smacking children in Wales (probably )

Smacking your children isn’t illegal in England, at least as long as you don’t leave any physical signs of bruising on them, but there is currently an act going through the Welsh parliament that aims to ban the physical punishment of children by parents outright. It looks set to pass at some point in near future.

Putting it all together…

So in 1972 you could have drunk a couple of pints in the pub while smoking (in the pub), organised an attended a quick Rave with your mates with all of you high on Spice (or whatever so called ‘legal highs’ existed in 1972), ridden back home on your bike without your helmet on (assuming you were within the drink driving limits) and then forced yourself on your wife without her explicit consent, and non of that would have been illegal, thus you would have committed no crime.

At out the same scenario today and you’d be breaking multiple laws and looking at a lengthy jail term.

NB this post makes no judgement about the morality of any of the above acts or laws, it’s merely to highlight the extent to which crime is socially constructed.

Further info/ find out more…

Drug timeline UK https://www.theweek.co.uk/65464/when-was-cannabis-made-illegal-in-the-uk

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Why has Police Recorded Crime Doubled in Three Years?

The number of violent crimes and sex offences recorded by police in England and Wales have more than doubled in the last four years.

violent_crime_statistics

This is an excellent article by the BBC summarising this trend, with a pretty shocking embedded video in which reporters witness two serious crimes: one ‘moped mugging’ and another just ‘regular’ attempted mugging in a park.

The latest police figures for the 12 months to September from 44 forces show:

  • 68,968 robbery offences, up 29%
  • 138,045 sex offences, up 23%
  • 37,443 knife crime offences, up 21%
  • 1,291,405 violent crime offences, up 20%

However the ONS says higher-harm violent offences, such as knife crime occur in relatively low volumes, and also tend to be concentrated in cities and are therefore not “well-measured” by the Crime Survey.

Analysis (from the BBC)

Although there’s likely to be a dispute about the accuracy of the police crime figures because they hinge, to some extent, on the way forces log offences, how pro-active they are and the willingness of victims to come forward, they clearly demonstrate a rapidly rising caseload.

At the same time, the number of police officers has continued to fall: in the 12 months to last September, down 930 to 121,929. That combination – rising crime, declining police numbers – is creating enormous strain for forces.

Applying Perspectives to explain this increase in crime:

From Right Realist perspective, this increase crime will be a direct result of the declining police numbers, although the decline is so small, it probably doesn’t explain that much of the decrease.

From a Left Realist perspective, it could be due to increasing levels of marginalisation and relative deprivation (more likely?)

I think we can rule out postmodernism in the above cases – I don’t think (I might be wrong) that serious violent and sexual offences are done for the ‘thrill of the act’ – I’m fairly sure criminals don’t enjoy mugging people, for example.

From an Interactionist point of view, this increase in Police Recorded Crime (NB not reflected in the CSEW) is just an artefact of more people reporting crime – so there’s not necessarily a corresponding underlying increase.

What do you think the reasons are for the increase in the amount of violent crime recorded by the police in recent years?

 

 

Is the Surge in Hate Crime just due to an Increase in Reporting?

Has there been an increase in hate crime since Brexit?

The Number of hate crimes reported to the police in England and Wales between 2012-13 and 2016-17 jumped by 90%, but is this because of an actual, underlying increase in hate crime incidents (or the seriousness of incidents that would warrant reporting), or is it just because people are now more likely to report ‘hate crimes’, maybe having interpreted something as a hate crime when, in fact, it wasn’t.

There is some evidence that suggests ‘misinterpreting’ or ‘over-reporting might be the case – court convictions in 2016 were lower than in 2010.

Possible increases for the increase in reporting are as follows:

  • The authorities actively encourage it
  • incidents can be registered anonymously
  • The victim or witness to a crime only has to interpret a crime as being racially motivated (for example) for it to be classed as a hate crime.
  • No evidence is needed to back up the reporting of the hate crime to get it recorded.

So it might just be, that there has not been an increase in hate crime at all, this could just be a complete social construction.

In fact, this ‘increase’ might be harmful – in that it suggests that we are more divided than we actually are!

Sources

The Week, 16 December 2017.

BBC Article 

 

The Criminals in the House of Lords

Lord Bassam, Labour’s soon to be chief whip in the House of Lords has just agreed to repay £41 000 in expenses. The peer claimed a remarkable £260 000 over seven years to cover the cost of his accommodation in London, despite the fact that during that time, he commuted daily to his accommodation in London, a trip for which he claimed an additional £41 000 in travel expenses.

Elite Crime.png

It might appear that logic would dictate that one of these must be a Fraudulent claim, a fraud committed against the UK taxpayer who pays these expenses, given that you can’t do both at the same time!

However, no sanctions or prosecutions were brought against Lord Bassam, because peers of Lord Bassam do not define his actions as a Fraud, just a ‘breach of the rules’.

Imagine if this had been someone in work claiming benefits – it’s pretty much the same thing! It’s a fraud against the UK taxpayer – the state would have taken action action against such a person.

This is a great illustration not only of how crime is socially constructed, but also yet more supporting evidence for the Marxist view of crime – in this case that ‘fraud’ is only ‘fraud’ when it’s being ‘committed’ by the poor.

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Bassam is far from the only only criminal peer: a recent study identified 16 ‘silent’ peers who had collectively claimed about £400 000 in expenses and daily allowances, over a year in which they had made no contribution whatsoever to debate.

 

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/lord-bassam-of-brighton/3504/register-of-interests

News Values

News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).

The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.

The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)

News Values

Galtung and Rouge did uncover more news values, the list below is just a selection of the most ‘dramatic’:

Extraordinariness – rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.

Threshold – the ‘bigger’ the size of the event, the more likely it is to be reported.

News values London Riots
The London Riots were the largest act of mass criminality in a generation

 

Unambiguity – the simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.

Reference to elite persons – events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy.

Reference to elite nations – events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.

News Values September 11th
S11 – Would a similar disaster in Africa have dominated the U.K. headlines for so long?

Personalisation – if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.

Negativity – bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.

grenfell tower fire news values
Negative events are more likely to make the news

 

According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.

There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!

Sources

(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.