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Why Do Criminals Commit Crime?

Understanding the relationships between biology, family, labor markets, economy and community, and how these forces intertwine with criminal conduct, has been perplexing scholars for decades.   As a result of rigorous study, we tend to have a much wider base of knowledge regarding the patterns and causes of criminal activity on an individual level, than we know about factors that create criminal environments. In as much, we also possess a great deal more insight regarding the factors that create criminal environments than we know about factors that influence trends in crime longitudinally.  Regardless, there appears to be no single theory as to what causes an individual to participate in deviant behavior.

The law and the legal system in general set forth technical standards and expectations that represent an official normative source for defining what is deviant; it is, by definition, legitimate (Mastrofski, Snipes, Parks, & Maxwell, 2000). Throughout one’s lifetime, at some point, most people will commit a crime of some sort.  It can be something as serious as a murder, or something as innocuous as violating the speed limit or littering. Additionally, some teenagers in their youthful indiscretion, tend to commit relatively serious crimes but desist in participating in further criminal activity as they transition into adulthood.  This leads one to believe that engaging in criminal activity is not merely a biological inadequacy or a genetic flaw, but a temporary manifestation fostered by a wide array of available life choices and environmental influences. The task of criminological study in the future will be to further define those life-course influences that shape our being and influence our behavior to participate in criminal activity.  That will be no easy task because all human beings are different, and their life experiences and exposure to criminal deviance will vary greatly.

One thing is certain.  The factors that cause one individual to participate in deviant behavior may not necessarily be the same factors that cause another individual to participate in deviant behavior.  So, one needs to be careful in how he or she defines deviant behavior and crime because as previously stated, crime encompasses everything from littering to murder.  Additionally, one needs to examine the current level of public tolerance towards crime and the age composition of the population.  Research has shown that youthful offenders between the ages of 15-24 commit most crime so one would expect an increase in deviant behavior to correlate directly with the age composition of the population at the time.

The underlying cause of criminal activity and deviant behavior are many, to say the least. American policing has entered a time when reformers have shifted the meaning of the term professionalism from being a snappy bureaucrat to being a well-trained decision maker, acting like a clinician serving clients based on their informed judgment of what they need (Mastrofski, Snipes, Parks, & Maxwell, 2000, p. 314; Bittner, 1970)). The challenge for the criminal justice system will be its ability to be flexible, resilient and adept to change in a quickly evolving society.  Of all the ideas in policing, one stands out as the most powerful force for change: police practices should be based on scientific evidence about what works best (Sherman, 1998, p. 2). In today’s economically distressed times, police departments are required to do more with fewer resources. So, like it or not, it is a huge advantage to have an entire field of research dedicated to the study of what police do, at no cost to them (Engel & Whalen, 2010). The criminal justice system needs to be able to form partnerships with scholars and utilize the wealth of knowledge obtained through research to guide and define their initiatives.  However, researchers need to understand the political environment of police agencies and criminal justice systems, remaining aware that most criminal justice practitioners need quick solutions to their concerns, not something that stems from research conducted that produces a result a decade later.

In any event, inequality, poverty, unemployment, weak social controls, substance abuse, poor parent-child attachment and parental supervision, family factors, influence of peers, increased availability of firearms, public tolerance of crime and inadequate law enforcement will all no doubt have long-term influence over the ability of the criminal justice system to effectively combat criminal activity and deviant behavior.  As such, since it is obvious that deviant behavior is not a result of a single influence or a combined set of influences, it makes no sense to try and force one end-all solution.  In order to truly understand the far-reaching aspects of deviant behavior, it is necessary to observe criminal activity as it unfolds in a dynamic environment (Maguire & Katz, 2002). Varied strategies, including ethnographic research, should emphasize the particular nature of the crime and focus on the formulating options for the time.  Only through the implementation of creative methodologies will the criminal justice system be able to expand their knowledge of the problems they face (Maguire & Katz, 2002).

 

 

References

Bittner, E. (1970). The functions of police in modern society. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Engel, R. S., & Whalen, J. L. (2010, April). Police-academic partnerships: ending the dialogue of the deaf, the Cincinnati experience. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, 11(2), 105-116.

Maguire, E. R., & Katz, C. M. (2002). Community policing, loose coupling, and sensemaking in American police agencies. Justice Quarterly, 19(3), 503-536.

Mastrofski, S. D., Snipes, J. B., Parks, R. B., & Maxwell, C. D. (2000). The helping hand of the law: Police control of citizens on request. Criminology, 38(2), 307-342.

Sherman, L. W. (1998, July). Evidence-based policing. Ideas in American Policing, 1-15.

 

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The Question of Reintegration

In today’s depressed economic environment more and more lawmakers are searching for creative ways to reduce government budgets, yet still, provide the vital services that are necessary to maintain life and safety within our communities.  With incarceration rates growing to over ten times what they were between 1972 and 2008, what has become blatantly obvious, is that we as a society are spending an incredible amount of resources on incarceration and care of prisoners; resources that if used more wisely could not only result in reducing prison population, but could help to reintegrate those released as productive members of society.  Obviously, this option cannot work in all instances, and can only be reserved for the less serious, non-violent offenses.  As such, diversion, reintegration and restorative justice strategies could prove to be an effective means to help gang members establish productive bonds within their communities.

The notion behind the tough-on-crime stance that was so pervasive over the last couple of decades was to lock offenders up and throw away the key.  Any deviation from that thought process and one was considered to be too liberal and lacking the fortitude to treat criminals as criminals.  However, as this generation of mass incarceration trundled along, the residual effect was profound in the disparity in which it impacted the African-American community.  Disproportionate incarceration, poor neighborhoods, and debilitating unemployment proved to be the civil rights trifecta to impact an already persecuted segment of society. Studies have shown that isolated programs such as hot spot crackdowns, recreation programs, or classroom anti-gang instruction sessions are temporary at best and not sufficient in the long term (Linden, 2010).

It is important to understand that only a comprehensive approach to reintegration and restorative justice will truly have a lasting impact on reducing gang crime and recidivism. Gang crime has many different causes and facilitators therefore; the solutions to the problem must also be multi-faceted and involve a combination of prevention, intervention, and suppression programs (Linden, 2010).  Eliminating just one piece of this combined gang crime reduction strategy will jeopardize the success of the remaining pieces, and of the strategy as a whole.  Combined program strategies have the greatest potential to provide lasting reductions in gang crime and hold the greatest potential for reintegrating members into their communities. In this essential mix, suppression in the form of hot spot patrols and aggressive enforcement can reduce existing street gang crime, while prevention programs such as G.R.E.A.T., reduce the number of potential gang recruits.  As the final piece, intervention strategies help gang members to exit gangs and to avoid gangs after being released from prison (Linden, 2010).  An effective, well-planned and uncomplicated comprehensive reduction program can make the difference between resounding success and miserable failure.

Repeated studies have indicated that incarceration, whether the offender is youthful or an adult, many times leads to recidivism and re-incarceration.  Prisons and correctional facilities become the training grounds in which gang members can hone their skills by networking with more hardened, seasoned criminals.  Once paroled, these at-risk individuals are socially ostracized and succumb easily to substance abuse, depression and violence resulting from overwhelming despair and an inability to imagine the future (Koffman et al., 2009).  Reintegration strategies, as evidence suggests, helps to reduce the mental trauma and provide the necessary intervention to allow individuals to take control of their lives and chart out their path for the future.  Coping strategies can dramatically increase resilience and help to reduce anti-social behaviors.  Empowerment through training in social and cognitive-behavioral strategies, attention focusing, social skills learning and personal guidance have all proven to improve outcomes (Koffman et al., 2009).

The significance of developing programs that act as correctional interventions, that address the needs of gang members, particularly as it relates to the development of prosocial support networks, is a particularly poignant subject (Huebner, Varano, & Bynum, 2007). Without complete commitment and community support, programs such as these fail due to lack of funding and the unavailability of resources needed to keep the programs operational.

Truly effective reintegration programs should be coupled with community-wide interventions designed to improve neighborhood economies, encourage maintenance of treatment services and develop prosocial support networks (Huebner et al., 2007).

The important aspect of any reintegration, suppression or restorative justice program is the ability to address the needs of individuals on an ongoing basis as they transition from their prison community and re-enter society.  Being able to identify and address behavioral and high-risk behaviors before they reach the tipping point is even better.  However, until we as a society are willing to invest ourselves in understanding that the road to effective deterrence and offending desistance is a long-term proposition, we will continue to provide shallow programs and hollow promises.

 

 

 

References

Huebner, B. M., Varano, S. P., & Bynum, T. S. (2007, April, 27). Gangs, guns, and drugs: recidivism among serious, young offenders. American Society of Criminology, 6(2), 187-222.

Koffman, S., Ray, A., Berg, S., Covington, L., Albarran, N. M., & Vasquez, M. (2009). Impact of a comprehensive whole child intervention and prevention program among youths at risk of gang involvement and other forms of delinquency. National Association of Social Workers, 239-245.

Linden, R. (2010). Comprehensive approaches to address street gangs in Canada [Policy Brief 014]. Manitoba, Canada: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.

 

 

Intellectual Property Disclaimer

  • Users are permitted to read the website and the Information and make copies for their own personal use, for example by printing or storing it. All other use of the website or the information, for example the storage or reproduction of (a part of) the website of Chief Concerns in any external internet site or the creation of links, hypertext links or deep links between the website of Chief Concerns and any other internet site, is prohibited without the express written consent of Chief Jody O’Guinn, Foristell, MO.