Core Issues in Crime and Punishment

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Jimmy Boyle's autobiography A Sense of Freedom (1977) gives a very interesting and honest insight into his life of crime and incarceration. The autobiography, written from inside prison, is according to Boyle an attempt to warn young people that there is not anything glamorous about crime and violence. It gives a full narration of his life from a very young age, with a detailed insight into his childhood, experiences of petty crime, approved schools and borstal, right through to his adult experiences of more serious crime, violence and adult prisons, including his interpretation of the Penal System. Reading this autobiography I aimed to remain detached from the author and seek to create an independent analysis of his criminality. The definition of ‘autobiography' according to AskOxford (2010) is ‘an account of a person's life written by that person'; this suggests that in analysing the author's criminality throughout the book one should not forget that it is written from the author's perspective and memory and should not be taken purely on face value. With this in mind I intend to apply criminological theories to Boyle's autobiography with an aim to distinguish which criminological theory most effectively seeks to explain his criminality. Moreover, in doing this I expect to illuminate the criticisms involved within these theories.

Crime can be defined as ‘an act or deed, which is against the law' (Chambers 1998:145). Over the past few centuries there have been numerous theories try to explain why crime is committed and the answers to this question are still quite sceptical. I intend to consider the key principles of Rational Choice Theory and how convincing it is in explaining Boyle's criminality. Rational Choice Theory is part of a contemporary Classical approach in explaining crime. In order to explain this theory it is important firstly to look into the Classical approach.

Classicism is the eldest of these two theories that seeks to explain criminality. It emerged at a time when the naturalistic approach of the social contract theorists was challenging the previously dominant spiritualist approach to explaining crime and criminal behaviour (Burke, 2005:24). It rests on the assumption of free will and suggests that criminal activity is the result of rational choice and of the hedonistic impulses of the individual (Newburn, 2007:114). It was the two key Classical school theorists Baccaria and Bentham who in the late eighteenth century established the essential components of the Rational Actor model. It suggests that crime is the product of evil and people commit crime through choice because they are simply ‘bad' (Newburn, 2007:114). A key principle of the classicist approach is to state the law clearly to the public and punishment should be predictable in order to create deterrence against crime. Baccaria considered that criminals owe a debt to society and proposed that punishments should be fixed strictly in proportion to the seriousness of the crime. According to Baccaria human behaviour is essentially based on the pleasure pain principle, therefore punishment should reflect that principle and all that are guilty of a particular offence should suffer the same penalty (Burke, 2005:25).

Rational Choice theory derives from this same school of thought as Classicism. It emerged during the 1980s with the notion that ‘nothing works', influenced by the Bentham and the economic utility model. Likewise to Classicism it bases its structure on simple deterrence and retribution principles and also shares the same assumptions that offenders are essentially rationally calculating actors (Newburn, 2007:280). It suggests that offenders make a cost-benefit-calculation as whether to commit the crime. If the benefit (e.g. money) out weighs the cost (e.g. prosecution if caught) then it is likely that they will take the risk and commit the offence. Becker (1968, cited in Newburn, 2007) argued...
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