Outline and assess the view that the official crime statistics tell us more about the people involved in their collection than they tell us about crime and criminals [60 marks]
Positivists believe that the official crime statistics (OSC) tell us about the crime & criminality and are very valuable. However, Intrepretivists would disagree and would criticise the OCS as they are socially constructed. They argue that the OCS lack reliability and therefore validity because it tells us more about the people involved in their collection eg, the general public, the victims of crime, the mass media, the police and the courts. The OCS tells us more about police stereotypes and prejudices, judges and jurors, the role of the media, and their views than about actual crime and criminality. Also, Marxists disagree with the OCS as they tell us more about the ruling classes and the powerful controllers of society.
The government collects information about crime via the OCS. The crimes are based on crimes reported by victims and the general public which have been recorded by the police, crimes detected and ‘cleared up’ by the police, and crimes reported to the British Crime Survey (BCS) in their annual victims survey. Positivist Sociologist believe that the OCS is useful because it gives an insight to the extent of crime eg, whether it is increasing or decreasing. The OCS also gives insight to who commit’s the crimes eg, usually 16 -21 year old working class, African Caribbean male. Positivists feel that the OCS helps explain why certain groups of people commit crime. The OCS produces quantitative data, which is often favoured by positivists. The OCS are used to establish trends and patterns in criminal activity eg, the capacity of crime and whether it is increasing/decreasing and the nature of crimes eg, violence or property related. Criminologist Reiner (2007) suggests that there are three distinct periods in time that are defined by the trend in criminal behaviour. For example, in period one (late 1950’s-1980) there was a rapid rise in recorded crime. In period two (1980’s-1992) there was a crime explosion. And in period three (1992 onwards) there was a fall in crime but a raise in fear.
Intrepretivists criticise positivism and therefore the OCS, as they question the reliability and validity of the OCS. They believe that the OCS is socially constructed, and tell us more about the groups involved in their collection then they do about crime and criminality so do not measure proper crime. Intrepretivists also talk about the dark figure of crime, particularly the Iceberg Theory, which explains how UK crime is made up of approximately 30% of crime we know about and huge 70% of crime we don’t know about eg, unrecorded crime. Pilkington helps to elaborate on how the OCS lacks validity and reliability, as he says that the OCS doesn’t include all crimes because minor offences are dealt with by the Inland Revenue. The use of self report studies is also criticised, as they refer to past illegal activities through a self completion questionnaire that is confidential and anonymous. However, these reports rely on memory, which can be hazy, making it low in validity and reliability. Sociologist Pilkington notes that the OCS doesn’t include all crimes. Minor crimes are dealt with by the Inland Revenue, which lowers validity and reliability. Also, some crimes do not even reach the OCS eg; institutions punish their own offenders so that the crime doesn’t reach the police. This is done as so because the institutions do not want the bad publicity. This results in the crimes not being reported or recorded. The changes in law also make it difficult for the OCS to be seen as a valid reliable source. For example, prior to 1991, marital rape wasn’t a crime. So now that marital rape is illegal, and is therefore being reported as a crime, the rape figures seem to have increased when in fact there has been a change in law.
It is argued that the OCS tells...
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