How can we best define crime? Discuss.
The Oxford English dictionary defines crime as “an act punishable by law, as being forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare, an evil act; an offence, a sin, -an act can only be considered a crime when identified as such by law. An act was defined a crime in the old testament with the creation of the Ten Commandments. This was when it was literally set into stone that numerous acts became a crime against God, the first rules of the world. Crimes are now defined as crimes with the help of the legal system and certain pieces of legislature and cannot always necessarily be traced back to the Ten Commandments. Crime now has abundant definitions, the most obvious being crime as criminal law violation. The Hg Worldwide Legal Directories website delineates criminal law as encompassing, ‘the rules and statutes written by Congress and state legislators dealing with any criminal activity that causes harm to the general public, with penalties.’ Therefore to violate criminal law, the individual would be engaging in behaviour that is prohibited by the criminal law. However it has recently become extremely difficult to determine what is now perceived as a crime. Crime has no universal or objective existence but is relative to the subjective contingencies of social and historical circumstance, this is crime as historical intervention. For example, causing death of another individual, whether by neglect or with full intention is a crime, however it is almost justifiable and on many occasions heroic when practised in warfare. This is reiterated with the recent poaching ban, poaching only became criminalised through the convergence of new class and power interests in the 18th Century. James Treadwell argues this point as a criminologist and indicates that specific acts that were once socially acceptable are now becoming criminalised, ‘crime is not static or fixed, it constantly changes. Things that once were not criminalised become so, such as paedophiles ‘grooming’ victims on the internet. . .similarly, activities, which were illegal, may become legal, such as consenting homosexual behaviour between men’. These arguments make it hard to define what crime is as the ‘rules’ of crime are ever-changing. The BBC published an online article that illustrates the extent to which crime is uneasily defined, ‘a hundred years ago you could buy opium and cocaine over the counter at Harrods. Acts which are perfectly legal here may be serious crimes in other countries and vice versa.’ To help us understand what makes a crime a crime, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist introduced to the idea of positivism, the social reaction to classicism. Classicism is the theory that the punishment for a crime should reflect the severity of said crime. This concept was developed during the transition from feudalism to capitalism and is a strong believer that each individual chooses whether to commit a crime or not as every person is raised in society that outlines the difference between right and wrong. The criticism for this concept is argued that at what age do you become criminally responsible, for example the horrific act of the two young boys that committed a severe crime when kidnapping and torturing Jamie Bulger. The boys were eleven at the time, therefore as children they unfortunately served half the period of time that an adult would have if they had committed this crime due to the legal system believing they were not fully responsible as they had been raised in broken homes. The contrasting theory to this is that of Positivism, the scientific approach to crime. This concept developed by Lombroso attempts to look at the genetic or biological explanation for a criminal gene. This concept is harshly criticised as many members of the public deem this as treating criminality as an illness. Lombroso published a book in which he makes sever references to the concept of positivism and argues that...
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