The purpose of this study is to understand the perspective that young people have on the causes of crime. Living in a world where we now just accept that crime exists and anyone who commits a crime is simply sentenced, we tend to ignore the main factors of a committed crime. I have used a multi-method technique to examine the causes of crime and its importance on criminal activity as I believe that the government forces often avoid the analysis of why these crimes are committed. The study, from Christopher Blattman of Columbia University and Jeannie Annan from the International Rescue Committee, assesses whether employment can reduce criminal activity. They believe that ‘peaceful work opportunities will deter [high-risk men] from crime and violence.’ This then creates a line of argument that perhaps if more job opportunities were given, potential criminals could turn from this idea to commit crime.
Italian criminologist, Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), theorised that crime was an inborn characteristic, in that, it is in the nature of a person to commit crime, not nurture. Lombroso viewed criminality as an inheritance, and that criminals could be identified by physical attributes such as hawk-like noses and bloodshot eyes. Lombroso found that a criminals’ skull differs: ‘At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal – an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primary humanity and the inferior animals.’ The strengths of Lombroso’s theory were that he examined more than just the crime, instead he examined the criminals’ physical and mental state in which he formed a pattern in criminals, rather than their crimes. However, we may critique Lombroso’s theory as he got most of his work from within prisons, and already existing criminals. This fails to back up his theory as his evidence is based on such a small and specific proportion of people. Perhaps, if Lombroso had done the same research outside of prisons, he would have realised that non-criminals may also hold these characteristics that he labels onto only criminals. On the other hand, the James Bulger case (12th February 1993): ‘two ten-year-old boys abducted two-year-old James Bulger from a shopping centre – two days later he was found battered to death by a railway line’ (Rice and Thomas, 2013) suggests that upbringing plays a huge role in young people’s tendency to perform in criminal activity. At its first account, the public described these two boys as ‘devil boys’ (Daily Mail 23rd January (2010) and believed that they committed such vile crime, simply, because they wanted to. However, it was later investigated and found that both suspects of this crime had parents who had separated, difficulties at school, and were neglected by their parents. So, could their criminal behaviour be a reflection of what they felt as children? Pain.
Criminal activities within young people and their views on the causes of crime have been my key areas of interest in my studies. It is a very broad issue that I found to be both interesting and relatable by many researchers. The causes of crime, as defined by Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), the born criminal, is a very concealed understatement pinned to criminals. Despite many research being made around this theory, there isn’t strong enough evidence to finalise this theory. Further research such as the James Bulger case () indicates that there are other factors which influence criminal behaviour. It is important to draw a clear line between very thin theories and academic based research. I have used in-depth interviews with both criminals and non-criminals, and document analysis as an attempt to explore the true explanation behind the causes of crime, and how young people would explain this.
As the research process involves sensitive topics, ethics plays a huge role in protecting any participants involved in my research. In conducting this research, the ethical process was followed as instructed by City University’s Ethics Committees. Before conducting my research via interviews, each participant was provided with a participant information sheet (see Appendix A). A consent form was also given to all participants to obtain evidenced consensus and created an understanding for the participants of how their data is conducted in my research (see Appendix B). Identifying the sensitivity of the subject, a small conversation was also carried out at the end of each interview to reduce any disconcerting feelings that the participants may have had during the interview.
In order to gather further research on my studies, I have used two main methods: interviews and document analysis as a strategy of getting a more in-depth insight into young people’s views on the causes of crime, and as an act to challenge whether their views suit theorists such as Cesare Lombroso or whether they bring out different interpretations. I conducted interviews at the beginning of my studies in order to form an overview of young people who have both engaged in criminal activity and those who have not to compare what caused those who are ex-criminals to drive them into criminality and why those who are non-criminals felt no need to commit crime. The interviews consisted of simple worded questions to avoid any discomfort to my interviewees but at the same time descriptive enough to gather the right information needed for my studies. Document analysis was then conducted as my second method of research through observing conversations between young students on their views of the causes of crime. This was a successful option for me as here, students were able to speak openly knowing that their identity was completely hidden and that nobody could judge or question their views. Therefore, these accounts were very unbiased and true to own thoughts and feelings. Being interviewed for instance, may cause the interviewee(s) to change their views or opinions on a subject simply due to the fear of being judged or getting themselves into an uncomfortable situation.
Data collected from my interviews and document analysis were transcribed and analysed in order to form any patterns, themes, relationships, sequences and differences within each conducted form of research. I used thematic analysis in order to code my data into two different themes: criminals’ thoughts towards the causes of crime and non-criminal interpretations of the causes of crime. The purpose of this style of analysis was to gather a general representation of the data and to then be able to form reliable interpretations from it. From my interpretations, there was three main themes on the causes of crime: upbringing, the born criminal and the police not doing enough for the community. Gary, my first interviewee struck me to be the most interesting interview to transcribe into my studies as he strongly states ‘We would always talk about imagine being suited up and working at a 9-5 job right now but that’s not what life had planned out for us.’ Such a powerful phrase created this line of argument that, if families brought up their children in caring and loving environments, this is what the children would reflect back in their lives. In other words, children grow up mirroring what they see from their family. Therefore, those who have been neglected, abandoned or abused by their families enforce these same actions later in their lives and believe that this is the direction that their families pushed them into. This idea is consistent with suggestions from other young students who believe ‘lone parent families = child more likely to commit crime. There are plenty of studies that actually look in detail at this area, and the consensus is clear – the absence of a farther in particular, leads to a statistically significant increase in the chance of the child participating in criminal activity’ (The Student Room, 2018).
The second theme being ‘the born criminal’ emerged very early on from criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) in which his theory was clearly outdated by more in-depth answers and research as to why people are driven towards criminal activity. Science now proves that criminality cannot be simplified to an inherited characteristic. In further exploring, the third theme emerges from the idea that the police/government forces are not doing enough to prevent crimes in which young people think, why not commit a crime, we won’t get caught anyway. Conducted from The Student Room, a young student argues: ‘liberal idiot politicians like Theresa May or Sajid Javid are more than happy for hundreds of poor people to be stabbed to death to prove how tolerant and inclusive they are, whilst they live in gated communities.’ This strong argument builds on the idea that young people view the government to be protecting only themselves away from crimes that affect them and turn a blind eye to the crimes that are affecting the wider society. Additionally, students seemed to believe that the police only stop and search specific race and gendered youngsters, meaning that they are letting many other criminals walk by them simple because, they do not look like criminals. The question is: what does a criminal even look like? If Cesare Lombroso’s theory is argued to be so thin, why do police officers still enforce this idea of identifying a criminal based on their looks?
From my studies, I come to the conclusion that the main theme of the causes of criminal activity comes from upbringing. This is because children are more likely to be pushed into this kind of behaviour due to a lack of family support more than the idea to commit a crime simply because they believe they may get away with it. Difficult circumstances definitely play a huge role in the commitment to criminal activity as it is those situations that challenge the human mind into doing things.