Perceptions of Crime in the Society


Every society has behavioural tolerance limits beyond which the individual is considered deviant. Deviancy may also include criminal activities that are punished through legal systems. People strive to live in harmony with each other and assured of quality security by their nations. Several scholars have advanced different theories to explain the presence of criminal activities in society. However, there exist conflicts in their explanations making crime an ambiguous activity. As a result, people have developed various perceptions of crime as is evident in this essay.


Crime refers to all activities that go against legal requirements in a given society. Nations have devised ways of regulating human behaviour by formulating policies that govern individual acts. Even though, laws vary depending on states they have many similarities (Copes, 2009). This explains the reasons why most states have similar laws governing various human aspects. It is crucial to note that while most criminal activities are detested in many countries some of them are not criminalised in few countries. For instance, smoking bhang and using other drugs like heroin is a criminal offence in many countries. However, some countries do not prohibit the use of these drugs.

Background Information

The origin of criminal activities dates back to the beginning of the world as is evident in many religious doctrines. It is necessary to mention that most legal requirements derive their origins from these religious teachings. In addition, cultures, taboos and traditions form an integral part of the law. Taboos that forbid incest are incorporated in national legal systems (Copes 2009). Therefore, an individual committing incest does not only break a taboo, but also goes against the laws of most nations. However, some occasions cause conflicts between legal and traditional issues. This includes wife and property inheritance.

In most developing countries, wife inheritance is a common cultural practice. In addition, most communities do not allow women to inherit their parents’ property (Akers 2008). Although, these communities uphold these aspects, they are contrary to the laws of many countries; therefore, they are criminal activities. On the other hand, criminal activities refer to acts that go against the society’s expectations. These acts may be actions and utterances of omission and commission. This essay will cover three scholars who made efforts to explain the prevalence of criminal activities.

Bio-Anatomical Theory by Cesare Lombroso

Lombroso took his time to study criminals in a rehabilitation facility and came up with various observations, mainly based on criminal appearances that he believed were responsible for causing criminal intents. He observed seven thousand criminals serving various prison sentences in European nations (Lilly, 2010). According to him, most criminals share a lot of physical characteristics that make them resemble. He argued that these characteristics are responsible for causing people to have tendencies to commit crimes. He further noted that these traits are determined by genes responsible for physical appearances. Common characteristics included exposed cheekbones that give them an ape like facial appearance, protruded foreheads giving them a box head appearance (Farrington, 2008), rabbit ears due to their tendencies to eavesdrop, red and sunken eyes with orbits that seemed larger than usual because they were always on the lookout for law enforcers (Farrington, 2008). Moreover, they have massive physiques with broad shoulders. This is to their advantage as it scares their victims. Additionally, they like instilling fear in their victims to get their way to what they want. Lombroso had enough evidence to argue that even those criminals born with small physiques struggle their way getting broad shoulders through exercising or using muscle enlargement drugs. He presented two arguments that support his arguments. These included the presence of chromosomes that determine the physique of criminals.

Lastly, he argued that short people are likely to be deviant in order to attract public attention. Lombroso’s theory was fundamental in isolating perennial criminals from the first time offenders. The criteria adopted to identify criminals amongst various institutions played key roles in shaping the justice system. During his time, workers’ strikes were hijacked by criminals and resulted in vandalism and injuries. After close observations authorities identified criminals amongst workers using these characteristics. There were considerable efforts to apprehend criminals from public demonstrations.

Additionally, he argued that these people rarely feel pain regardless of the injury since their only worry is death. This explains why most criminals have scars on their bodies due to repeated mob justice. No matter how merciless they are beaten by crowds they never learn any lesson and thus continue committing crimes. Moreover, Lombroso argued that the only way these people live to old age is through life imprisonment. However, if they are released to the public after serving their sentences most of them are murdered through mob justice or police shoot outs.

Today’s criminal justice systems use similar approaches to identify wanted criminals. Most posters, notices and public requests to identify criminals prove Lombroso’s argument as credible. Recent photographs of criminals wanted for terrorist activities have a resemblance to Lombroso’s descriptions. Therefore, he is credited with providing guidance to past and present criminal justice systems. There is no doubt that most criminals in correctional facilities have the characteristics described by Lombroso. He further noted that people with these characteristics are hardcore criminals and spend most of their lives in and out of prisons.

Positivism Theory

This theory accepts as true the fact that criminal behavior is as a result of both internal and external influences beyond a person’s control. Positivist Criminology unlike classicism is concerned with scientific evidences. Science in this case can study human behaviour, classify it as either biological or psychological and then make forecasts as to what kind of conduct in terms of actions is expected from a certain person. Science can then come up with relevant suggestions which can try to give an explanation of the way people act. The school of thought in this scenario is such that people tend to behave the way they do because each person is different from another even in terms of their genetic composition.

Additionally, it pursues to paint a picture of the subject in relation to the description of crime, why it is carried out, and most significantly, the principal inspirational reasons behind criminality. In this theory, the school of thought is such that human behavior is in fact inclined toward individual and biological differences. It takes on a more scientific explanation as to how humans behave and why they take on crime. Positivism can be sub-divided into three; biological, psychological and social positivism. Biological positivism was clearly explained by the Bio-Anatomical Theory by Cesare Lombroso. Psychological positivism is based on the fact that criminal behaviour is a result of mental disturbance. He suggested that the cause of criminal behaviour could also stem from a person having a very unstable sense of differentiating right and wrong. This theory also promoted the ideology that unstable homes contributed a lot to promoting criminal behaviour. In such settings either both parents are depicted as not caring about their children or an alternatively not involved at all in the upbringing of their children. As a result, they are not brought up to know right from wrong and are left to their own tendencies which often times means that they will more likely adopt bad mannerisms and scorn good behaviour. Children whose guardians are either not present or care less about the choices they make, tend to resort to criminal tendencies. Some personality types are also more inclined to immoral behaviour than others. (Hans Eysenck, 1987) stated that, “… certain types of personality may be more prone to react with anti-social or criminal behaviour to environmental factors of one kind or another. For criminal behaviour, once a particular personality trait is linked to a certain non-ethic al character, such a person will tend to live a life that is more inclined to associating with criminal activities. This behaviour can only then be rectified after form of treatment is applied that conditions the criminal mind to adopt the right behavioral trends.

Social positivism on the other hand focuses on cultural issues and poverty as origins of criminal minds, stating that criminals in a way feel inferior to the morally upright in society. Modern criminology unlike the 18th century school of thought does not base it facts so much on religion and spirituality. In a criminal situation, the theory of Positivism puts stress on the perpetrator than the crime or the penalty the criminal should serve. As such, it is more concerned with the rehabilitation of the offenders as the nature of punishment is supposed to match the felony committed, unlike classicism which enforces that criminal activities are determined by the law and offenders of the same crime should face the same degree of punishment. With social positivism, factors such as the educational level, how old one was, whether they were female or male, how much their alcohol intake was, all had a bearing on crime. People who had not studied so much were more inclined to get involved in criminal tendencies while people who had studied to a higher level would probably have the sense to engage in a profitable venture. Younger individuals such as adolescents were more likely to fall prey of peer pressure and engage in criminal activities than much older people say in the 30-40 years age bracket. Naturally also, men are more prone to lawless behaviours than their female counterparts. Alcoholism also has a negative impact on most people because it clouds their judgement rendering them almost too weak to fight any felonies that may seem attractive but whose penalties are nothing they would want to suffer.

Cesare Beccaria argues that for effective punishment of crimes that are to be tried in a free and fair judicial system, a disciplinary code should be written s that it is clearly indicated what punishment is due for a particular offence. The measure of influences in such decisions by the law enforcement personnel should also be limited such that they do not surpass their powers an end up bringing injustice to the system. Today the idea of human beings being free to make choices on their actions is still relevant and as such they deserve to be punished for doing wrong. The punishment however should inflict just enough pain to discourage them from repeating the same crime.

Utilitarianism Theory by Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham was a human rights activist and advocated for equality in social, political and economic aspects. He proposed that utility is the value individual obtains from doing something. He noted that all human activities are motivated by pain and pleasure. People do things to make them happy or evade predictable calamities. He considered pain an unpleasant feeling that motiveless people to do various things. He argued that people have rights to do what makes them happy and satisfy their needs.

According to him, all laws should aim at providing happiness to the majority of the population while respecting the needs of minority groups in society. He did this through advocating for periodic voting, equal electoral boundaries and secret voting. This will give everybody equal opportunity to contest for electoral positions. As a result, the society will be just and fair to everyone. He argued that voting is a crucial aspect that determines the relationship amongst human beings.

According to Bentham, a free and fair election will ensure people accept their leaders and contend with their results. However, the absence of democratic processes offers room for conflicts in the society. These conflicts fuel criminal activities like genocide, forceful evacuation of people, rape and use of children as rebels. He noted that if elections are free and fair people will respect their leaders and governments. However, unfair elections give rise to resistance and formation of criminal gangs. As a result, innocent women and children suffer since they are held at ransom by regimes and their resistors. An unjust political system gives rise to criminal gangs that hide in the name of seeking justice for all. As a result, they engage in looting and other lawless activities.

Moreover, he identified economies as vital elements that maintain law and order in society. A society facing economic hardships is more likely to have many criminals that one with economic prosperity. He noted that human beings have wants that must be satisfied no matter their costs. He observed that food, clothing and shelter are indispensable aspects of human life. People will struggle to get them no matter the means they use. According to him, these three aspects are ends that must be met in the day to day activities of human beings. Even though people use various means to satisfy these needs, most of them are not legal. The high number of unemployed youths is a direct ticket to the prevalence of criminal activities.

Amongst all his arguments, he was categorical in criticizing the role of capital punishments. In as much as criminals deserve punishments for committing crimes it is necessary to ensure these punishments do not harden them. He was in the fore front, of prison reforms, to ensure effective strategies are adopted to rehabilitate criminals. There is no doubt that all correctional facilities strive to rehabilitate criminals and release them to society as reformed people. Therefore, his preposition that criminal justice systems are hardening criminals is right. He argued that punishments involved physical or emotional pain which is not justified in rehabilitating criminals. He even proposed a model prison that would promote human health, reform morals, revive industries and facilitate diffusion of instructions amongst inmates.

His dream of a justice system is one focused on crime deterrence rather than monitoring criminal activities and tracking criminals. He emphasised on the need to prevent crimes rather forming laws to curb criminal activities. According to him the retribution law was barbaric and unfit for human beings since it perpetuated pain and suffering. This law ignored the fact that criminals are human beings and deserve respect, love, compassion and care. Therefore, his theory identified the need to address criminals’ needs before adopting any correctional programme.

There is no doubt that most criminals willingly commit crimes due to challenges in life, Bentham identified these challenges as causes for criminal activities and not criminals themselves. His theory proposed significant changes in criminal justice system to contain criminal activities in societies (Tewksbury, 2010). He identified these changes as rational sentencing of criminals according to the nature of crimes committed. He also noted the need to include religious teachings in rehabilitating criminals and much of the emphasis should be based on correcting criminals and not punishing them. During this time, criminals were treated equally regardless of the crimes they had committed. However, modern criminal justice systems consider criminals as human beings and treat them with respect.

There are various correctional programmes that facilitate criminals’ rehabilitation and integration into society. While past criminal justice systems focused on punishments as essential tools for disciplining criminals modern systems focus on rehabilitation through guiding and counselling. Criminals are made to understand the crimes they committed and their impacts on victims. This gives them an insight into their victims’ experiences. Secondly, criminals are given appropriate sentences that are proportional to their crimes.

However, in the past criminal justice systems used to consider age and race as criteria for sentencing (McShane, 2009). Most black Americans were considered dangerous criminals regardless of the crimes committed; therefore, they were sentenced to a longer imprisonment term compared to white criminals. On the other hand, children were hardly given criminal sentences despite the crimes committed. Today, criminal justice systems have evolved significantly and offer equal punishments to criminals. Anyone breaking the law is considered a criminal and will face the law despite his or her race.

Many nations have established juvenile correctional facilities to handle under age criminals. Even though, debate continues to rage on the suitability of juvenile, criminal systems, they are without doubt effective steps to shaping the future of modern societies. The future of the present generation depends on how this it is nurtured. Therefore, it is wise decisions to continue establishing children’s, criminal justice systems to enable young people develop into mature and responsible citizens.

Classicism Theory

This theory promoted the fact that people had the freedom to choose what to do and how to do it. It exercised the thought that human being would do anything that inclined them to feel good, but abhorred anything that brought about suffering. As such punishment was necessary to discourage criminals from repeating crimes and it had to be done in such a way that it serves as a warning to others. It also argued that in punishing an offender, the punishment had to come as soon as the crime was committed and it had to be definite. This way, criminals would be deterred knowing that if caught, they had to face the music. For punishment to be effective, it is the law that carry’s the most weight and not the criminals. The legal system in place has to be tight proof to prevent people from committing crimes.

Classical criminology was an 18th century theory that was evident in the legal system.

Crime and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria

Beccaria is without doubt the father of Utilitarianism due to his influence on Jeremy Bentham. He formed the foundation upon which Jeremy developed his theory regarding criminals and punishments. Even though, Beccaria is not credited with any criminal, related theory (On Crime and Punishment is not a theory, but an article written by Beccaria) he is without doubt the founder of most modern schools of criminal thoughts. His article on criminals and punishments offered to them aroused a lot of controversy across the globe. He was categorical in criticising capital punishments that were common in the 18th century. His criticism on capital punishment was based on his understanding that the state is entitled to ensure human life is sustained at all costs.

Therefore, capital punishment is against the social and democratic provisions states must fulfil to their citizens. He observed that since the state cannot create life it has no responsibility of taking it away from criminals. This criticism is based on religious teaching and moral consciousness that respect human life (McShane, 2009). The sanctity of human life was a driving tool that motivated Beccaria to establish this school of thought. There is no doubt that most religious and traditional teachings respect human life and will not dare interfere with it regardless of the intensity of crime committed. This belief works well with scholars’ anti-retribution policies that safeguard criminals’ rights against abuse by states and legal enforcement authorities.

Secondly, Beccaria observed that past criminal justice systems adopted capital punishment as an effective way of punishing criminals. However, he noted that committing a crime is not a death guarantee due to various issues. First, a criminal may be innocently convicted as a result of mistaken identity. This subjects innocent people to torturous exercises leading to death. Secondly, powerful people in the society may use their positions to influence judicial processes and punish their enemies or those that do not support them (Moyer, 2001). Thirdly, some accused people may fail to prove beyond doubt that they are innocent due to ignorance, fear or illiteracy; therefore, they will be presumed guilty on account of insufficient defence evidence.

Moreover, it is not possible to distinguish crimes that warrant life imprisonment and death sentences. There has always been a thin line between man-laughter and murder and rape and defilement. Therefore, the presence of ambiguities in court cases makes the process of determining their sentences difficult. Lastly, most judicial systems are not transparent to warrant free and fair trials. Cases of bribery and corruption dominate most criminal proceedings, and this hinders effective dispensation of justice.

Therefore, he argued that capital punishments are not working solutions to solving criminal activities in society. The role of criminal justice systems is to rehabilitate criminals regardless of the degree of crime committed. The health sector offers an effective illustration that should be adopted by criminal justice systems. No matter how sick an individual is the doctors and nurses will try to offer quality services to protect their patients’ lives; they never give up until their patient dies. Most doctors and nurses feel remorseful when their patients die despite how severe the infection had spread to their cells. This means they strive to sustain and protect human life despite their patients’ age or health conditions (Moyer, 2001). This should be a learning example to criminal justice systems. Killing hardcore criminals will never eradicate criminals. In fact, this will expose victims to grave dangers since criminals will know that once apprehended they will be killed. Therefore, they will commit crimes with impunity and disregard the sanctity and value of human life.

He argued that punishments must prevent would be criminals from committing crimes and warning existing criminals on the dangers of engaging in crime. However, most criminal justice systems are retributive and serve as revenge avenues. This does not solve criminal challenges since the more criminals are punished the more they continue committing crimes.

In addition, Beccaria argues that criminal sentences and punishments must reflect the crimes committed (Cullen, 2010). This has not always been the case since most criminals do not serve terms proportional to their crimes. This has always been affected by corruption, weak judicial systems and bribery. Most nations consider giving severe punishments to capital offenders to prevent reoccurrence of similar offences. However, Beccaria argued that severe punishments harm criminals and subject societies to further complications. Therefore, criminals must be given punishments that will make them retrace their morality and behave according to how the demands of the law. This will help criminal justice systems achieve their goals in preventing crimes.

The fact that most criminal procedures were private meant that there were many inconsistencies and unjust rulings. These aspects facilitated unjust punishments and sentences that did not warrant their measures. Beccaria argued that transparent punishments were necessary in determining the appropriateness of various criminal justice processes (Cullen, 2010). Lastly, he proposed that a just punishment should be declared and administered promptly. Just as, all citizens are entitled to their rights and freedoms, so are prisoners to punishments. Therefore, it is necessary to punish criminals as soon as they are convicted to avoid exposing them to mental and emotional torture. This is an effective way of ensuring timely justice is offered to criminals.


Even though these criminological theories explore the evils of past criminal justice systems it is evident that they overlooked some crucial aspects in their presentations. First, the Bio-Anatomical Theory by Cesare Lombroso is based on physical and genetic characteristics of human beings as indicators of criminal inclinations. However, this is a coincidental observation that revealed similarities in physical appearances amongst criminals.

This theory paints criminals as dreadful looking people with ugly and ape like faces that seem to threaten people. This is not usually the case since there are many beautiful and handsome people with serious criminal cases (Sellers, 2012). In addition, not all ghastly looking people have criminal tendencies. Therefore, it is wise to conclude that Lombroso based his study on hard core criminals serving long sentences in prisons. The presence of masculine body with heavily built shoulders may be as a result of doing heavy manual work in correctional facilities.

Moreover, prisons rarely offer quality meals and this may explain the prevalence of protruding jaw bones. The presence of criminals’ red, sunken eyes are likely to be as a result of being subjected to darkness for long hours. Lastly, evolution studies have revealed that man has undergone a steady evolution process from primates to the present, normal human being. According to past evolution research findings, people portrayed an ape like physique described by Lombroso. This does not mean that all human beings that lived those early years were criminals; if so then it means that age was dominated by criminals (Winfree, 2009). This theory has many hanging ends making it impossible explaining the prevalence of criminal activities amongst people with different physiques.

Secondly, Utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham is a one sided argument that addresses criminals’ needs and ignores their victims’ circumstances. This theory explains that people have express rights to do what they want as long as this will give them happiness and satisfy their needs. However, this approach serves to bring conflicts in society since it creates room for people forcefully get what they want. There is no way people will be allowed to own and have everything just because they think they will be happy (Tewksbury, 2010). In fact, this is a human version of the law of the jungle where only the mighty and powerful get large or all shares of the little available resources. Human beings are way beyond the bush life where physical energy determined the amount of wealth people own.

Bentham failed to realise that this approach will create more tensions and conflicts between the rich and poor in society. As a result, conflicts will multiply leading to an increase in the number of crimes committed in the pursuit of happiness (Winfree, 2009). Therefore, this theory is not appropriate in instilling morals, law and order in modern, developed societies.

Thirdly, Crime and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria seems a working solution to eradicating criminal activities in the society. However, he failed to realise that there are differences in terms of interpreting laws that govern criminal justice systems. This is the source of disparities in passing judgements and sentencing criminals. In addition, some crimes are not clearly marked by most judicial systems and thus the jury passes judgements by approximating them to other crimes.

The presumption of innocence until a suspect is proved otherwise is guided by nature and amount of evidence offered to defend or accuse the suspect (Sellers, 2012). This means that even if a judge wishes to pass a fair judgement this will be impossible depending on the truth, amount and quality of evidence presented to the court. Many innocent victims are serving unjust sentences since they failed to provide enough evidence to warrant their release. Conversely, criminals are walking on the streets after providing enough evidence to warrant their freedoms while their victims continue suffering.

Comparison of Classical and Positivist Theories

There are quite a number of very clear-cut differences between the Classical and Positivist Theories. The Classical Theory came into being in the18th century around the period they referred to as the period of “enlightment”. This was because many people were coming to agree that there were some ideologies that they really no longer need to follow ad so strongly believe in, for instance the belief that crime was all cantered more on religion and spirituality and demonic forces. This was just at the beginning of the Industrial revolution. Common individuals who supported it were Cesare Becarria and Jeremy Bentham. Positivist theory on the other hand was introduced much later during the 19th century which was in the mid revolution period. People like Cesare Lombroso, Raffael Garofalo and Enrico Ferri were at the fore front of its promotion. It was a period they referred to as the age of “reason” because they were no longer looking at crime as a means of punishment only, but also as a mode through which they would deter criminals from wrong doing and in a way rehabilitate them. The judicial interference in any matter was also very limited and on a much shorter leash with the classical theory than it was with the Positivist one.

The Classical school of thought followed the reasoning that crime is what the law says it is and that it does not necessarily have to be punished with methods that equalled the nature of the crime, but criminals could be corrected by also being rehabilitated. This therefore required the entire legal system to be over hauled and reformed. The Positivist ideology on the other hand is looks at crime as objectionable, more concerned with application of science in trying to understand the nature of criminals. Classical theories promote the understanding that human beings are self-indulgent beings and can freely decide between making a choice to do what is right or wrong, which is described as their free will. As such acts that are upright will be promoted by agreeable and satisfying decisions, but pain will deter anyone from making a wrong choice. The Classical school of thought does not differentiate between a criminal mind and one that is upright. Both are seen as the same as they will first weigh their options before committing a crime, unlike the Positivist theory that states that these two categories are very different in the sense that criminal minds are in a way inferior in nature to non-criminal minds. The Classical ideology the crimes committed were directly proportional to the nature of human beings while the Positivist school of thought was more inclined to reason that it was dependent on the biological nature in particular like the genetic factor as well as sociological and psychological factors.


These theories are appropriate in explaining violent criminals who engage in mugging, violent and armed robbery, looting and burglary. It is necessary to note that refined criminals use sophisticated ways of committing crimes like cyber bullying and account hacking, genocide, corruption and bribery. These theories cannot be applied in determining criminal tendencies in modern societies. Human beings are shifting from traditional to the digital era where most activities are computerised making criminals change their tactics. All the same, theories like the one that Lombroso stood for make a lot of sense in the current judicial system as they promote a lot of fairness. Criminals he said was fit to be punished after the nature of the crime had been studied and the exhaustive valuation of criminals had been done. This way the legal system would act as a means of deterring criminals than just punishing them for what they have done and stopping at that. Rehabilitation of the criminals as such is a better method of reducing the criminal mind to realising that what they did was wrong than imposing a punishment that is thought to be equal to the crime in the hope that it will serve as a lesson to them. The judicial system should evolve with the changes in society, since crime is seen as constantly taking new shape. However the thought of taking crime to be genetic or basing it on biological factors should be strongly abhorred because it does not support the idea of giving criminals a fair hearing since justice is supposedly pre-determined just by looking at the biological make up of an individual.


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