Society's Reaction to Crime
Society and its Relationship With Criminal Activity
Societal focus on crime is largely influenced by the focus and approach the justice system holds in relation to society. Pressing against crime too heavily can cause a negative image of police and the judicial process as a whole. Staying far too lenient can allow a sense of criminal freedom and influence rule breaking. A balance must be struck in order to completely and efficiently maintain a healthy relationship between enforcer and civilian. A sense of fairness in protection can help to develop trust, and this trust can lead to lasting improvements.
The United States has long been a punitive nation. A large portion of the population is in support of the death penalty, and the alternative is the rest of an individual’s life behind bars. These promises of extreme punishment are what drive avoidance of criminal activity. Essentially, it is a system of cause and consequence that, on the surface, seems to be efficient in the battle against recidivism. However, there are many negative factors that inevitably come from such a process. One somewhat obvious side effect is the inflation of the prison population. Resorting to imprisonment as the overall punishment has made the United States one of the leading countries in terms of proportion of its adult prison population. The statistics do not always truly portray the continual impact of these numbers, or the predisposition to victimize minorities and the poor whose communities have been entirely decimated. Choosing this as the one and only answer to criminality can only add to the issue.
In addition, this authoritative approach to criminal activity often affects the way the public views law enforcement and other aspects of the system. A punitive perspective is a rather pushy and demanding one, continually and persistently introducing harsh punishment as the answer. In New York City, for example, authorities have been attempting to make a point in regards to their seriousness surrounding lesser crimes such as drinking in public parks. Rather than minor penalties or simply being told to leave, offenders have been arrested and kept in jail overnight. This show of power is very easily detrimental to societal trust and comfort in regards to authority. Instead of police and other figures existing to defend the public, they believe them to be against them because of an overreaching arm. If members of society feel insecure about those who are supposed to be there to defend them, they may act against enforcement or feel more entitled to criminal behavior. Individuals will persistently push back when they feel they are cornered.
Clearly, alternative approaches to enforcement are needed to lessen the tension between a punitive nation and its people. Procedural justice research has opened new avenues in regards to this aspect. Rather than viewing society as delinquent and deserving of punishment, this perspective recommends treating the public with respect and understanding their desire for justice is as strong as the system’s is when such circumstances arise. When people are treated this way, they feel that authority is more entitled to be obeyed and they return the respect much more thoroughly. As a result, they feel more obligated to self-regulate and follow the law themselves because it is correct and acknowledged. This particular approach has been labeled as a process-based model of overall regulation. These findings have revealed the efficiency of a network of social engagement. Further research suggests that involving individuals in groups, organizations, and societies that experience procedural justice is the key to fostering such positive immersion. Focusing on the quality of decision-making in regards to justice and the quality of treatment of society as a whole can create positive waves throughout the system and help to improve relations tenfold.
Overall, people will feel the system is deserving of their obedience when they observe it acting and proceeding justly. Offenders that have proven to continually repeat their crimes may benefit from this more catered approach. It is common for individuals to want to act out simply because they believe pressing against the metaphorical fist of the system is necessary or even justified because of law enforcement or the court’s overall actions. As previously mentioned, the enforcement to make a point in New York City has soured opinions of local police. People perceive authority as an enemy and not protection when these types of ramifications are seemingly warranted. This disagreement can lead to recidivism simply out of spite, and may even create offenders out of individuals who otherwise would have never been. It is a sense of a caged animal, and the animal will always defend itself.
In regards to demographics, males were more often the victims of violent crimes than females in recent statistics. Women sat at 15.8 while men were around 18.4. Blacks were more often victimized than whites, at 26.8 to 15.8. Two or more races sat well above them both, however, at 42.1. Hispanic and Non-Hispanic were very close to one another, at 18.1 and 17.0 respectively. Young individuals were more often victims than those over the age of 20, with ages 12 to 15 holding the highest number at 36.8. Age 65 or older was the lowest statistic in regards to age, at only 3.2. These findings may be results of punitive pressure once again. Consistently, nonwhite populations are more often involved in violent and other types of crime than whites. While society has certainly evolved, a racial stigma still exists, and the pressure is felt among those it affects. Once again, individuals will act against a system they believe is not treating them fairly or is not efficiently defending them from the dangers it is present to stand against. If a certain portion of society feels ostracized, they may see action against enforcement as a justified method of showing their disdain. It is simply an expected reaction to such lengthy and consistent prejudice. Once again, the respect procedural justice supplies seems essential to fostering a healthy relationship between society and authority.
Another alternative methodological approach to enforcement is known as restorative justice. This philosophical framework gives priority to repairing damage done to victims and the community through active involvement with the justice process. In regards to offenders, there is a keen perspective on accountability and an emphasis on assuming responsibility and taking action to repair any harm. Bringing an individual to face their own guilt and work to right their wrong is not only more proactive than resorting to imprisonment, it also makes the punishment much more personal. Knowing they will simply do time for their offense does not always translate to a lesson learned. If they are actively involved in the restoration caused by their own actions, the system is much more involved in their lives and it portrays more of a sense of concern rather than a focus on punishment. Restorative justice emphasizes the importance of both the offender and members of the community by including them in the process itself, allowing them to take part in what society often feels very disconnected from. Once again, this seems to cultivate the trust that will promote less criminality and more cooperation between a community and its enforcement. It is a process of apology and forgiveness in stark contrast with the punitive approach of harsh punishment and lengthy imprisonment that would not only take the pressure off the incarceration process, but also help to prove concern for both offenders and their victims.
From a psychological perspective, the tendency to rely on harsh punishment alone can only be detrimental. When focusing on common criminological perspectives, it is clear to see that a softer and much more rehabilitative approach seems to be much more efficient in regards to deterrence. The Rational Choice theory, for example, refers to the thought process of a normal individual that leads to their criminal behavior. Moreover, if they feel justified in their actions or feel that what they intend to do is more of a benefit than it is a risk, they will go on to commit the crime. Through the use of restorative justice, they may feel that this is not a personal benefit but rather a hindrance to themselves and to law enforcement as a whole. If authority is more fully trusted, they will not want to cross boundaries and will not feel as though they are vindicated in doing so. If this mentality can be altered simply by authority proving itself more respectable in society’s eyes, this could easily deter quite a few actions that follow this pattern of thought.
Another criminological theory that refers to the societal reflection on crime is known as the Social Disorganization Theory. It is essentially a trickledown effect on a much bigger scale. The theory itself refers to one’s social and physical environments as direct influences for their criminal activity. A neighborhood with fraying social structures, for example, is more likely to foster criminality than one without. If law enforcement is more punitive in their approach, distrust is nurtured and recidivism is more likely to occur. With this lack of trust and respect for authority comes a mentality of taking circumstances into one’s own hands, because there is no other worthy alternative available. The other side of the thought process, as previously mentioned, is that crime is a justified response and may be repeated continually in regards to this surrounding environment. Restorative justice is also efficient in turning this belief system into a positive one. If society feels law enforcement understands them and works in their favor, again, they will act accordingly.
The Strain Theory could also be combated with this approach. Society holds certain factors that it believes by consensus all individuals should live up to. When someone is unable to reach this veritable goal, they may decide to find success in alternative and sometimes criminal ways. In regards to restorative justice, there is clearly a much more positive and fulfilling societal involvement present. Those who feel they cannot succeed on their own, or have resorted to crime in order to make a living alternatively, could find much more solace in authority through this methodology. Instead of dragging them to punishment, it is attempting to show them the error of their ways and help to restore a more positive outlook. It could also assist them in establishing future goals rather than dashing any remnants of hope for them. Allowing society to become involved and, as enforcement, becoming involved with society is simply a more efficient and positive perspective than relying on imprisonment or seeing punishment as the only answer.
Overall, procedural and restorative justice are improved moral standpoints on the punitive approach the United States currently fosters. Statistically speaking, the numbers do not lie. Prison populations are rising, with 1 in every 50 individuals one probation or parole and 1 in every 107 imprisoned at 2011’s yearend. There was only a 1.4% drop throughout the year. Around 2.9% of adults in the United States, or around 1 in every 34, were under some form of correctional supervision at yearend in 2011. Simply abandoning these offenders in the system is only going to continue the trend and force the cycle to perpetually spin. Evolving a new method of approaching criminality in the U.S. could help to through a metaphoric wrench in the gears and begin anew, beginning with repairing public perspective of authority. Restorative justice seems to be the most efficient way to begin rebuilding.
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