The British Crime Rate and the ‘Broken’ Society

1539 words | 6 page(s)

1. Introduction

The purpose of this essay is to examine the British crime rate with response to the claim that Britain is a ”broken’ society. The essay has two intertwining parts: An overview of British crime statistics and an application of these statistics to theories and examples of deviance, strain, crime, and control in the British context. The main thesis defended in the essay is that the decline of British crime offers an opportunity to empirically evaluate the explanatory factor of various theories of crime, deviance, and control.

puzzles puzzles
Your 20% discount here.

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
"The British Crime Rate and the ‘Broken’ Society".

Order Now
Promocode: custom20

2. Overview and Discussion of Crime Statistics

There are numerous sources for British crime statistics. One source is the Office for National Statistics . As of 22 January 2015, the most recent date for which ONS crime data are available, it is clear that there is a decline in crime throughout England and Wales. The ONS tracks the number of incidents (measured in the thousands) in the offence groups of violence and theft. The ONS also tracks percentage changes in offences. Cumulatively, these data provide an overview into the evolution of British crime since January, 1995.

Based on the 2015 data, it was observed that violent crime that occurred from October, 2013 to October, 2014 declined 66% from the comparable time period in 1995. The sub-category of violence with injury declined by 73%. Theft offences declined 64% from 1995 to the most recent measured period, and the subcategory of violence-related theft dropped 79%. Overall crime declined 63%.

Comparing 1995 to 2013-2014 might be methodologically suspect if, for example, the bulk of crime reduction took place from 1995-1999 and has been stagnant since then. However, the data tell a different story. From the October, 2012-September, 2013 period to the October, 2013-September, 2014 period alone, violence with injury in England and Wales declined 26%, while overall crime declined 11%. These data suggest that England and Wales are benefiting from both a long-term and a recent decline in crime.

The decline of crime in Britain is in alignment with a decline in crime across much of the developed world. The United States also experienced a remarkable decline in crime in the 1990s, one that continued into the millennium . Scholars have called attention to a worldwide decline in crime as well as to a British decline in crime .

3. Theoretical Perspectives

The data are unequivocal: British crime is falling. This trend requires some form of theoretical explanation. One possible means of explanation is through control theory, which “focused on the sources of conformity, under the assumption that crime and delinquency should be expected when there was a decline in the holding power of the conformity influences” . If control theory is correct, then it can be posited that a decline in crime might reflect an increase in what Lilly et al. referred to as the power of conformity. This conclusion follows from numerous variants and expressions of control theory, including theories associated with Durkheim and the Chicago school . If the premises of control theory are accepted, then one question that has to be resolved is whether the decline in crime what can be ascribed to acceptance or submission, a dichotomy to what Lilly et al. called attention in their discussion of Reiss’s theory of personal and social controls. A related question is whether, if acceptance or submission are in fact responsible for the observed decline in British crime, they can be ascribed to increased formal control, increased informal social control, or both.

In the history of criminological thought, the broken society has been described a society that is characterized by a combination of low control and high disorderliness that manifest in observably high crime rates. Indeed, disorderliness can be theoretically reduced to a component of control, in that disorderliness likely to arise from, and be ascribable to, the absence of control . However, control is not the only paradigm through to understand the broken society. Different theories have offered different perspectives on the broken society, with some focusing on social and cultural control , others focusing on environmental factors , and yet others attempting to offer multifactorial explanations that acknowledge social control, individual susceptibilities, and structural or environmental features in an broad and integrated a manner as possible .

One factor that many different criminological theories have shared is a commitment to sociological positivism of the kind articulated by Durkeim . Sociological positivists believe in sociological facts, one of which is the degree of health of a society. Theories of the broken society draw on sociological positivism to measure brokenness; in doing so, criminologists and sociologists echo Durkheim’s use of suicide statistics to draw conclusions about the health of Catholic and Protestant cultures.

Understand from the perspective of sociological positivism, British crime statistics do indeed suggest that British society is not broken—or at least that it is less broken than it was. Just as importantly, the crime statistics offer an opportunity to revisit some of the dominant theories in the field.

Harlow described as retroduction the process whereby empirical testing and theory formation inform, correct, and challenge each other . Even if the decline in British crime is taken, via a paradigm of sociological positivism, to reflect a reduction in the brokenness of British society, more work needs to be done to understand how the empirical facts retroduce theories of crime.

Consider, for example, the premises of strain theory , which rely on an account that (a) society places significant value on the acquisition of qualities such as money and power; (b) there are people who are unable or unwilling to take legitimate means to the acquisition of such qualities, and who feel a strain accordingly; and (c) crime is a means of relieving the strain by offering an illegitimate but effective means of achieving valued goals. In light of the statistically significant decline of British crime as measured by the Office of National Statistics, there are important implications for strain theory. If violent crime can decline by something on the order of 11% in one year, then either society can change its emphases on desired qualities very quickly or people suddenly stop feeling strain. The problem, though, is that it is highly unlikely that society can change so quickly, and equally unlikely that people en masse would stop feeling strain.

The falling crime statistics thus have important implications for strain theory. If crime reflects strain, and if crime declines quickly and on a massive scale (as it has in Britain), then, in theory, strain needs to be able to increase and decrease quickly, but the sociological evidence is that the social structures and values out of which strain emerges are deeply embedded and therefore susceptible to gradual rather than rapid change . Informal social control, too, would seem to lie beyond the ambit of the falling crime statistics, as

The falling British crime statistics are probably more susceptible to environmental explanations, which in this context overlap with formal control explanations. Scholars working with environmental and structural paradigms have emphasized that, unlike societies themselves, structures are relatively easy to change . Formal control, too, can be increased relatively easy, for example by increasing a police presence . However, there is no evidence that year-to-year changes in formal control or environmental redesign have been radical enough to account for the decline in British crime.

The most that can be concluded for now is that, from within the framework of sociological positivism and its means of marshaling statistics as social facts, Britain is a society less broken than it was even 1 year ago, let alone 20 years ago. Whether society is broken in an absolute sense is, perhaps, a matter for philosophers to consider, but a sociological positivist must perforce reach the conclusion that British is a less broken society.

  • AGNEW, R. 1992. Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47-88.
  • AGNEW, R. 2001. Building on the foundation of general strain theory: Specifying the types of strain most likely to lead to crime and delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38, 319-361.
  • BRANTINGHAM, P. L. & BRANTINGHAM, P. J. 1993. Nodes, paths and edges: Considerations on the complexity of crime and the physical environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 13, 3-28.
  • BROIDY, L. & AGNEW, R. 1997. Gender and crime: A general strain theory perspective. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 275-306.
  • BURKE, R. H. 2013. An introduction to criminological theory, New York, NY, Routledge.
  • DURKHEIM, E. 1951. Suicide, New York, NY, The Free Press.
  • GEE, C. & RHODES, J. 2008. A social support and social strain measure for minority adolescent mothers: A confirmatory factor analytic study. Child: Care, Health and Development, 34, 87-97.
  • HARLOW, E. 2009. Contribution, theoretical. In: MILLS, A. J., DUREPOS, G. & WIRBE, E. (eds.) Encyclopedia of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • HIRSCHI, T. 2002. Causes of delinquency, New York, NY, Transaction Publishers.
  • JEFFERY, C. R. & ZAHM, D. L. 1993. Crime prevention through environmental design, opportunity theory, and rational choice models. Routine Activity and Rational Choice, 5, 323-350.
  • KNEPPER, P. 2012. An international crime decline: Lessons for social welfare crime policy? Social Policy & Administration, 46, 359-376.
  • KNEPPER, P. 2014. Falling crime rates: What happened last time. Theoretical Criminology, 19, 59-76.
  • LEVITT, S. D. 2004. Understanding why crime fell in the 1990s: Four factors that explain the decline and six that do not. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18, 163-190.
  • LILLY, J. R., CULLEN, F. T. & BALL, R. A. 2014. Criminological theory: Context and consequences, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications.
  • MEIER, R. F. & MIETHE, T. D. 1993. Understanding theories of criminal victimization. Crime and Justice, 459-499.

puzzles puzzles
Attract Only the Top Grades

Have a team of vetted experts take you to the top, with professionally written papers in every area of study.

Order Now