What is a crime? Crime is an act that does not respect the rights bestowed on a person or persons and their property. It involves the violation of their fundamental rights and can somehow endanger their lives and their property. There are various levels of crime ranging from petty crimes such as nuisance and infringements to heinous crimes such as murder and drug trafficking (Smith, 1983). Crime affects everyone in one way or the other and this has forced society to put in place laws that are designed to protect its people from criminals. Crime is very costly to society and the nation at large and if it is not managed effectively it can spiral out of control creating an economic and social crisis. This paper is going to look at the social and economic costs of crime, how people learn to involve themselves in crime, and how communities respond to the crime in society.
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Crime and its costs
As indicated above, crime is very costly to society. To start with, crime lowers the standards of living of a people by making life very expensive. People pay higher prices for products and services they need. Let’s look at simple crimes such as shoplifting. A Company like Wal-Mart has hundreds of stores across the world and if every day, shoplifters steal goods worth 50 dollars, the company would lose more than 3 million dollars annually and that is a whopping amount. To safeguard its property from the shoplifters, the company is forced to implement security measures to ensure that its losses are controlled. This means that the company will have to install surveillance cameras, hire security personnel to monitor the shoppers on the cameras, insure its property against theft, and also incur additional expenses if it has to prosecute all the shoplifters caught. This means that the company will spend millions of dollars every year to fight petty crimes and all this money that the company spends or loses has to be compensated by the honest customer who has to pay additionally for goods and services. In such a situation, more money ends up buying less and this lowers the standards of living of a people.
Crime is also costly to the economy of any country. Governments spend a lot of money on extra law enforcement officers to fight the spiraling rates of crime in society. Governments also spend a lot of money maintaining criminals because once these criminals are caught, they have to be incarcerated. Housing, feeding, and clothing for the inmates are very expensive and this money spent on the criminals by the state could be spent on other more important projects. According to the Sacramento Bee, the annual cost of maintaining criminals in collection centers in California is more than forty thousand dollars per inmate. The state of Kentucky is reported to be spending more money on the prison systems in the state than any other sector and this is costing the people of Kentucky who have to be taxed heavily to keep the spiraling crime rates in check.
The general society also spends a lot of money to buy their security in the face of spiraling rates of crimes in most parts of the country. Some people have to hire bodyguards for their security while others have to live in gated compounds complete with electric fences to keep away the criminals. Others are forced to close their businesses early because of the high rates of crime during the night while others have to outsource the services of private security companies to safeguard their property because the public law enforcement system cannot handle the high rate of crime in society alone. This is an extra expense for the citizenry and the overall effect shunted economic growth because a lot of money is being channeled into fighting crime rather than being invested in economically viable projects.
Crime costs the government a lot of revenue. Crimes such as music, movie, and software piracy are reported to cost the US government more than a billion dollars annually because the pirated products enter into the market untaxed and reduce the amount of tax the government would have taxed for the genuine copies of these products (Agro, 1978). Crime also discourages foreign investment which affects the economic growth of the entire country. Some cities have been blacklisted by the United Nations due to their high crime rates meaning that they do not receive any significant interest from foreign investors. The upsurge in the rate of drug-related crime in Mexico has cost the Mexican government billions of dollars in form of foreign investment because foreign investors have been pulling out of Mexican cities while new investors are shying away from the country which is facing a drug-related crime crisis.
Learning how to commit the crime
The social learning theory of crime postulates that most people learn how to commit crimes while others just conform to the criminal environment in their community. The theory maintains that criminal behavior is not an inherited behavior and is 100 percent nurtured by the adjacent environment. People are not born with a predisposition to commit a crime; crime is an act they learn throughout their life. This theory also claims that certain conditions affect the rate at which people learn how to commit crimes. One of these conditions is economic inequality and poverty because a look at most of the collection centers in the country shows that the poor form more than 80 percent of the inmates.
Therefore, economic inequality facilitates learning how to commit crime because people born in poverty-stricken areas are taught to do just everything to guarantee their survival. These people see crime every day in the streets as they grow up and these observations teach them how to commit the crime. This means that human beings are not born with the impulse to commit a crime. At birth, no one knows what is lawful and what is unlawful but as the children grow up and get socialized they recognize the bad and the good things in society and the children will learn as they watch people in the society behave in a particular manner. Children brought up near drugs and beer dens are likely to pick up such habits, so are children who are brought up by irresponsible parents especially commercial sex workers.
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Juvenile crime, boredom, and other factors
What are the causes of juvenile crime? To start with, children who are bored or feel ignored have a higher propensity to turn to criminal activities to entertain themselves, to give themselves a thrill, or even to seek attention. For example, many children in the United States of America do not have the necessary parental attention and their involvement in delinquent activities is a way of seeking that attention. This lack of attention is not intentional because the parents are fully engrossed in their careers so that they can economically provide for the children. The other cause of juvenile crime is low intelligence. Children who do not have proper education are more likely to get involved in delinquent conduct that is harmful and destructive. A child who is not exposed to the world through education has very few things engaging their minds meaning that they are more likely to get bored very easily and this boredom can lead to delinquent behaviors. Repeated delinquent behaviors are fertile grounds for the development of serious criminal behaviors.
Lack of proper parental care and supervision is another factor that enables the children to learn how to commit the crime. In a family where there is parental conflict, the parents may not be able to care for their children and the neglected children are more likely to be taught by the adjacent criminal world especially if the family conflict threatens their basic survival. Learning how to commit the crime by the children can also be facilitated by parents who demonstrate their total disregard for law and order (Conklin, 2007). Such parents are bound to have children who think and act similarly. The other factor that facilitates juvenile crime is substance abuse. In the contemporary world, more youngsters are using more powerful drugs than was the case some decades ago and this intake of powerful drugs motivates them to commit crimes to get money to buy the drugs.
Solutions: After school programs
One of the solutions for the rising rates of juvenile crime is after-school programs. Children leave school early and get home way before their parents arrive home from work. This provides ample time for the children to be by themselves doing what they learn from the streets. This means that children need a place to go after school to ensure that they are not in the streets committing the crime. After-school activities can solve this problem. Children can be involved in various programs after school like music, arts, and sports because these programs will keep them out of trouble. Apart from keeping them away from crime these programs also sharpen their talents and make them feel good about themselves and this feel-good factor can move their minds away from criminal thought. This program may require extra funding and people may be worried about taxation but it is important to note that the benefits accrued from such a program exceed the monetary expenditure and the money that can be saved from not incarcerating juveniles can be used in such a program.
Community reaction to crime
Any community that is threatened by crime reacts in a particular way. The reaction of communities to crime is not uniform and the reactions depend on the nature of crime in the community and the levels of crimes prevalent in a certain area. Communities react either to back up the efforts of the law enforcement apparatus or to fill the gap left by the apathy of the said apparatus.
Crime causes a lot of anxiety in a community. A community that is riddled with a crime knows no peace. Such communities live in fear of attacks by criminals and cannot exploit their maximum economic potential because crime threatens their property and business enterprises. This anxiety created by crime has forced most people to arm themselves and the current decade has seen a rise in the number of individuals who own guns for security purposes. Others have to leave their business premises early in fear of criminal attacks and this has stunted economic growth.
There are various ways communities react to crimes in society. The reaction of the community is a result of the inability of the state to protect the life and property of all people which is why most communities have come up with private alternatives to combat crime. One of the private alternatives that communities have come up with is gated communities or enclosed neighborhoods to keep criminals at bay. Kentucky is one of the most crime ravaged states in the United States of America and it has the highest number of enclosed neighborhoods. These enclosed neighborhoods are only affordable by the rich and though they have helped communities to keep crime at bay, they have on the other hand created fragmentation and polarization in urban areas in this state. Outside the United States of America, there are two crime ravaged countries that have responded to crime by resorting to gated communities. These countries are Brazil and South Africa where high levels of crime have led the rich to live in enclosed neighborhoods that have high walls and strong gates to keep the criminals away
The other response to crime by communities is the formation of private security organs in their neighborhoods to supplement the efforts of the state law enforcement machinery. The state and federal law enforcement machinery has been outmuscled by the upsurge in the rates of crime and this has forced communities to make private security arrangements. In the upmarket suburbs of most towns and cities across the United States of America, there are private security companies that are formed by the communities to monitor the neighborhoods and reduce the levels of crime. In less affluent areas, communities form vigilance committees where people take turns tonsure that their neighborhoods are sufficiently monitored.
Surveillance cameras have also become a common phenomenon in most communities because they scare criminals away. The criminal justice system is not efficient enough to deliver the relevant justice and most communities have resorted to taking the law into their own hands. In most western states of America, criminals have been lynched by members of the public who are tired of the slow action of the law enforcement pieces of machinery and the entire criminal justice system. This does not happen only in the United States of America; countries like Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, and Kenya have seen members of the public taking law into their own hands and this has somehow scared the criminal away from people and their property.
Agro, D. T. (1978). White Collar Crime: We Cannot Afford It! The Government Accountants Journal, 27(1), 53.
Conklin, J. E. (2007). Criminology. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.
Smith, S. (1983). Crime and the structure of social relations. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 9(4), 427-442.