Criminology: Assignment 1
1. According to the textbook, the legal, and most common, definition of crime is that it is a legalistic one in that it violates the criminal law and is punishable with jail terms, fines, and other sanctions. The Human Rights definition of crime defines crime as an action that violates the basic rights of humans to obtain the necessities of life and to be treated with respect and dignity. Unlike the legal definition of crime, the Human Rights definition of crime has a broader concept than its counterpart. With the Human Rights definition of crime, criminologists are allowed to the entire range of acts and omissions that cause social injury and social harm, while the legal definition of crime would only allow a criminologists to study acts and omission that cause individual injury and individual harm. Also, the legal definition of crime can vary depending on what society makes up those laws. Which acts or omission qualify as crimes depends on the values that the specific society preserves.
I feel that these definitions contradict one another rather than complement one another. As I mentioned before, the legal definition of crime can vary depending on that society’s cultural values. Where one act or omission qualifies as a crime in one society, in another society it might be wildly accepted. On the other hand, the Human Rights definition of crime advocates a definition of crime that is based on human rights rather than on legal statues. These human rights are universal and are recognized throughout the world. If an act that would violate an individual’s basic human rights has been committed it has more of a chance to be recognized as a crime by societies throughout the world than it would be with just a legal definition of crime.
The legal definition of crime is a useful starting point for the study of crime if a criminologist wanted to study something more specific relating to crime. The module points out that each part of the legal definition of crime is important to look at in order to understand the nature of criminal law and the difficult task involved in attempting to determine what it takes for a specific act or omission to be defined as “criminal”. With different countries having different laws it would be hard for a criminologist to study something as broad as Racism The legal definition of crime would be more useful if a criminologist wanted to study something more specific such as sentencing of drunk driving offenders in Canada. The human rights definition of crime is more useful if a criminologist wanted to study a broader subject of crime. Acts such as racism and sexism could be studied more effortlessly with this definition than it would be with a legal definition of crime because these acts are violations of basic human rights, which are accepted universally and do not vary of society to society.
In my view, the better definition is the human rights definition of crime because the human rights definition of crime does not vary to society to society. If an act violates these human rights, a person can be prosecuted no matter what country that individual is in.
2. According to the module, the problem of the relativity of crime refers to the fact that criminologists recognize that crime is an inherently relative concept. The problem of the relativity of crime is often shown in the fact that the specific kinds of behaviours that are defined as criminal often vary over time and across different cultures. I refer to the historical example in the module where Gwynn Nettler provides an example of the way in which definitions of crime changes over time. Nettler refers to the mid 1930’s where the prohibition law in the United States was repealed by the twenty-first amendment in 1933, while at the same time the possession of gold in the United States had been made illegal by law. She mentions that in March of 1993 two men could walk down the street, one of them having a pint of whiskey in his pocket and the other having a hundred dollars in gold coins in his pocket, the one with the whiskey would have been called a criminal and the other one an honest citizen. Fast forward to a year later, the same two men could walk down the street and the man with the whiskey in his pocket would be called an honest citizen while the man with the gold coins in his pocket would be called a criminal. A cross-cultural example of how crime can vary from culture to culture can be shown in the form of marijuana. In Canada and North America, marijuana is still illegal unless a doctor prescribes it. Even though legislation has been put into motion to try and make marijuana legal in Canada and the United States, for the most parts it is still illegal to smoke or grow it in those countries. However, in places like Amsterdam it is entirely legal for a person to smoke and grow marijuana. Their society, culture, and laws allow for a person to smoke and grow marijuana compared to our society, culture, and laws who deny individuals the right to grow or smoke marijuana.
I think it is not possible for a criminologist to overcome the problem of the relativity of crime. With the definition of crime varying from culture to culture and the ever changing definition of what qualifies as crime, it would be hard for a criminologists to gather data to do research about a specific type of crime. Since crimes can vary from culture to culture, criminologists would have a hard time trying to find the data needed for research because the data would be inaccurate since it would not account for various acts that have been committed that, in another society, would be characterized as crimes but due to another society’s values, it would be seen as legal according to that society’s law.
3.If I were a criminologist that was hired by the federal government to study the causes of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian criminal justice system, I would use a triangulation method as a way to collect information that is relevant to understanding the causes of Aboriginal overrepresentation. The triangulation method allows me incorporate various research methods to study the causes of Aboriginal Overrepresentation. I would incorporate official statistics in my research because it would give me a better sense of the Aboriginal crime rate in Canada in that the people who create theses statistics are the ones who are arresting the Aboriginal individuals who commit these crimes. A drawback to the official statistics method would be the accuracy of record keeping of these statistics and the fact that some individual do not report various crimes for various reasons such as personal reasons or the offense is to minor to report.
Another method I would incorporate into the triangular method is the self-report survey. The self-report survey will allow a criminologist to have a better understanding of the characteristics of Aboriginal individuals who commit crimes. The drawback of the self-report survey is that individuals are less likely to be truthful on the survey or respond to the survey at all. Another drawback of the self-report survey is that there could be underreporting and overreporting done in the survey causing the data that the survey produces to be inaccurate.
The final method I would incorporate into the triangulation method of collecting data is historical data. Just like official statistics, historical data will allow a criminologist to gain a better sense of the crime rate of Aboriginal individuals over various periods of time. However, just like official statistics, the historical data method also has its drawbacks in the fact that the records could be inaccurate. Another drawback of historical data is that due to police discretion, some crimes are not reported. Every time a crime is committed and not reported is becomes a dark figure of crime. This dark figure of crime is not included in the historical data, thus making the historical data inaccurate.
If I were the criminologist conducting this study, I would pose such question as what are the characteristics of the Aboriginal individuals committing these crimes? Another question I would pose in this study would be what are the circumstances that cause Aboriginal people to commit these crimes? Are these crimes a result of individuals living in poverty or are these crimes committed as a result of the intoxication of Aboriginal people.