Crime, Law & Justice – An Introduction
What is criminology
- Engages with crime.
- Field of enquiry.
- Body of knowledge.
- Looks beyond stereotypes.
- Challenges misconceptions.
- Crime resists simple solutions.
Key criminological concerns
1. What is crime?
- Differs greatly from society to society.
- Legal definition: Acts prohibited by law.
- Social harm definition: Acts that cause harm, even if they are not
prohibited by law.
- Human rights definition: Acts that violate human rights and other
- E.g. Homosexuality (de-criminalised in the70s and 80s); rape in marriage
(criminalised in the mid 80s).
2. Process of criminalisation:
- Process by which certain acts become labelled as crimes or certain actors
become labelled criminal.
- Linked to social and power inequalities (who makes the law, shapes
perceptions and how does representation matter).
- E.g. Asylum seekers – described as illegal, criminal; views might change if
shown a different representation.
3. Explaining and understanding crime and criminality:
- Do people make a rational choice to commit crime?
- Can we tell a criminal by the way they look or the size of their skull?
- Are criminals born or bred?
- Is criminality shaped by social or economic status?
o All people are born good.
o All people are born bad.
o All people are born both good and bad.
o Some people are born bad.
o Men and women are fundamentally the same.
o Men and women are fundamentally different.
o Men and women are more similar than different.
o Men and women are more different than similar.
- Our experiences and observations can sometimes contradict what we
- Theories will constantly develop and change.
4. Examining and evaluating the CJS.
- Police. - Courts.
5. Proposing reforms.
- Better life skills courses in prison.
- Infinite detention of no rehabilitation.
- E.g. lie detectors for sex offenders post release – more honest in reporting
devious thoughts and actions, better self-management of behaviour,
6. The broader context of crime and criminalisation.
- Cultural context – the role of the media and the culture in which the crime
- Political context – crime as a political issue.
- Societal context – understandings and misunderstandings about crime.
Applying drug use to concerns
1. Is drug use a legal or health issue? Should it be criminalised?
2. How do laws against drug use lead to some people being criminalised
more than others? What does this demonstrate about power inequalities?
3. Why do people use drugs? Can we address it with a criminal response or
criminological theory? Is it linked to criminality, or is criminality linked to
4. Do current responses address the harms caused by drug use, or do those
themselves cause harm? Is prison the answer for drug users?
5. Different ways of thinking about/responding to drug use? Could they be
more effective? Should we have needle exchanges in prison?
6. Where does it fit within social, political and cultural contexts?
7. How does the context shape the process of criminalisation.