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How Individuals of Different Social Classes Behave and What Factors Primarily Propel Them to Commit Crime

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Table of contents

  1. The mentally-ill and incarceration
  2. Understanding the strain theory and programs in place to assist the lower class
    Cohen subculture theory

Criminologists try to understand human behavior by examining traits and how this affects a person’s behavior. Many of the theories and concepts held by criminologists are based on researches of the social classes in society and how these classes react to stimuli in society. Additionally, criminologists such as Emile Durkheim, Merton, Cohen among others, have done extensive researches on how individuals of different social classes behave and what factors primarily propel them to commit crime.

For many people in society success is measured primarily on the basis of wealth, education, and money which in turn puts strain on the lower class/ less fortunate to succeed. Each person is unique and as such will exhibit different traits; these traits more often can be used to determine the possibility of success or failure. These strains that are precisely explained and termed by Cohen as’ middle class measuring rod’ are some reasons given for crime among certain class and types of individual in society. The successful individual is deemed to respect and protect their property and aspire for certain goals by legal means. These individuals may also have a higher possibility to succeed as they were sent to the best schools and given opportunities to further improve their standard of living. The next group is the minimally successful person who although feel the strain put on by society still try to achieve socially approved goals by legal means. They are not afforded the same privileges by society, but aims to achieved their goals otherwise.

Factors such as environment may also largely affect their ability to fully succeed. The third group is ranked as criminals. Criminologist cites various theories to explain why this group continues to exist. Explanations ranging from biological and environmental, the possibility of nature versus nature, to Merton’s, and Cohen’s strain theory among many others. However, what one can safely conclude is that an individual trait is key to understanding criminal behavior/ criminogenic needs.

The mentally-ill and incarceration

Earlier this year, I received a phone from my mother who was most upset about what had transpire that afternoon. Earlier in the day, she went into the town and observed along with other people a body of a mentally challenged boy in a barrel that was being rolled by another mentally- ill man. The boy in the barrel; was headless, leaving on-lookers scared and frantic. The police were summoned, who she told me showed fear when retrieving the body as they were uncertain of what the man would have done. The mentally ill man however, looking lost gave the police the barrel and stood in the road still and nonchalant. The head of the body was later discovered by the beach and the mentally-ill man thrown in jail with ordinary offenders. The man can be rendered useless even for trial- he is severely mentally challenge and has been since birth as his mother and other relatives suffer from mental diseases. From this from this stance point, it is obvious that the offender should have been transported and committed to a mental health institution to get the help needed, however the police is usually the first point of contact and without a balance unit or program the mentally-ill is jailed/imprisoned. The question is should the mentally ill be committed to health facilities or be incarcerated? But even more thought provoking is, who determines that a person is mentally- ill and how and to what extent is the defect?

There are numerous mental illnesses, which can unfortunately be faked. This brings about another concern which is determining if an individual has a real mental health issue or is it a tactic/ploy to elude the system in an effort for a lesser sentence. If indeed- it is proven that the offender suffers from mental incapacitation by both medical personnel and a legal panel, then the individual; has patient rights. However, the state also has a civil obligation to ensure in public safety. It is known that some patients progress after treatment, and some only for a short period of time then regress; which is where public safety concern comes into play. For example, in a 1999 court case of a schizophrenic patient who pushed a woman into an oncoming train causing her death; it was determined by the courts that he was responsible for his actions because he was coherent at the time of the incident. This gives rise to another issue, that of the state of mind of the individual at the time of the crime and if the offender understood the seriousness of his or her actions at the time of the crime. Where some level of responsibility can be attached then the offender must share partial responsibility. There should be no exemption for mental -illness when it comes to the issue of crime, however, the prison system is inappropriate, consequently, the mentally- ill should be committed permanently to an institution for treatment and away from the public.

The issue of finding the appropriate place to put the mentally-ill who has committed a crime is not just a problem in the U.S. but also for many other countries that battle with the issue of incarcerating these people. What one will notice, is that many of the mentally-ill are locked away in prisons out of frustration, lack of resources and the right program to deal with the issue. Prisons are developed for punishment, rehabilitation and deterrence purpose, not to house the mentally incapacitated who because of his/her mental illness as breached the legal parameters. Unlike most issues that provoke arguments from both sides of the fence, the issue of the mentally ill being imprisoned finds law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and human rights activist lobbying for the same cause-having the right mechanism in place to deal with the mentally -ill. The criminal justice system is concerned that the penal institutions are over-run by the mentally- ill and there is no appropriate treatment or punishment for these people who breach the law and has been incarcerated. Some judicial systems make an attempt to solve the issue by incarcerating and hospitalizing the offender. Whereas some hospitalize and then incarcerate them, however the idea is to reach a balance between the rights of the patient to treatment and the duty of the court to ensure public safety.

According to the NAMI, people with mental illness are more likely to be jailed than referred to an appropriate institution, which makes them candidates for victimization by other offenders. There is a general consensus that the mentally ill should not be imprisoned and that that the mentally ill are themselves victims of the system, first when public health officials fail to ensure an effective mental health system and next by a criminal justice system which is more punitive that rehabilitative. NAMI and the mental health advocates contend that the necessary strategies must be put in place to deal with the mentally- ill and options to divert them to treatment centers rather than imprisonment. According to Fellner, there are five times as many mentally ill in prisons across the US than mental health hospitals, a number which the prison system is ill-prepared and inadequately equipped to deal with. Prisons were never meant for the mentally ill, consequently prison staff who are untrained to deal with them often times often ignore their behavior or brutally discipline or place them in solitary confinement; this reaction can only exacerbate the situation.

We can all agree there is no easy fix/solution to this dilemma but society does not put enough interest in stabilizing the mentally-ill, although many of them commit crime because they are deteriorated psychiatrically and remain untreated. Unfortunately, some break the law. Like many, I contend that the system must be rehabilitative rather than punitive once the individual has a history of mental illness or it can be undoubtedly proven. More funds need to be pumped in the system to help reduce or treat mental illness as communities are little served the when mentally ill offenders are released from prison back into the society without treatment.

Understanding the strain theory and programs in place to assist the lower class

The theory was developed by the sociologist Emile Durkheim and widely established by Merton who purports that the different types of strain in society cause the inability to achieve certain social class status. The theory later declined, however by the 1990’s researchers gained a renewed interest after R. Agnew came about with the general strain theory. Agnew enhanced the theory by claiming that stain on individuals is more than just to achieve ‘the dream’ but may occur due to loss of possessions, family breakdown or ill-treatment by others. Strain theory basically states that individuals turn to crime because of the pressure place on them by society to succeed and improve their standard of living. These added strain and stressors propel people to commit crime there by increasing the likelihood of crime. It is believed that these strains result in negative emotions which may take away a person’s confidence causing low self-esteem, hate, anger, jealousy and frustration. These emotions can then breed criminal behavior which is deemed an outlet for how society makes them feel. The action taken is to avenge the source of the strain and make themselves feel better or escape the strain. A prime example, are individuals that are unemployed for extended periods and engage in shoplifting, theft or selling drugs as a means to obtain funds. Different situations may result in delinquent behavior such as bullying or more serious crime such as murder or terrorism; crime is thus the avenue for revenge and escape from strains. However, it is argued that only a miniscule among of individuals commit crime because of the strains in society.

The different strain theories claim that most individuals cope with strain in a legal manner, as most persons make some sort of provision or improvise to make end meet. Merton argues that the lower-class is prevented from succeeding through legal channel and social strata structure made possible by the systems. Consequently, the lower class enjoys the inferior things in society-schools, low paid jobs, inadequate housing and financial institutions that will help to developed them. These goal blockages are strains-strains that make those without the necessary coping skills and who are frustrated commit crimes.

To reduce these issues several organizations including social work professions have programs in place to assist the under- privilege. Food banks provide food for the misfortunate, Oxfam America which advocate for eliminating the impact felt by low income families, the hunger projects which operates not only here in the U.S. but globally to help individuals become self-reliant and build better future. The government offers food stamp and other government assistance, however many finds it strenuous to access these assistance, partly because of the requirements or the programs limited resources. In addition to that, recipients usually have to remain drug free and either have no record or maintains court order; a requirement that many of them fail. In addition to that most welfare-to-work programs require that recipients join the workforce without addressing or realizing potential employment barriers.

Holzer (1996) research revealed that most entry-level jobs required workers to perform reading and writing paragraphs, dealing with customers, doing arithmetic, and using computers which is difficult for many welfare recipients who mostly read at sixth/eight grade level and may not be able to perform many of these basic task.

Cohen subculture theory

The subculture theory was developed by the criminologist Cohen who incorporated the two theories on normal learning and social structure into one theory. Cohen held the view that delinquent youths do not have the where about legally to improve the standard of living or social status consequently they suffer from what became known as status frustration. Consequently, they resort to gangs that invert the conventional expectations in terms of which status is achieved. A prime example is that status may be achieved through education, however in gang’s status is achieved by virtue of failure. By thoroughly examining the concept of culture, Cohen was able to expound on Merton’s idea of strain theory He expands on Merton’s argument on individual adaptation and financial reasons as motivation. Cohen contend that if a dominant culture exist, then there must be subcultures. He purports that delinquents form and operate within their own norms and value. This may include specialized dressing, different behavioral patterns from the society, and development of their own language, this new and different ways of behaving and beliefs-became known as subculture. These sub-cultures pose a threat to the middle-class values such as aspiring for certain goals, respect for private possession and property and differed gratification. The response or delinquent behavior is deemed right by these sub-cultures because it is forbidden by middle class norms and values. In furtherance he explains that non-utilitarian delinquency made possible because of the middle class measuring rod. Cohen observed that delinquent youth are mainly involved in fighting, vandalism, theft, burglary and shoplifting which are mainly done for the ‘feel’ rather than for economic purposes.

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