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SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

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Upbringing

Exposure to violence at a young age has been consistently linked to antisocial behaviour in youths. This link is even more prominent when the violence is witnessed at home, in school or in a community associated with the development and caring of the child. Numerous studies have found that violent and antisocial behaviour among adolescents is much higher when the youths were exposed to high levels of violence in their homes. One study conducted by Flannery, Singer, Williams and Castro found that violence was three times higher for girls and two times higher for boys who were exposed to violence in their homes when compared with controls from low violence homes. This shows that the environment in which we are raised and nurtured does play a large role in the manifestation of violence at a later stage in life.

Education

In todays society, education is commonly viewed as a determining factor of a person’s success in life or lack thereof. When looking into the disparity between education levels of inmates incarcerated in prisons world wide and comparing these figures with the education levels of the general population, the results are astonishing. Only 18% of the general population have not completed high school or some sort of equivalent, whilst 27% of federal inmates, 40% of state inmates, 47% of local jail inmates and 31% of people on probation in the US failed to do just this. Could these figures suggest that a lack of education does in fact predispose people to commit crimes. Whilst a lack of education may make one vastly less employable and may therefore cause those with lesser education to perpetrate non-violent crimes such as theft and drug use, it is not only non-violent crimes which result from this lack of education. Education helps children to not only develop academically, but also allows children to learn invaluable social skills which may help them in the future to avoid engaging in violent and non-violent criminal activity. For example, schools stress the importance of treating others with respect and aims to teach youths to strive to be good citizens. Schools also give students a future-driven outlook on life which intends to cause contemplation of the consequences of criminal activity and allows individual to be more patient and less likely to take risks which may be associated with the perpetration of violent criminal activity. Furthermore, schooling teaches children essential communicative skills which a lack of may cause people to act out irrationally in disputes and perhaps more violently because they lack the ability to discuss and argue verbally. Therefore, it is possible that a lack of education can cause violent crimes. This is often the case with knife crime. In the United Kingdom, a leading cause of knife crime is believed to be a lack of education, more specifically this previously mentioned lack of communication skills which leads to misperceptions of aggression and inability to verbally reason with opponents. This is evident in the results from a study by Saavedra et al which indicated that those classified as having poor levels of education were nearly eleven times more likely to commit a violent crime than those who has higher levels of education.

Location + culture

When looking into social factors and how these can affect the crime rates in our world, one thing we look at firstly is demography. Demography is the scientific study of changes in the number of births, deaths, diseases etc in a country over a period of time. If we take two places with relatively similar industrialisation but very different ways of life, such as the USA and Japan, and compare the crime statistics it is truly depressing. Japans cities are much more heavily populated than the US however the USA’s crime statistics soar high above those of Japan. The US homicide rate is more than five times higher than the rate in Japan, the rape rate is twenty-two times higher and the armed robbery rate is an astonishing one hundred and fourteen times higher. So, what is it about the American culture that makes it so much more vulnerable to crime? Within America, violence is subject to regional variation with the murder rate in the South being twice as high as in the Northeast, but the robbery rate is almost twice as high in the Northeast as it is in the south. Continuing looking at America, communities within all regions differ drastically in how violent they are. It has been found that in general, the smaller and closer knit a community, the lower the rate of violent crime.

One main reason as to why it is believed that America is much more vulnerable to crime is that it has an individualist culture. Individualist cultures tend to be located in more western parts of the world and stress the importance of independence as well as autonomy. Furthermore, within individualist cultures social behaviour tends to be dictated by the preferences and attitudes of the individuals and being dependent upon others is often deemed as shameful and embarrassing. In contrast, collectivist cultures tend to be located in the East and focus on self-sacrifice, dependence on others and generosity. The stark contrast is in my opinion the leading factor of the high crime rates in western cultures. In Japan people often live in close proximity to many people that they know and therefore would find it harder to commit violent crimes. Further more their focus on interdependence and generosity would also make them less likely to commit violent crime.

However, this fact does not support the much higher rate of for example war crimes in Eastern cultures which tend to be collectivist. Surely the focus on giving back to others which is highlighted as important in this type of culture, would not only lower the rates of war crimes but completely diminish them due to feelings of empathy and self-sacrifice being so prominent. Therefore, this idea of collectivism being used as an explanation for higher crime rates in Western individualist cultures cannot be completely true.

Economic status

It is a long-time debate as to whether low economic status causes crime or whether low economic status is caused by crime. Let’s take unemployment for example, it is not clear whether unemployment leads people to commit violent acts out of anger or hostility, or whether it is their violent acts which lead employers to not want to hire them. When looking into the effect of economic status on violent crime one of the main reasons that there is an association is because crime gives people living in poverty the opportunity to acquire materials which they would otherwise not be able to afford. This concept is similar when applied to violent crimes. People living in poverty or even in lower classes may perpetrate violent crimes because force is an easy and obvious way of obtaining a large quantity of goods which once again they would otherwise not be able to afford. It is very common for criminals to believe that the risks of incarceration outweigh the need for materials which in some cases are vital for survival. It is also thought that economic status is linked to crime as often it is possible for criminal behaviour to spread through communities. For example, in many urban cities it is common for homeless people to live in communities, perhaps in abandoned buildings. If, one of these impoverished beings successfully commit a violent or non-violent crime and evade caption it may be more likely that this would tempt other people living within that same community to commit similar crimes. This in turn would will cause crime rates to soar meaning that not only does economic status cause individuals to perpetrate crimes but it may also have a more widespread effect on crime.

INTERACTIONS BETWEEN DIFFERENT FACTORS:

From much earlier on in my essay you will remember that I looked into influence of biology and physiology on the way that we behave and more specifically how our biological makeup can predispose us to certain behaviours. However, another possible idea which could give us the root cause of crime is looking into interactions between the facto which I have already researched. For example, Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi conducted a major longitudinal study on antisocial behaviour in a city in New Zealand and found that when a mutation of the MAOA gene is combined with abuse in child hood then aggressive behaviour is produced. Genetic polymorphisms are variations of any singular gene, with there being a different sequence of DNA at any specific location in that specific gene. These polymorphisms allow for differences between individuals such as eye colour, whether our ear lobes are attached or detached and whether our hair is straight or curly. In relation to this study, one of these genetic polymorphisms results in different levels of the MAOA enzyme which is not uncommon as around 30% of the population have this variation in the MAOA gene. Caspi and Moffitt assessed over a thousand children’s antisocial behaviour from age three to age twenty-one. They also investigated which of these children had a) never been mistreated, b) suffered some mistreatment and c) been subject to severe abuse, between the ages of three and eleven. What the researchers found was that low levels of MAOA were linked with later antisocial and aggressive behaviour, especially when the children had been severely abused. This is just one example of how biological and social factors can interact to increase the chance of perpetration of crimes.

Another interaction between factors would be to look at interactions between the number of social and environmental factors which I have previously investigated. One overlap is between educational and economic factors. Less economically fortunate children have got fewer opportunities in regards to education and may therefore perceive or actually have an inferior education. Furthermore, a lack of economic stability may also result in the inability for children to engage in extracurricular activities which may in turn result in children hanging out in streets and associating themselves with gang members and gang behaviour which often leads to high levels of violence.

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