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Essay on Crime Prevention

Posted by admin as Example papers

Example Essay on Crime Prevention:

Finding the Root Causes of Crime
Crime prevention is not a new idea. In fact, most police forces have been actively engaged in crime prevention activities for a number of years, and their efforts are increasingly being supplemented by volunteer based neighborhood and community initiatives. What is new is the emerging tendency to shift away from an exclusive focus on police based approaches in favor of a broader conception of how to prevent crime. The result is a number of new possibilities for delivering on the promise of crime prevention, and the emergence of a number of new participants in the area of prevention activities. One example of this new development is the direct participation of municipal governments in the organization of crime prevention structures and the delivery of crime prevention services and activities.

The involvement of municipal governments in the area of crime prevention has been spurred by the popularity of municipal crime prevention councils in Europe (especially in France), and by the successes of locally organized and community-based initiatives in North America. In both cases, the involvement reflects a sense that, whatever crime prevention is, the police cannot do it alone. Moreover, there is a growing awareness that crime prevention is an inherently political domain: citizens are increasingly vocal about where and how scarce municipal resources are allocated in the “war” on crime, and politicians are increasingly being held accountable for the successes or failures of these initiatives. Crime prevention is everyone’s business, and given that crime both occurs and is fought in local communities, it is hardly surprising that municipal government involvement now goes well beyond the traditional role of funding a police force and leaving the problem to them.

When reflecting on society’s defenses against crime, criminologists and sociologists usually distinguish between two main systems of control, formal and informal. Formal social control has the purpose of defining, punishing and deterring crime and is exerted principally through the law and the criminal justice system. Informal social control attempts to induce conformity through people’s routine supervision of each other’s behavior, reinforced by rule making, admonition, and censure. It is well understood that these two principal forms of social control are interdependent. The law and criminal justice system define and regulate the outer limits of unacceptable conduct, most of which is kept within bounds by the day-to-day exercise of informal controls. Without being backed up by the law and the criminal justice system, however, these informal controls would soon lose their force.

It is also widely recognized that as society evolves into more complex forms, informal control has to be increasingly supplemented by formal systems of control. This is because informal controls depend greatly on people in a community knowing one another and knowing who are each other’s neighbors, relations and work mates. People may know each other this well in agrarian or rural societies, but they do not in urban and industrial societies. Consequently, these latter societies come to rely increasingly upon widely promulgated laws and a developed system of law enforcement.

Less well understood, however, is that informal and formal social controls are intertwined with and dependent upon a third important control system: routine precautions taken against crime by individuals and organizations. Every day, we all do such things as lock our doors, secure our valuables, counsel our children, and guard our purses and wallets to reduce the risk of crime. To this end, we also buy houses in safe neighborhoods, invest in burglar alarms and firearms, and avoid dangerous places and people. Similarly, schools, factories, offices, shops, and many other organizations and agencies routinely take a host of precautions to safeguard themselves, their employees and their clients from crime.

Whole industries and sectors of employment exist whose sole purpose is to supply or service this need for personal and organizational security: manufacturers of alarms and surveillance systems, weapons makers, locksmiths, safe makers, guards and custodian services, security consultants, store detectives, guard dog handlers and ticket inspectors, to name but a few. Without this system of routine precautions, the task of informal social control would be immeasurably more difficult and the criminal justice system would be swamped by a flood of petty and more serious crimes.

Routine precautions will grow in importance with the decline of formal and informal controls, which is foreseen by some commentators. Felson (1994) has listed some of the factors in the decline of informal control in modern society, including working mothers, larger schools, more casual employment, increased economic power of teenagers, and the separation of home and workplace. Many of the same factors have weakened the power of the criminal justice system. Offenders have become more anonymous and less detectable (most detections are the result of leads to the identity of perpetrators provided by victims and others). Their opportunities for theft and vandalism have greatly expanded with the growth in possessions. Their greater mobility has reduced the value of preventive patrol, which relies for much of its effect on the police knowing who should and who should not be present in particular places.

The job of the police has also been made more difficult by the increases in nighttime activity resulting from more transportation and more electricity. In addition, they have a wider range of behavior to regulate as more misconduct is brought within the purview of the criminal law. The criminal justice system is therefore deluged with offenses, many of a petty nature. It is increasingly ineffective as a deterrent and is becoming prohibitively costly. As the criminal justice system is less able to cope with the flood of crime, people turn increasingly to ways of protecting themselves. They become consumers of books and television programs purveying crime prevention advice. They learn self-defense and purchase car alarms and mace. In the same way, organizations adopt more sophisticated ways to screen employees and provide surveillance of their properties. They engage in background checks and drug screening. They install surveillance cameras and employ doormen. This demand for additional security is reflected in the tremendous growth of private policing, which in terms of numbers employed now outstrips the public police (Nalla and Newman, 1990).
The increased reliance on routine precautions is greatly assisted by technological development, which results in a proliferation of low-cost security devices and systems designed for particular offenses and particular settings. Harbingers of things to come are provided by the breathalyzer, by electronic PIN numbers, by Caller-ID, and by photo radar. Hardly dreamed of twenty years ago, these devices developed for use against specific crimes are now in routine use.

Wilson (1975) noted that through three quarters of this century the great burden of theorizing and research about crime had been borne by sociologists who were intent on finding root causes of crime, which they most often located in conditions of social and economic disadvantage. Wilson argues that the evidence for this explanatory approach was mixed at best and that the policy implications of the conclusions that derived from this work were limited. He concluded that greater progress could be made if attention shifted from basic efforts focused on explaining crime and to efforts concentrated in a more applied fashion on ways of reducing or containing crime, for example, through a more selective use of imprisonment to deter and incapacitate criminal offenders.

The timing of Wilson’s thinking about crime was significant. His thoughts came during the closing years of a post-war economic boom that had markedly enhanced the lives of Americans from many walks of life. Women were making new claims to nontraditional jobs and careers, minorities were exercising hardwon rights to housing, public services, and jobs, and perhaps most significant, young people from minority as well as majority group families were still confidently looking forward to improving upon the unprecedented postwar economic fortunes of their parents.

Yet crime and violence persisted in the midst of this postwar American affluence and indeed began to increase in the 1960s. America already was uniquely violent among Western industrial nations, and the U.S. homicide rate nearly doubled between 1965 and 1975. The children of the post-war economic boom seemed more violent and criminal than any generation that living Americans could remember. This increase in crime and violence seemed to contradict the accepted sociological theories of crime that emphasized social and economic disadvantage as its root causes. The accompaniments of affluence seemed to be enervating instead of eliminating America’s crime problems.

However, most of the rise in crime during this period probably resulted from the increased size of the postwar birth cohorts who were now in their teenage and young adult crime prone years. Yet this too was taken by Wilson as reason to question the relevance of sociological theories of crime and inequality, and he concluded that these theories were of doubtful utility for the formation of policies to reduce or even contain crime.

Of course, Wilson alone could not have changed American crime policy; nor could he have foreseen or much influenced the social and economic trends that surround crime and its punishment to this day. Nonetheless, his arguments were influential in policy circles and they were part of an era in which concerns about social inequality receded into the background of American politics. Interest in sociological theories of crime and inequality was replaced by renewed attention to political and economic formulations that emphasized the use of imprisonment to deter and incapacitate criminals who were assumed to be beyond any realistic hope of rehabilitation. The new consensus was that when it came to understanding the causes of crime and translating this understanding into rehabilitative treatment, “nothing worked” (Martinson, 1974).

In comparison with the failed rhetoric of rehabilitation, the new political economy of crime was seductive. It was so seductive that to this day it dominates the conventional wisdom of American electoral politics with its calls for increased investment in policing and prisons. Its lure continues to be the promise of near-term improvements if not solutions to the problems of crime. Grounded in assumptions of efficiency and choice, this policy imperative proposes that certain, swift, and severe punishments, including especially imprisonment but also the death penalty, can remove from the population those offenders who are most likely to reoffend while also dissuading prospective offenders who remain in the population from committing future anticipated crimes.

The logic of deterrence and incapacitation was applied with a sense of precision that led one economist of the 1970s, Isaac Ehrlich (1975), to estimate with time series data that each application of the death penalty in the United States could prospectively save the lives of eight potential victims of homicide. Similarly, in 1976 the National Academy of Sciences published a report which concluded that if prison use expanded there was a potential for a “two to fivefold decrease in crime.” In an article in The Public Interest, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1979) observed that this calculation was completely unrealistic.

However, opportunity reduction or increased surveillance limit the number of targets for criminal activity, but do little to reduce the overall number of potentially motivated offenders. All too often, the result of this neglect may be less a reduction in overall crime rates than a spatial or temporal displacement.

Approaches of this type generally adopt some form of social development or social policy approach to prevention. The assumption is that a reduction in the number of potential offenders requires a concerted attack on the types of family, housing, educational and employment problems which nurture crime. More specifically, there is recognition that a great deal of criminal activity is committed by youth and that consequently the impact of these problems on young people must become a priority if we are to break the cycle of crime.

There is now a considerable body of evaluation research available on some of the various crime prevention strategies which have been tried to date. It would be useful if this information could be provided to municipal governments in an accessible form. There is little doubt that this would address the apparent tendency of some to engage in action for its own sake. It might also permit a more effective targeting of crime problems and prevention strategies, and a more efficient use of limited resources.

Works Cited
Felson M. 1994. Crime and Everyday Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 167.
Ehrlich I. 1975. “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death,” American Economic Review 65:397.
Martinson R. 1974. “What Works? Question and Answers About Prison Reform,” The Public Interest 35:22-54.
Nalla M., and G. Newman. 1990. A Primer in Private Security. Albany, NY: Harrow and Heston, 50.
Wilson J.Q. 1975. Crime. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 12, 43.

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