Today, we live in a world that is overshadowed by crime. Even the most serene towns are seeing an increase in delinquent activity. Penal Codes are being amended globally to abate the new types of criminal violations. Even hate speech or words that create dissension are a criminal offence. The word crime originates from the Latin word crimen – meaning offence. There have been various thoughts and philosophy in tracing and understanding the fact as to why people engage in criminal acts? What inspires such deviant behaviour? Has the Law not been a deterrent to crime?
In its basic definition, a crime is an act which is prohibited by the Criminal Code. In other words an act or omission punishable by Law. We must strive to understand that it is punishment – accountability to a set of rules – that maintains social order. Whether it is maintaining discipline in a classroom, to playing by the rules in a rugby encounter or driving on an expressway. Society is held together by the knowledge that one must uphold the laws and moral obligations, or in the least form abstain from unethical actions and transgression.
In ancient times, when civilization was strongly influenced by superstition, deviant behavior in humans was often attributed to demonology. The understanding was that people who committed crimes such as murder and rape were possessed by evil spirits, for those with a conscience and divine belief could not commit such dark deeds.
The father of criminology, Cesare Lombroso, strongly believed that criminals were born. Criminals were throwbacks to primitive beings. He argued that criminals were insensitive and never experienced guilty feelings. During his incarceration at a Florida prison serial killer Ted Bundy, told court that he never felt guilty for the rape and murder of 36 young women, over a killing spree that lasted almost eight years. Lombroso further emphasizes that criminals are incapable of resisting the impulse to commit a crime. However as he further studied deviant nature he also began to realize the impact and influence of social factors that led to criminal activity.
There was much scientific research which also supports the claim that there are biological elements that influence criminal tendencies. Some argue that criminality is inherited. Today we can observe a variance to this theory and notice that at times criminal behaviour is copied. A teenager may adopt unethical actions to be accepted into a group of seniors, a street gang for example. Medical research highlights that criminal or deviant attitudes can also be traced to glandular malfunctions and learning disability.
A modern study done in the corporate sector also concludes that people are led to commit crime or violent actions due to strain and stress. This is termed as Strain Theory, where people become frustrated due to stressful environments or negative influences of others. This yields to anger. When anger blossoms into a rage, people suddenly shoot co-workers as often witnessed in western countries.
Ceasare Beccaria of Italy shed some light on criminal motivation when he states that criminal behavior originates from rewards relating to pleasure. All human actions need some level of inspiration. We seek reward in some form such as cash or social acceptance or recognition. Even criminals plan their dark and foul deeds. They initiate a risk assessment. It requires more planning to rob a bank than to steal a jack fruit form a village garden! Greater material reward motivates the criminal to advance in crime. Reverting to Ted Bundy his motivation for serial rape and murder was pleasure. This pleasure can be divided into two segments:
1. Sexual gratification
2. Control derived over his helpless victims
We can even tie Victor Vroom’s (1964) Theory of Expectancy, to criminal motivation, although this is a management related theory. Victor teaches us that Valence (Reward), Expectancy (Performance) and Instrumentality (Belief of reward) ultimately combine to yield Motivation. The same fundamentals are true for criminal desires. The once dominant dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin, is a prime example of a criminal mind aspiring for fame and fortune. He envisaged rising to power, whilst still a military cook under the British. He engaged in many crimes, including murder.
Sadly, his superior officers failed to punish him. His motivation was fuelled by greed for a luxury life and control. He did achieve this, yet success without dignity is failure.
Finally, we reflect on Plato’s theory that criminals are not afraid of punishment. This is so true, and corresponds to any era in history. There is always a loophole in the legal system of any country for a good defense attorney to vindicate an accused. Perhaps this is why Socrates says “Evading punishment is the action of uneducated men.” Punishment must never be understood as being an act of revenge. Laws must be translated to reflect the rehabilitative value of punishment, and must always serve as a deterrent to deviant behavior. The conscience of society must be enlightened.