status, and why these proposals were chosen as a

status, such as
providing all families with a home and the access to public services, could
visibly reduce inequality.

 

The ‘drug and
alcohol courts’ initiative was chosen because substance use plays a major role
in the commitment of crime. In the 2013 crime survey of England and Wales, more
than half of the offenders of violent crime were under the influence of
alcohol.1
It is widely accepted that there is a causal link between alcohol use and crime.2
It must also be considered that there is a stronger correlation between
substance use and social inequality. The link between social and economical
inequality and substance use can be explained by ‘status anxiety’3
which suggests that there is an income hierarchy in society, where those at the
bottom of the hierarchy experience low self-esteem, leading to use and abuse of
alcohol and drugs. In turn, this can lead to the commitment of crime. It can be
seen that there is connection between social inequality, drug and alcohol use
and crime. Substance use and social inequality go hand in hand seeing as it
plays a causal role in criminal behaviour;4
henceforth the reason for selecting the above policy proposals as a
combination. By looking at the relationship between social inequality,
substance use and criminal behaviour, the chosen policy initiatives as a
combination can be used as an effective method in controlling crime.

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 Criminology and sociology theories of crime and understandings of those theories can shape the criminal justice system and its policy-making methods. Social theories behind deviance and criminal behaviour can explain distinguished relationships between crime and social class, race, ethnicity, culture, economic wellbeing and neighbourhood influence. Marxist social theories stress the importance of the effects of inequality in a society. Marxist sociologists put forward that it is the differences between social groups that lead to conflict and crime. Additionally, the use of drugs and alcohol are also a major contributor to the commitment of crime. In 2015, approximately 80% of incarcerated offenders in the United States were under the influence of either drugs or alcohol at the time of offence.1  Social inequality and substance use are arguably the top causes of violent and property crime including theft, assault, domestic abuse and rape. With regards to this, the policy proposals chosen to be part of the ‘Keeping us safe’ programme are ‘Social harmony and redistribution’ (£60m) and ‘drug and alcohol courts’ (£40m). The report will firstly consider why each proposal was selected and why these proposals were chosen as a combination. It will look at how both proposals fit hand in hand and the effectiveness of them working together as a combination. For example, the report will not only look at the connection between social inequality, alcohol and crime but also the reason behind excessive alcohol use itself, and how this can eventually lead to criminal behaviour. The report will evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed initiatives, evidencing theories and studies in support of it as well as discuss any limitations the theories may have. The practical implications of the policy proposals will be looked at by considering realistic solutions in order to reduce the rate of crime. Why the policy proposals were selectedFirstly, the ‘social harmony and redistribution’ proposal was chosen because it aims to reduce inequality in the wider community. There are multiple theories which suggest that poverty and economic inequality lead to high crime rates. In 1983, Robert Merton’s strain theory recognised that different cultures establish certain goals that are collectively agreed upon.2 However not everyone in a society can readily access the means to achieve their goals. This is known as an imbalance between goals and means to achieve those goals. For example, a goal of economic success requires the means of good quality education and the availability of well paid jobs.3 Those who cannot access these means may face frustration when confronted by others in society who have achieved the same goals, and this frustration is acted out in the form of crime.4 Therefore, it can be argued that if this inequality did not exist there may be a significantly lower crime rate. Reducing the gap between the so-called ‘wealthy’ and ‘poor’ will reduce inequality which will in turn reduce crime rates.5 It is for this reason that the ‘social harmony and redistribution’ proposal was selected. Practically speaking, making the same services available for everyone regardless of economical 

 

 

 

Why crime occurs and how the proposed initiatives may
be effective in reducing crime

Social conflict
theory proposes that deviant behaviour, such as crime, stem from inequalities
in a social group.5 One
of the main reasons for conflict between social groups are differences in
social class. The conflict theory argues that dominant groups in society
dominate inferior groups by inflicting social norms, belief systems and laws on
them in order to remain in a position of power.6
In relation to the commitment of crime, conflict theory brings the idea that
due to some social groups not having access to means, such as well paid jobs or
money, they have to turn to crimes like theft and burglary to be able to have
the same materials as others. It is the idea that the rich have goods the poor
want but cannot earn, so they resort to stealing from the rich. It is proposed
that the economic hierarchy causes people, specifically those at the bottom of
the hierarchy, to turn to crime.7
A study by Bjerk8 in
2007 showed that frequency of crime is higher in communities where there is a
wider gap between standards of living. This evidence indicates that reducing
the gap between social groups may be an effective way to reduce crime.

 

Alcohol and drug
use is often paired with low socio-economic status, which together can lead to
crime. Differences in social class, particularly in economic well-being, plays
a major role in both drug use and criminal behaviour. The term poverty is
defined by socio-economic status, for example, education, neighbourhood status
and occupational status. In researching the connection between poverty and drug
use, Mackenbach9
concluded from his study that there is a ‘greater use of the substances by the
poor…as a response to the greater stress in poor people’s lives.’ Additionally,
the connection between poverty, substance use and crime is notable. For example
addiction to grade A drugs like heroin is seen as being three times more common
in people who earn £20,000 or less a year.10
In a study involving convicted offenders, it was found that illegal drug use,
including cocaine and heroin, was significantly related to crime.11
As mentioned earlier, there is a three way link between social inequality,
crime and drug and alcohol use. The proposed initiative for drug and alcohol
courts can be effective in lowering crime rate by dealing with the reasons
behind substance use and its connection to crime. There is evidence to support
that effective treatment for drug or alcohol addiction can reduce crime. Jofre-Bonet and Sindelar (2001)12
found that reduced cocaine use as a result of drug treatment lead to a
reduction in property crime. Special courts for offenders with drug and alcohol
problems that deal with the challenges they face can work as a rehabilitation
programme. This can be used as a cure to substance use and therefore lower drug
and alcohol related crime, which may be a more effective method than the
current criminal justice system which uses harsh punishments to act as a deterrent
to criminal behaviour.

 

However, supporting evidence to this proposed initiative may have some
limitations. Social theory suggests that drug use and social inequality,
particularly economic disparities, have strong correlations with property
crime. It puts forward that those on low-income commit crime to increase
income, for example burglary and shoplifting. However, social theory is limited
in the fact that it does not explain the cause of other crimes evident in
communities with social inequalities, such as domestic abuse or rape. Out of
all reported child abuse cases, 33% were alcohol related.13 Also,
Bushman (1997)14
found that alcohol consumption was mostly related to aggressive crimes like
assault. Nevertheless, there were 5.8 million cases of property crime reported
to the police in 2016.15
This is a significantly high number of property crime and the use of drug and
alcohol specialist courts could help to reduce this number considerably. A reduction
of this number would have a significant impact on improving society.

 

Moving on, ecology theories of crime suggest that as more people live
closer together in towns and cities, there is more contact with others and more
chances of being influenced by the criminal behaviour around them. It is argued
that due to there being a higher population in urban areas, a person is less
likely to be caught for criminal activity because there is lower chance of
recognition.16
Krivo and Peterson (1996)17
studied the influence of neighbourhood in urban areas. They found that a poor
neighbourhood had a higher chance of crime. Urbanised neighbourhoods have large
gaps in terms of social inequality. This is down to the separation between
class, race and socio-economic status in urban cities.

There are wealthy people living in big houses next to low-income
families with only bare necessities. Also, stop and search policies under the Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act 199418
are exercised more frequently in poor urban neighbourhoods than in wealthier
neighbourhoods. Sutherland (1947)19
proposed that in urbanised neighbourhoods, there will be more crime due to
conflicting beliefs between the different social groups. It can therefore be
argued that narrower gaps between different social groups may play a positive
role in reducing crime.

 

A solution to the problem of inequality and crime can be derived from
these evidences. Groups within communities can be made more equal through
redistribution of income. As the policy proposal suggests, more tax can be
levied on those who are more well-off to be used to help those on low-income.

This will reduce the economic gap, provide a better standard of living for more
people in society and in turn reduce crime rate. There is evidence to support
this idea. A research study has found that when there is alleviation of
poverty, either through increase of income or a fairer distribution of income
in a society, the crime rate in that society falls.20
One of the biggest issues in an urban community is the socio-economic gap
between groups which acts as a causal link to crime. The proposed initiative
can be effective as it aims to reduce the gap by trying to distribute income
more equally. Also, as more funding would be available for schemes that promote
understandings of different cultures, it would create a better sense of
community within that society. Dense population in cities and towns can mean
that fewer people know each other, compared to more rural areas where everyone
knows each other. When there are more community services available for everyone
in a community, it allows more interaction and better understandings of
different backgrounds, cultures and religions. World bank researchers21
found that ‘localities with less inequality do in fact have lower crime rates.’
Also, Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) broken windows22
theory proposes that it is important to maintain order in a neighbourhood to
control crime. To put these into practise, the ‘social harmony and
redistribution’ policy proposal will be a practical way of reducing crime. It
will not only help to reduce crime but also create social cohesion, better
understandings of different cultures and promote equality for everyone.

 

Although ecology theories suggest that urbanisation and dense
populations can cause criminal behaviour for a number of reasons, the theory is
not without limitations. It is argued that there is a high crime rate in urban
neighbourhoods, however it may rather be that due to there being a greater
population in cities compared to rural areas, it seems as though the crime rate
is higher. Also, crimes like domestic abuse or marital rape are less reported,23
which may make it seem as though street crimes in urban areas are more
frequently occurring. This means that ecology theories are not very effective
in explaining causes of crime, and therefore solutions derived from it may also
be ineffective. Nevertheless, new criminology known as right realism does not
show importance to the causes of crime, but instead focuses on crime
prevention. It shares the idea that crime is real no matter how it was caused24, and
that it has a negative impact on social cohesion. Realism has a more pragmatic
approach to crime. Instead of utilising historical theories of crime causation,
it focuses on the current situation and how the government can execute crime
controlling policies.25
Therefore, because there is evidence to show there is indeed a higher crime
rate in urban populations where inequality is abundant, the initiatives act as
a defensive approach to crime commitment.

 

Conclusion

There is a three-way relationship between crime, socio-economic inequality
and substance use. There has been a lot of research around the effects of
social inequality on criminal behaviour. As evidence suggests, narrowing the
gap between social groups will create better communities with reduced crime.

Better understandings of different cultures and ways of life can reduce the gap
between different groups and create a closer community. Poverty, as one of the
main contributors to social inequality, can be seen as the base for both drug
and alcohol use and crime. Taking action on poverty and drug and alcohol use
together can prevent the occurrence of crime within a society. Instead of
harshly punishing offenders, it may be more helpful to society as a whole if
the court dealt with challenges faced by drug and alcohol users. Since it has
been discovered that substance use is a contributor to crime, recovery of
offenders with addictions could be more important than merely punishing them,
as it deals with the root cause of the crime problem. The proposed policy
initiatives will work together as preventative methods in reducing crime.

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