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Defining and Measuring Crime

An overview of the content for the first learning outcome of unit 31 Criminology for BTEC's Applied Science (Forensic) Extended Diploma
by

Ian Harris

on 9 December 2014

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Transcript of Defining and Measuring Crime

Crime
Measurement
Definition
&
So, what do we mean by "crime"?
Legal
Normative
Doing something or failing to do something that breaks the law of the land.
Doing something or failing to do something that contradicts the norms of behaviour for your society.
The strengths of the legal approach to defining crime are that it makes it relatively easy to identify specific instances of criminal behaviour.
There are, however, some problems with this approach:
It undoes the relationship between criminal behaviour and morally unacceptable behaviour. So, we might all agree that cheating on your wife/husband is morally wrong but this does not break the criminal law.
The legal status of our behaviour depends on what the law says at the time. For example, homosexual behaviours have been illegal in the past but are not today.
For example, if a person is carrying a small quantity of cannabis are they committing a crime? Since it is illegal to carry any amount of a controlled substance and cannabis is controlled then they are breaking the law and so are committing a crime.
This restores the connection between crime and morality and reflects the way people tend to use the language of crime:
"It's criminal the way he neglects his children!"
"Poor behaviour at school shouldn't result in a criminal record."
"We shouldn't worry about the rights of criminals so much - they are the ones in the wrong!"
However, there are still problems with this approach to defining crime:
Who gets to say what the norms of behaviour for our society are?
Norms of behaviour aren't written down somewhere so there's no absolutely clear statement of crime.
Norms change over time so crime would also be dependent on the historical period we are looking at.
It also allows us to deal with behaviours that we think are unacceptable but that haven't been considered in law so far
LEGAL DEFINITION
LEGAL DEFINITION
NORMATIVE DEFINITION
NORMATIVE DEFINITION
D
E
F
I
N
I
T
I
O
N
S
Victim Surveys measure the the general public's experience of crime by asking a representative sample of people whether they have been a victim of different types of crime over a given period of time
Official statistics - government departments responsible for the administration of law enforcement often collect data used to provide an official description of the levels and nature of crimes being committed in a country.
So much for definitions, how is crime measured?
Official Statistics
Victim Surveys
Official Statistics
Can collect very large sets of data
More efficient than independent research - officers already engaged in data collection as part of other duties
Usually uses widely publicised and well recognised methodologies
Subject to extensive critical review because of the size and status of the research.
A methodology is the reason for choosing the method used. It explains why a specific research technique was chosen for a particular task, e.g. why use questionnaire surveys to collect experiences of crime?
Strengths
Official Statistics
Not collected for a specific purpose or for many different purposes so may lack focus
A methodology is the reason for choosing the method used. It explains why a specific research technique was chosen for a particular task, e.g. why use questionnaire surveys to collect experiences of crime?
Weaknesses
Collected by government so may be biased in favour of policy.
Tends to collect quantitative data because this is more efficient when handling large numbers of respondents
Victim Surveys
Can access otherwise 'dark' figures for crimes that are not reported
A methodology is the reason for choosing the method used. It explains why a specific research technique was chosen for a particular task, e.g. why use questionnaire surveys to collect experiences of crime?
Strengths
Specifically focused on the aims and hypotheses being investigated
Often able to include qualitative data ignored in official statistics
Less subject to political biases than official statistics
Victim Surveys
Usually smaller sample size than official statistics as individual researchers cannot survey on the same scale as the state.
A methodology is the reason for choosing the method used. It explains why a specific research technique was chosen for a particular task, e.g. why use questionnaire surveys to collect experiences of crime?
Weaknesses
Some crimes will not be revealed as too embarrassing or victim believes them to be trivial.
Anonymity of participants undermines reliability as no cross checking.
Can access reports from those who are not willing to talk to officials, e.g. criminals victimised by other criminals
Respondents may not accurately remember the time scale of their experiences and so inflate their experiences of crime within a given time scale.
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