Crime as a Major Social Problem in the Society

Crime as a Major Social Problem in the Society

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Essay: Contemporary Issues in Criminology

Article ·  May 2013with1,273 Reads

Part A
[1000 words]

With reference to at least three of the topics discussed in this module, outline what you consider to be the major challenges facing the criminal justice system in the contemporary period. How well do you think these challenges are being met?

Part B
[2000 words]

Compare and contrast societal responses to two of the following: elder abuse; family annihilation; school shootings.

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CR31620 Contemporary Issues in Criminology
Written Assignment
Part A
[1000 words]
With reference to at least three of the topics discussed in this module, outline what you
consider to be the major challenges facing the criminal justice system in the contemporary
period. How well do you think these challenges are being met?
The first topic to be considered is anti-social behaviour. This has been, and continues to be, a major
challenge for the criminal justice system due to the complicated implementation of punishment or
deterrence for such behaviour.
The first piece of legislation against anti-social behaviour was the Crime and Disorder Act 1998,
introduced by New Labour, which brought about the implementation of Anti-social Behaviour
Orders. These orders are deemed to have been a failure by many involved in criminal justice. They
were seen as 'elastic' (Burney, 2005; Millie, 2009) and the definitions of anti-social behaviour were
ambiguous (Hodgkinson & Tilley, 2013). Hodgkinson & Tilley (2013) argue that New Labour
introduced standalone enforcement intervention without providing the necessary support. Cooper et
al. (2009) agree, stating that the Government emphasized the enforcement powers too much without
considering alternatives.
May (2010) states that the ASBO failed to act as a serious deterrent. Since then, the Coalition
government has proposed and implemented replacements to the ASBO, with the Crime Prevention
Injunction and Criminal Behaviour Order introduced. However, Cornford (2012) argues that “these
new proposals will disappoint those who have criticised the ASBO on principled grounds”. He goes
on to say that the injunctions would “permit severe restrictions of liberty and threaten penalties that
would be disproportionate to the relatively trivial wrongdoing that they aim to prevent.”
Clarke, Williams & Wydall (2011) display the concerns of practitioners. Most notable was the
treatment of victims of anti-social behaviour. The Coalition aims to rectify these issues, giving
communities more power to address issues they perceive to be caused by anti-social behaviour and
promoting restorative justice with such measures as Community Harm Statements and
Neighbourhood Justice Panels (Home Office, 2012).
Overall, it appears that the failures of ASBOs are being addressed. Responding to feedback from
communities, the Government has implemented various alternatives to previous methods and have
given local communities more involvement in dealing with issues at the local level in order to
achieve a more specific definition of anti-social behaviour.
The second issue the criminal justice system faces is the concept of vulnerable victims. Specifically
in this essay elder abuse cases, which are a major issue considering the possible extent and
frequency of elder abuse.
The main problem in terms of elder abuse appears to be the lack of a global definition. Brammer &
Biggs (1998) and Dixon et al. (2010) highlight this, arguing that various social services and
departments of the Government dealt with elder abuse using differing definitions. Dixon et al.
(2010) state “What is clear is that current definitions of elder mistreatment require further
clarification and elucidation.”
In terms of the prevalence of elder abuse, O'Keefe et al. (2007) found that around 2.6% of the older
population (66 and over) reported experiencing mistreatment, with 1.6% reporting cases of abuse.
This mistreatment covers neglect, financial abuse and psychological, physical and sexual abuse.
Measures are being taken to tackle elder abuse, such as “the right to be safe” strategy, the “access to
justice” pilot strategy and the implementation of an “older peoples' commissioner”. The access to
justice pilot focused on improving staff training in risk assessment, increasing involvement for the
victim of abuse, improving evaluation of the elderly person's mental capacity, increasing contact
between agencies and victims, and an increase in multi-agency response and referral for victims
(Clarke et al., 2012).
Examining this alternative measure to treating cases of elder abuse, it appears that this challenge for
the criminal justice system can be more effectively dealt with if the system is implemented to a
larger scale than a pilot study.
The third issue which the criminal justice system faces is the fear of crime. Brunton-Smith (2011)
states that fear of crime has been instrumental in guiding public control policy. He argues that low-
level disorder within the local area causes the public to form opinions of what the disorder signifies,
internalising it into increased volumes of fear of crime. Broken window theory (Wilson & Kelling,
1982) best represents this notion, arguing that when community bonds are broken, further disorder
takes place.
Box, Hale & Andrews (1988) found that a key variable in fear of crime appears to be the age of the
individual. They state that as the results highlight older people the gender-fear gap narrows,
showing that the elderly, whether male or female, are much more likely to suffer from the fear of
crime. Their results also show that females are more afraid of crime than men at all age levels. More
interestingly, the study displays that victimisation had a negative correlation with fear, meaning that
victims became less afraid of crime. However, this discredited environmental factors and
incivilities, finding that individuals who had been victimised whilst living in inner-city
neighbourhoods – likely to display incivilities such as graffiti, public drunkenness, litter, etc. – had
an increased fear of crime. Atkins, Husain & Storey (1991) provide a similar argument, their study
on street lighting showing that improvements to street lighting resulted in perceived reduced fear of
In the view of reducing fear of crime, Weisburd & Eck (2004) suggests hot-spot police tactics and
other community and problem-oriented methods resulted in communities feeling safer, although did
not reduce the levels of crime and disorder. (Grabosky, 1995) agrees that incivilities increase fear of
crime. He suggests that these should be dealt with swiftly, in order to prevent further incivilities
from taking place (e.g one act of graffiti resulting in numerous). Another measure they suggest is
improvement to police community relations through increased presence and increased
neighbourhood watch presence, which could result in more cohesion throughout communities.
It seems that there are numerous hypotheses for reducing fear of crime, yet even after their
implementation it continues to be subject to vast academic study and media attention. The methods
mentioned appear to be effective, but with the issue of media sensationalism it seems fear of crime
may continue to be at the foreground of political policy.
Clarke, A., Williams, K., Wydall, S. et al., (2011). Describing and assessing interventions to
address anti-social behaviour, Home Office Research report 51, London: Home Office.
Cornford, A. (2012). ‘Criminalising anti-social behaviour’, Criminal Law and Philosophy, 6, 1: 1-
Hodgkinson, S. and Tilley, N. (2011). ‘Tackling anti-social behaviour: lessons from New Labour for
the Coalition Government’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 11, 4: 283-305.
Home Office (2012). Putting People First: More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour,
White Paper Cm 8367, London: The Stationery Office.
Burney E. (2005). Making People Behave: Anti-Social Behaviour, Politics and Policy. Cullompton:
Millie A. (2009). Anti-Social Behaviour. Maidenhead: Open University Press
Cooper C., Brown G., Powell H. & Sapsed E. (2009). Exploration of Local Variations in the Use of
Anti-Social Behaviour Tools and Powers. Research Report 21. London: Home Office.
May, T. (2010). Moving beyond the ASBO. Speech available online.
media-centre/speeches/beyond-the-asbo. Last Accessed April 29th 2013.
Brammer, A. & Biggs, S. (1998). Defining elder abuse, Journal of Social
Welfare and Family Law. 20(3), 285-304.
Clarke, A., Williams, J., Wydall, S. and Boaler, R. (2012). An Evaluation of the ‘Access to Justice’
Pilot Project, Cardiff: Welsh Government. Available at: Last accessed 29th April 2013
Dixon, J., Manthorpe, J., Biggs, S., Mowlam, A., Tennant, R., Tinker, A. and McCreadie, C. (2010)
‘Defining elder mistreatment: reflections on the United Kingdom Study of Abuse and Neglect of
Older People’, Ageing & Society, 30, 403-420.
O'Keefe, M., Hills, A., Doyle, M., McCreadie, C., Scholes, S., Constantine, R., Tinker, A.,
Manthorpe, J., Biggs, s. and Erens, B. (2007) UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People:
Prevelance Survey Report, National Centre for Social Research: London.
Brunton-Smith, I. (2011). Untangling the relationship between fear of crime and perceived disorder:
Evidence from a longitudinal study of young people in England and Wales. British Journal of
Criminology, 51(6), 885-899.
Wilson, J. and Kelling, G. (1982). ‘Broken Windows’, Atlantic Monthly, March, 29–38.
Box, S., Hale, C. & Andrews, G. (1988). Explaining fear of crime. British Journal of Criminology.
28, 340-356.
Atkins, S., Husain, S. & Storey, A. (1991). The influence of street lighting on crime and fear of
crime. Crime Prevention Unit Paper No. 28. London: Home Office.
Grabosky, P. (1995). Fear of crime and fear reduction strategies. Trends and Issues in Crime and
Criminal Justice.
Weisburd, D. & Eck, J. (2004). What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear? Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 593, To Better Serve and Protect:
Improving Police Practices. 42-65.
Part B
[2000 words]
Compare and contrast societal responses to two of the following: elder abuse; family
annihilation; school shootings.
The two topics we will examine are family annihilations and school shootings, due to the more
shocking and rare nature of the two as opposed to elder abuse which is receiving more consistent
academic study.
The first aspect we should examine in order to establish the societal response to family annihilation
is the response of the media and public. Expectedly, these types of stories bring with them a high
degree of interest due to the shock nature of a parent murdering their families. One case is Ceri
Fuller, who murdered his three children and them himself after his wife informed him she was
leaving him for another man (Daily Mail, 2013). Another report is of Michael Atherton, who killed
his wife, her sister and her niece after his wife threatened that she was going to leave him
(Hartlepool Mail; Daily Mirror, 2013). The circumstances of these cases are very similar, and as
such they gained a similar societal response at the time. General comments on these news stories
suggest that the murderers were selfish, evil and cowardly.
A story which brings about a different response due to change in circumstance, is that of Claudia
Oakes-Green, who murdered her two children and then herself after reportedly becoming depressed
and feared losing her job (Daily Mail; Daily Mirror, 2011). This receives a different societal
response due to both her sex, and the fact that she was a devout roman-catholic. General comments
display that her religion surprises the majority of respondents, as it is not the expected behaviour of
religious people. Her sex, however, causes responses more supportive than the response to male
killers. This gender bias from the public displays both how much more shocking a story is when a
female killer is involved, as well as how much more compassionate the public reaction is.
Considering further motivations for familicide and examining the response, there is the story of
millionaire Christopher Foster, who killed his wife and daughter, their pets and then set their
mansion home on fire before committing suicide (The Guardian, 2008; Daily Mail, 2009). The
apparent motivation for this was financial, in that Christopher had lost his money after being sued,
and the day of the murders and fire, bailiffs were coming to repossess his property. However, in
terms of societal response many interviews show Foster's friends to empathise with his situation,
understanding that providing financial support for a family is imperative and the inability to do so
caused Foster to do such things.
Overall, it is clear that family annihilation cases result in a large public and media interest, evidently
due to the shocking and surprising nature of the stories. Some reactions, though, are surprising,
especially in that the gender bias between male and female actually displayed the public to
sympathise more with a female, Claudia Oakes-Green, rather than an increased level in shock and
To gain a further understanding of the response made to familicide cases, we must examine the
academic study and research undertaken in this field. This may also give an insight into methods of
reducing or preventing these situations.
Research suggests that women are nine times more likely than men to be the victim of spousal
murder (Edwards, 1986; Povey, 2008). Gregory (2013) states that family annihilators kill their
families as an 'extended suicide', killing others as they know they can't be caught if they commit
Gregory (2013) also goes on to say that other types of familicide include the killer being overcome
with regret and then committing suicide. Further, the killing of children can be viewed as getting
revenge against the wife, or they become 'belongings' of the killer, which they cannot leave behind.
For cases where it is believed the killer committed suicide due to regret, Harper & Voight (2007)
designed an analytical model showing that the three main factors in causing familicide were
frustration – stemming from blocked needs or goals, failure – stemming from loss of sexual partner
or meaning for living, and loss of control – stemming from the need to be dominant and the loss of
this ability. Gregory (2012) states that these results give an indication that the thought of suicide
came as a result of the homicide, however her study found that in most cases, the suicidal plan is
forged beforehand. Liem (2010) argues that the perpetrators motives in the majority of cases are
“based on revenge or rectification of perceived harm”, and mental illness has a pronounced role in
all categories of familicide. Stanton & Simpson (2002) suggest further understanding of the
interaction between stress, social adversity and mental illness is required in order to determine what
specifications can lead to filicide, and to better equip authorities and social services to prevent
Scheff (2011) highlights the importance of social isolation in influencing perpetrators of homicide-
suicide. He suggests that to reduce violent aggression, teaching individuals how to identify
emotions or encouraging individuals to form their own groups in order to avoid extreme social
isolation, could be effective methods. This is furthered by Serran & Firestone (2004) who state the
value in theories from psychology, biology, sociology and criminology, suggesting that the criminal
justice system does not protect women especially in terms of domestic violence resulting in unequal
power relationships between men and women, highlighting the need to change values at societal
and individual level.
Measuring these academic responses to family annihilations, then, it suggests that theorizing
familicide has many conflicting arguments. In order to better understand the causes of such events,
as Stanton & Simpson (2002) and Liem (2010) suggest, more study must be taken in to the
relationship between stress and mental illness, which is argued to be a strong causal factor in an
individual's decision to murder their family and kill themself.
We must now examine the societal response in relation to school shootings, so that we are able to
determine the comparisons and contrasts between school shootings and family annihilation.
School shootings in Western society have largely taken place in USA. This is highly likely due to
the sheer amount of gun-bearing American citizens, with arguably poor gun controls. However,
their impact reaches globally and the societal response in terms of the media and public is typically
that of extreme shock.
Looking at a few examples, the responses, and often the circumstances remain similar. Larkin
(2009) suggests that the most prominent cause of these shootings is bullying and the negative
impacts of the media on youths. De Venanzi (2012) adds that violent media imagery has created
huge controversy in relation to their negative effects on society.
In terms of the perpretators of these shootings, they are entirely male. The differences, using
Langman's (2009) study, appear to be predominantly the mental states of the killers. They are
separated into three types; psychopathic, psychotic and traumatized. Interestingly, of the Columbine
High School shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Langman (2009) finds Harris to be
psychopathic and Klebold to be psychotic. This means, then, that there may have been differing
motivations for the pair to commit the shootings.
To determine the media and public impact, more recent cases need to be examined such as the
Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown and the Virginia Tech massacre. In the Newtown
shootings, killer Adam Lanza is portrayed as being mentally unstable and as having severe
problems socially (BBC, 2012). His easy access to weapons is also raised as a problem point (The
Guardian 2013). As well as this, reports of a history of being bullied are reported, giving an insight
into the motivations for the shooting (Daily Mail, 2013). After the shootings, the reaction from the
majority of the public was support for the victims, as opposed to vitriol towards Lanza, although
this may be due to his suicide, restricting any longevity to his own personal story.
In the Virginia Tech massacre, similarities to the Newtown events are highlighted. Again, the
perpetrator killed himself after the rampage (BBC, 2007), was found to suffer mental illness (ABC,
2009), and was bullied by classmates (NBC, 2007). The public reaction was similar to Newtown
also, with the focus being on support for the victims and their families, with posthumous degrees
awarded to the students who were killed as a tribute (NBC, 2007). A lot of public attention was also
faced at Virginia Tech, who were criticised for not protecting students after an initial attack killed
two people, with the subsequent thirty others being killed two hours later, when the Univesity
security thought Seung Hui-Cho had fled off Campus (CBS, 2009).
To further understand the societal response to school shootings, we must examine the academic and
political reaction to these events. This can provide a detailed view of how the shootings led to
methods of response in relation to theorizing and preventing further shootings.
Altheide (2009) suggests that school shootings resulted in an increase to symbolic value of children
within the public, arguing that the media used their role to transform the school shooting at
Columbine High School into a perceived terrorist act, also linking it with youth problems, discipline
concerns at schools and lack of policy concerned with protecting children. Birkland & Lawrence
(2009) further this argument, citing an increase in public fear of and for young people after the
events in 1999. Altheide (2009) states that this relationship created by the media between the
Columbine shooting and terrorism served to gain support for policies to tackle school violence.
Kleck (2009) states that the media response at the time largely highlighted the fact there were “too
many guns and too few gun controls”. This is echoed by Birkland & Lawrence (2009), referring to
the media coverage which argued that guns were too accessible and the USA was growingly
becoming a more violent culture. They also highlight the sometimes outraged national media,
bemused that society could create these “young rampage killers”.
To gauge the societal response to school shootings, examining the progression of policy particularly
relating to guns and school children in the USA can identify how policymakers were influenced by
school shootings such as high profile cases like Columbine, Virginia Tech and Newtown.
Altheide (2009) states that government officials began endorsing more surveillance, lockdown drills
in schools and programs to tackle bullying and cruelty within schools. He continues to say that the
link created by the Government and media between school shootings and terrorism did not appear
to have any impact in reducing school shootings. Birkland & Lawrence (2009) argue that the
Columbine shootings “caused little political learning” explaining that the media failure was down to
the use of preexisting frames such as gun violence and pop culture in an attempt to swing policy.
Since the Newtown shootings, however, the Obama administration has increased their efforts to
reduce gun violence, with new legislation to be brought in. This suggests that the US Government
was again reminded of it's failures to tackle mass shootings and responded with an increased
activity in changing policy.
Comparing family annihilation and school shootings, then, it appears that school shootings have
created a more extreme impact on both the public and policymakers. Familicide has been the
subject of extensive academic study since it's conception, albeit without definitive evidence of
causes, whereas school shootings have resulted in more political change.
There are similarities between the two, in that due to the rarity of such events both create massive
public and media attention. Also, both events often result in the perpetrator committing suicide,
meaning that the killers are not able to be put under scrutiny by the justice system, the media or the
public. This creates debate within academic disciplines and the media as to the motivations and
causal factors for such killings.
Overall, though, it seems that in terms of societal response, school shootings have led to a further
reaching reaction, highlighted by the involvement of the Government in aiming to reduce school
shootings, whereas little policy has been put forward to tackle familicide.
Family Annihilation
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Povey, D. (2008). Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2006/07. Home Office
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School Shootings
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classmates at Sandy Hook Elementary so badly his mother considered suing school over it'.
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NBC. (2007). High school classmates say gunman was bullied. Available:
gunman-was-bullied/#.UYAR-rWyBgE. Last accessed 29th April 2013.
Altheide, D. (2009). The Columbine shootings and the discourse of fear. American Behavioral
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Kleck, G. (2009). Mass shootings in schools: The worst possible case for gun control. American
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De Venanzi, A. (2012). School shootings in the USA: Popular culture as risk, teen marginality and
violence against peers. Crime, Media,Culture. 8, 261-278.
Langman, P. (2009). Rampage school shooters: A typology. Aggression and Violent Behaviour. 14,
Larkin, R. (2009). The Columbine legacy: Rampage shootings as political acts. American
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