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Concept of Crime and Criminology

I am writing this article as a registered medical practitioner who is a fellow in the study of human behavior and psychology


Definition of Crime

The word "Crime" has come from Latin word " Krimos" which means "to accuse".

Generally speaking, all societies /communities have certain norms, beliefs, traditions which are followed to continue their day to day lives. Infringement or denial to these beliefs, traditions are counted as Crime.

But legally speaking, "Crime" is defined as any form of conduct which is declared to be socially harmful in a state as forbidden by law with punishment or imposing pain on culprit.
Crime can be defined as "an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law committed without any defense or justification and penalized by the law as felony or misdemeanor.

Today's Criminology has been developed by European criminologists such as - Beccaria, Ferri, Garafalo, Tarde like criminologist and penologist

Crime -Short Introduction


Ancient ideas of Crime and Criminology Existed In Very Crude Forms

The Sumerians produced the earliest surviving written codes. The Sumerians later issued other codes, including the "code of Lipit-Ishtar". This code, from the 20th century BCE, contains some fifty articles.

Legal codes in Babylon, including the code of Hammurabi (c. 1790 BC), Mesopotamian society's belief that law derived from the will of the gods (see Babylonian law).[1][2] In the Sanskrit texts of Dharmaśāstra (c. 1250 BC), issues such as legal and religious duties, code of conduct, penalties and remedies, etc. have been discussed and forms one of the elaborate and earliest sources of legal code and crimes.[3][4]

The Romans systematized law and applied their system across the Roman Empire. Again, the initial rules of Roman law regarded assaults as a matter of private compensation. The most significant Roman law concept involved dominion.[5] The pater familias owned all the family and its property (including slaves); the pater enforced matters involving interference with any property. The Commentaries of Gaius (written between 130 and 180 AD) on the Twelve Tables treated furtum (in modern parlance: "theft") as a tort.

Even though Rome abandoned its Britannic provinces around 400 AD, the Germanic mercenaries – who had largely become instrumental in enforcing Roman rule in Britannia – acquired ownership of land there and continued to use a mixture of Roman and Teutonic Law, with much written down under the early Anglo-Saxon kings.[5] But only when a more centralized English monarchy emerged following the Norman invasion, and when the kings of England attempted to assert power over the land and its peoples, did the modern concept emerge, namely of a crime not only as an offence against the "individual", but also as a wrong against the "state".[6]

Crime In Rome

Early Concept of Crime

Emile Dukhein in his treatise "crime as normal phenomenon" says, "a society composed of person with angelic qualities would not be free from violations of the norms of that society. In fact, crime is a constant phenomenon changing with social transformation. And crime is a necessary feature of every society as it is a fundamental condition of social organization. Different groups have different and often incompatible interests in society which give rise to conflicts which eventually result in the incidence of crime.

Primitive societies did not identify any distinctions between law of crime and torts, but they identify only "laws of wrongs." Before 10th century in England, English societies were used to identify "crimes" with mere "torts" as family issues was center of focus of lives of English societies. Mere offering a "Compensation" as a "bot" was enough for "wrong doer" or "criminal" to get away with all of his /her sins or crimes or wrong doings.

During the period of 1000 to 1200 AD, there was a preponderance of system of "ordeals by fire or by water" to establish the guilt or innocence of the culprit. This was due to religious dominance rising into societies all over the world and superstitions of people, who have firmed belief in religious ideas to govern their lives and ideas of Crime or Sins by following superstitious ideas attached to it.

when the time keep moving on and rise of more logic and reasoning in society, and King took central charge to main social order and assume proper responsibility for apprehending offenders as a duty of King or State, then this eventually led to development of "Criminology as separate branch" of human knowledge.


12th Century to 16th Century -Development of Idea that Sin and Crime Are Different

Though there is superficial resemblance be seen between sin and crime, the idea keeps growing in societies that sins and crime are different entities from each other. Sin committed by sinner is punished by God but criminal is punished by state. Sin may not result in direct harm or injury to others, by crime is necessarily attached with direct or indirect injury to other, let how much miniscule it may be. So, for sin remedy may be penance observed by self, but crime must be subject of state for punishing the criminal through court of law.

This idea came from the "idea of common law," and the earliest conception of a criminal act involved events of such major significance that the "state" had to usurp the usual functions of the civil tribunals, and direct a special law against the perpetrator. All the earliest English criminal trials involved wholly extraordinary and arbitrary courts without any settled law to apply.

So, when the idea of Crime taken center place for state, then obviously it resulted in development of idea of Criminology, too. Criminology is basically that branch of knowledge which concerns such conducts of human behavior which is prohibited or injurious to society and its order. Basically, Criminology is a socio-legal study of human behavior to identify logic, reason and preventative measures for Crime


18th and 19th Century -Emergence of Criminology

In Europe, especially France and Italy the 18th century era witnesses a miraculous reorientation for looking at "idea of Crime" and "development of Criminology. Perhaps this was the result due to the arrival of the age of renaissance in Europe. Old ideas of crime such as - crime is result of divine displeasure, some stupid superstitious behavior is reason behind crime, -has been abandoned. And Criminal responsibility is fixed over culprit and Study of Crime been started with new thinking based on reasoning and logic.

This led to abdication of old ideas of Crimes, such as -denial to existence of God is crime, and acceptance of new ideas of Crime to define crime has taken place such as Kings men are above the law and can do anything they want and as they want.

The development of the idea that the "state" dispenses justice in a court only emerges in parallel with or after the emergence of the concept of sovereignty.

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Difference Between Crime and Sins


Crime is an act that is against the law or rule well defined by state

Sin is a religious idea that is a violation of God’s will/teaching or it is an act done against some religious, spiritual or moral belief of society or religious order

Crime is identified by the state and matter between individual and state

Sin is identified by God. and it is vague and unclear matter, where no one can answer to no one

The punishment of crime is pronounced by the State

The punishment of sin is given after death by the sending soul to heaven or hell for afterlife

Crime is something that is set by social codes and well eshtablished by the state in the form of codified law and if the law is broken a penalty is to be paid.

Sin is arbitrary and nothing is sure and clear

illegal acts committed by both believers and non-believers' anti-social activities are crimes.

Non-believers are beyond doubt sinners and non-believers can Atton thier sins by mere seeking mercy from some religious figure, just like that!!


20th Century -Well establishment of Criminology

Italina Criminologist Garafalo linked the "morality of society with crime", observing that "crime is an immoral and harmful act that is regarded as criminal by public opinion because it is an injury to so much of the moral sense as it possessed by a community"

Due to change into idea of world and social interactions at long distances, Crime rates all over Europe and even entire world keep escalating. Variations of social status and conditioning promoted more crimes in society all over the world. With the advent of dynamic society, the reason for more disharmony, conflict and cultural deviations further lead to changing into traditions and social control mechanism. This added up incidences of crime. Eventually, this forced all States, Kings to establish propre courts, Appellate courts and identify vicarious liabilities of every element of the society, and to pen down proper and logical Laws which can govern the society rationally and order in society can be remain well maintained.


Development of Idea of "Crime without Victim"

With rise in crime rates, idea in 20th century keep growing leading to identification of "Crime without Victim", where such offences such as, drunkenness, begging, soliciting,homosexuality homosexuality, bestiality be counted as crime, even though these acts are not resulting into direct harm to others. But such type of "Victimless Crimes" depends upon morality and economic interest of society and state. So, there is no surprise, that many countries such as -Britain, India -has removed drunkenness and homosexuality from the list of "Victimless crimes".

This shows how the idea of crime is so versatile and dynamic and how with time, with the development of needs of society and reasoning abilities of society, it keeps changing. Yesterday's idea of crime is today's matters of laughter and Today's idea of crime can be tomorrow's matter of normalcy.


Summing Up the Generalized Concept of Crime

  • Crime and Social policy are interrelated and the idea of crime deeply based on ideas of social values, norms accepted by society and behaviors patterns of members of society
  • Content and concept of Crime changes as per norms and ideas of society, what crime today may not be crime for tomorrow and may be counted as normal behavior by society.
  • Crime is relative terms, as what is wrong at one place may be right or acceptable at another place. Crime is mere reflection of denied social behavior by society to let society keep running and maintained.
  • Laws formulated by society help to measure the moral turpitude of society by understanding what is permissible in society and what is not permissible.
  • The emergence of the idea of crime and criminological knowledge has been through a definite process of evolution with evolution of society at the level of combined consciousness.
  • In modern time, emphasis has shifted from crime to criminals, as the "current idea of crime" -individualization of crime is focused, identifying it circumstances and its substance, rather than making crime as generalized phenomenon for all criminals

Classification of Crime, in Modern Times

Crudely speaking, Crime can be categorized into 3 types

  • personal crime
  • occupational crime
  • public order crime

But identifying their legal caricature and legal definitions crimes into any corner of world can be generally categorized as,

  • Legal crimes- these are traditional and more personal type of crimes, such as theft, robbery, rape, assault, murder
  • Political Crimes/offences- these are more organizational or national level crimes such as - running underground anti national organizations, or groups, harming to current established polity and social order
  • Economic crimes- these include "typical white-collar crimes", crimes related to tax evasion, smuggling, prostitution, gambling
  • Social Crimes; - these are morality related crime as per idea of morality existing into community, such as - banning or allowance of gay marriages, abortions, drunkenness in public places
  • Miscellaneous crimes- All other crimes which are not included to above mentioned categories are included under this heading which deals with traffic rule violations, local land or property violations, Comsumer protections

Who Committres Crime !

Characteristics of Crime

External consequences: - Crime always has an injurious effect at a personal level, social level emotional or mental level always, let it be directly or indirectly

Act (Actus Rea): - there must always an act or omission to constitute a crime must be present, mere intention of committing crime must not be counted as "Crime"

Mens Rea (Guilty mind): - there must be presence of guilty mind or intention of committing crime, with criminal act, then only idea of crime commencement is concluded, for example, just due to rash driving if accident happened, then it is not crime but mere matter of negligence and accident, but if there are intentions to crush particular person in the mind of driver, then this is called as "murder" and not mere "accident"

Prohibited Act: - as per necessity all states declare some "Act" as prohibited, to prevent future crime, here "guilty mind "is not necessary but mere commencement of such act is enough to identify that act as crime for example, high speed driving after getting too much drunk

Punishment: - It is not mere enough to identify some act as crime, but necessary punishment for committing crime is also necessary otherwise, entire exercise of identifying "Crime" will be mere waste and law will be mere joke for the people and society

Criminology - Its Nature and Scope

Professor W A Bonger preferred to study theoretical criminology under the following dimensions:

Criminal Anthropology

Criminal Sociology

Criminal Psychology

Criminal Psycho-neuro-pathology


References :

  1. Kramer (1971: 4)
  2. Driver and Mills (1952–55) and Skaist (1994)
  3. The Babylonian laws. Driver, G. R. (Godfrey Rolles), 1892–1975; Miles, John C. (John Charles), Sir, 1870–1963. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Pub. April 2007. ISBN 978-1556352294. OCLC 320934300.
  4. Anuradha Jaiswal, Criminal Justice Tenets of Manusmriti – A Critique of the Ancient Hindu Code
  5. Garner, Richard, 1953- (1987). Law & society in classical Athens. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312008562. OCLC 15365822.
  6. Attenborough: 1963

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dr Nilesh Jaybhaye

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