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Course Descriptions for Crime, Law and Society

A master status is a label that describes the chief characteristic of an individual. Some people see themselves primarily as doctors, artists, or grandfathers. Others see themselves as beggars, convicts, or addicts. In the second case, being labelled a juvenile delinquent sets up a set of responses to the teenager by police and authorities that lead to criminal charges, more severe penalties, and a process of socialization into the criminal identity. In detention in particular, individuals learn how to assume the identity of serious offenders as they interact with hardened, long-term inmates within the prison culture Wheeler, Judges were also found to be more likely to impose harsher penalties on teenagers from divorced families.

Unsurprisingly, Cicourel noted that subsequent research conducted on the social characteristics of teenagers who were charged and processed as juvenile delinquents found that children from divorced families were more likely to be charged and processed. Divorced families were seen as a cause of youth crime. This set up a vicious circle in which the research confirmed the prejudices of police and judges who continued to label, arrest, and convict the children of divorced families disproportionately. The labelling process acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which police found what they expected to see.

The sociological study of crime, deviance, and social control is especially important with respect to public policy debates.

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The legislation imposes a mandatory six-month sentence for cultivating six marijuana plants, for example. This followed the Tackling Violent Crime Act passed in , which among other provisions, imposed a mandatory three-year sentence for first-time gun-related offences. This government policy represented a shift toward a punitive approach to crime control and away from preventive strategies such as drug rehabilitation, prison diversion, and social reintegration programs.

Despite the evidence that rates of serious and violent crime have been falling in Canada, and while even some of the most conservative politicians in the United States have begun to reject the punitive approach as an expensive failure, the government pushed the legislation through Parliament. One reason is that violent crime is a form of deviance that lends itself to spectacular media coverage that distorts its actual threat to the public.

However, the image of crime presented in the headlines does not accurately represent the types of crime that actually occur. Whereas the news typically reports on the worst sorts of violent crime, violent crime made up only 21 percent of all police-reported crime in down 17 percent from , and homicides made up only one-tenth of 1 percent of all violent crimes in down 16 percent from In , the homicide rate fell to its lowest level since Perreault, This distortion creates the conditions for moral panics around crime.

As we noted earlier, a moral panic occurs when a relatively minor or atypical situation of deviance arises that is amplified and distorted by the media, police, or members of the public. It thereby comes to be defined as a general threat to the civility or moral fibre of society Cohen, For example, the implementation of mandatory minimum sentences for the cultivation of marijuana is framed in the Safe Streets and Communities legislation as a response to the infiltration of organized crime into Canada.

For years newspapers have uncritically published police messaging on grow-ops and the marijuana trade that characterizes the activities as widespread, gang-related, and linked to the cross-border trade in guns and more serious drugs like heroin and cocaine. Television news coverage often shows police in white, disposable hazardous-waste outfits removing marijuana plants from suburban houses, and presents exaggerated estimates of the street value of the drugs. However a Justice Department study in revealed that out of a random sample of grow-ops, only 5 percent had connections to organized crime.

While 76 percent of Canadians believe that marijuana should be legally available Stockwell et al. Although deviance is a violation of social norms, it is not always punishable, and it is not necessarily bad. Crime, on the other hand, is a behaviour that violates official law and is punishable through formal sanctions. Walking to class backwards is a deviant behaviour.

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For example, in Viola Desmond refused to sit in the balcony designated for blacks at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she was unable to see the screen. She was dragged from the cinema by two men who injured her knee, and she was then arrested, obliged to stay overnight in the male cell block, tried without counsel, and fined. The courts ignored the issue of racial segregation in Canada. Instead her crime was determined to be tax evasion because she had not paid the 1 cent difference in tax between a balcony ticket and a main floor ticket.

She took her case to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia where she lost. In hindsight, and long after her death, she was posthumously pardoned, because the application of the law was clearly in violation of norms of social equality. As you learned previously, all societies have informal and formal ways of maintaining social control.

Within these systems of norms, societies have legal codes that maintain formal social control through laws, which are rules adopted and enforced by a political authority. Those who violate these rules incur negative formal sanctions.

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Normally, punishments are relative to the degree of the crime and the importance to society of the value underlying the law. As we will see, however, there are other factors that influence criminal sentencing. Not all crimes are given equal weight.

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Society generally socializes its members to view certain crimes as more severe than others. For example, most people would consider murdering someone to be far worse than stealing a wallet and would expect a murderer to be punished more severely than a thief. In modern North American society, crimes are classified as one of two types based on their severity. Rape, murder, and armed robbery fall under this category. Nonviolent crimes involve the destruction or theft of property, but do not use force or the threat of force.

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If you use a crowbar to break into a car, you are committing a nonviolent crime; if you mug someone with the crowbar, you are committing a violent crime. As we noted earlier in the section on critical sociological approaches, when we think of crime, we often picture street crime , or offences committed by ordinary people against other people or organizations, usually in public spaces.


Embezzlement, insider trading, and identity theft are all types of corporate crime. Although these types of offences rarely receive the same amount of media coverage as street crimes, they can be far more damaging. An often-debated third type of crime is victimless crime. These are called victimless because the perpetrator is not explicitly harming another person. As opposed to battery or theft, which clearly have a victim, a crime like drinking a beer at age 17 or selling a sexual act do not result in injury to anyone other than the individual who engages in them, although they are illegal.

While some claim acts like these are victimless, others argue that they actually do harm society. Prostitution may foster abuse toward women by clients or pimps. Drug use may increase the likelihood of employee absences. Such debates highlight how the deviant and criminal nature of actions develops through ongoing public discussion. In the early morning of January 4, , a year-old Sikh caretaker in Surrey, B. The skinheads were part of a group that called itself White Power. They had been to an all-night drinking party when they decided they were going to vandalize some cars in the temple parking lot.

They encountered the caretaker Nirmal Singh Gill and took turns attacking him. In trial it came out that the eldest of the skinheads had recently been released from the military because of his racist beliefs. Another had a large Nazi flag pinned to the wall of his apartment. The category of hate crimes grew out of the provisions in the Criminal Code that prohibit hate propaganda sections and including advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, or the willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

In , section However, police reported hate crimes totalled only 1, incidents in About one-third of the General Social Survey respondents said they reported the hate-motivated incidents to the police. In police-reported hate crimes had dropped to 1, incidents. The majority of these were racially or ethnically motivated, but many were based on religious prejudice especially anti-Semitic or sexual orientation.

A significant portion of the hate-motivated crimes 50 percent involved mischief vandalism, graffiti, and other destruction of property. This figure increased to 75 percent for religious-motivated hate crimes. Violent hate crimes constituted 39 percent of all hate crimes 22 percent accounted for by violent assault specifically. Crime Statistics What crimes are people in Canada most likely to commit, and who is most likely to commit them?

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To understand criminal statistics, you must first understand how these statistics are collected. These annual publications contain data from all the police agencies in Canada. The accuracy of the data collected by the UCR also varies greatly. Because police and other authorities decide which criminal acts they are going to focus on, the data reflects the priorities of the police rather than actual levels of crime per se. For example, if police decide to focus on gun-related crimes, chances are that more gun-related crimes will be discovered and counted.

Similarly, changes in legislation that introduce new crimes or change the categories under which crimes are recorded will also alter the statistics. A self-report study is a collection of data acquired using voluntary response methods, based on telephone interviews. In , for example, survey data were gathered from 79, households across Canada on the frequency and type of crime they experience in their daily lives. The surveys are thorough, providing a wider scope of information than was previously available. This allows researchers to examine crime from more detailed perspectives and to analyze the data based on factors such as the relationship between victims and offenders, the consequences of the crimes, and substance abuse involved in the crimes.

Demographics are also analyzed, such as age, ethnicity, gender, location, and income level. Though the GSS is a critical source of statistical information, disadvantages exist. Inability to contact important demographics, such as those who do not have access to phones or who frequently relocate, also skews the data. For those who participate, memory issues can be problematic for the data sets. While neither of these publications can take into account all of the crimes committed in the country, some general trends may be noted. Crime rates were on the rise after , but following an all-time high in the s and s, rates of violent and nonviolent crimes started to decline.

In they reached their lowest level since Perreault, In , approximately 2 million crimes occurred in Canada. The rate of violent crime reached its lowest level since , led by decreases in sexual assault, common assault, and robbery. The homicide rate fell to its lowest level since An estimated 1.

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