The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice: Contributing Factors Of Crime

Crime is defined as: commission of an act or act of omission that
violates the law and is punishable by the state. Crimes are considered
injurious to society and the community. As defined by law, a crime includes
both the act, or actus rea, and the intent to commit the act, or mens rea.
Criminal intent involves an intellectual apprehension of factual elements of the
act or acts commanded or enjoined by the law. It is usually inferred from the
apparently voluntary commission of an overt act. Criminal liability is relieved
in the case of insanity. Legal minors are also relieved of criminal liability,
as are persons subjected to coercion or duress to such a degree as to render the
commission of criminal acts involuntary. In most countries, crimes are defined
and punished pursuant to statutes. Punishments may include death, imprisonment,
exile, fines, forfeiture of property, removal from public office, and
disqualification from holding such office.
Unless the act of which a defendant is accused is expressly defined by
statute as a crime, no indictment or conviction for the commission of such an
act can be legally sustained. This provision is important in establishing the
difference between government by law and arbitrary or dictatorial government.
Under common law, a crime was generally classified as treason, felony,
or misdemeanor, but many offenses could not be defined exactly, and the rule was
adopted that any immoral act tending to the prejudice of the community was, per
se, a crime, and punishable by the courts. Crimes are now usually classified as
mala in se, which includes acts, such as murder, so offensive to morals as to be
obviously criminal; and mala prohibita, which are violations of specific
regulatory statutes, such as traffic violations, that ordinarily would not be
punishable in the absence of statutory enactments prohibiting the commission of
such acts. In most cases, crimes, including treason, that are mala in se are
called felonies and are punished more severely than those that are mala
prohibita, most of the latter falling into the category of misdemeanors.
Nearly everyone in America has been touched by crime in one way or
another. There are reports of murders, arson, robberies, etc. every night on
the news. However, the viewer is constantly bombarded with reports that there
is either a crime wave or that crime is receding. This can confuse even the
most adamant viewer. The book The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice by
Kappeler, Blumberg, and Potter breaks down the essentials and gives the reader
ideas on what exactly crime is, how it is represented by the media, and how
Americans respond to it. In Chapter 2, the authors discuss crime waves and
their effects on society.
In Chapter 2, the authors point out the main contributing factor to
crime in the United States--poverty. According to the text, the main
contributor to crime in the United States is a young, black male living in an
urban environment. The text also notes that blacks commit crimes at three times
the rate of their percentage in the national population.
The official crime rate in the United States is measured by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports. However, there is strong
criticism for the FBI's measurement of crime using the UCR. For example, the
FBI does not require that any person be arrested for crimes that are reported.
All that is required is for someone to believe that a crime actually took place.
One can see where this could create misleading statistics. For example, if
someone were to lose a checkbook at a local mall, they could report that a
pickpocket had stolen the checkbook from them. Under the FBI's UCR, this would
be labeled as a crime, even though the checkbook was misplaced and was in fact
not stolen.
Another source of crime information is found in the National Crime
Victimization Survey. This survey is conducted through 100,000 households
across the country by the Department of Justice. This survey is superior to the
FBI's UCR in the fact that they measure both reported and unreported crime, are
unaffected by technological changes in police record keeping, levels of
reporting by the victims to the police, and other factors. Even though the
data may be represented in various ways among the media, the NCVS is considered
scientifically valid.
Chapter 2 also makes reference to race and crime. There has been wide
speculation that most crimes as committed by minorities against whites in the
United States. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has documented several
crimes that make this assumption void. For example, seventy-five percent of
white crime victims are victimized by whites, and eighty-five percent of black