Crime was initially the province of biologists, sociologists and psychologists.  Biocriminologists believe that criminals are genetically predetermined. They maintain that the human body needs a stable amount of minerals and chemicals for normal brain functioning and growth.  Chemical and mineral imbalances lead to cognitive and learning deficits and these factors in turn are associated with antisocial behavior.

The application of psychology in the criminal and civil justice system is known as forensic psychology. Hugo Munsterberg (1863 – 1916), a German-American psychologist was the first to pioneer the application of criminal psychology in research and theories. His research extended to witness memory, false confessions, and the role of hypnosis in court.

Hans Eysenck

Hans Eysenck

The late Hans J. Eysenck, a British psychologist, is known for his theory on personality and crime.  He proposed that crime is the result of interaction between environmental conditions and features of the nervous system.  Eysenck’s emphasis is on the genetic predisposition toward antisocial and criminal behavior. His followers believe that each criminal has a unique neurophysiological makeup that when mixed with a certain environment cannot  but result to crime.

If biology could explain criminality, then why is the majority of crime and violence in poor, underdeveloped neighborhoods? To ignore environmental and social aspects contributing to crime would be a mistake, according to sociologists.

William Glasser

The medical doctor and psychiatrist William Glasser contributed choice theory, which suggested among others, that the criminal is rational  when he decides to commit a crime. The variety of reasons in which one offends can be based on a variety of personal needs, including: greed, revenge, need, anger, lust, jealousy, thrills, and vanity.

Gary Backer

A political economy perspective was pioneered by Nobel laureate Gary Becker (1968), the maverick economist who first argued that an economic approach can be brought to bear on (at the time) non-traditional (usually thought to be sociological or psychological topics) such as racial discrimination, family life, and crime and punishment. Crime and punishment are by definition and practice opposing aspects of a dyad.  They define each other—a crime is that which must be punished and punishment is the appropriate sanction or remedy to crime.

The fundamental premise of a political economy perspective on crime and punishment is that crime is a rational human activity.  Sociologists, psychologists and criminologists have usually considered criminals as sociopaths and maladjusted individuals.  This may be true but not entirely true.  Using a political economy approach, criminals are regarded as rational actors.  As rational actors, they are guided by a rewards vs. costs calculus.  Criminals do crime because they obtain material and non-material (such as enhanced prestige or status within certain social circles) gains.   When somebody commits a crime, he believes that rewards are greater than costs.

The costs of committing a crime (from the viewpoint of the criminal as well as society) include the following:

  • Cost of being detected
  • Cost of being arrested
  • Cost of being indicted
  • Cost of being found guilty
  • Cost of being punished

The costs of crime are qualified by legal due process, particularly by constitutional provisions that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, as well as the infirmities of the state’s authorities.  The detection of a crime (or a criminal) does not automatically lead to the arrest of the suspect.  In the same manner, the arrest of a suspect does not lead an indictment.  In the peculiar legalese of Filipino lawyers, for instance, there must be a finding of probable cause against a suspect so an information could be filed against her/him in court.  Even if indicted, a suspect is not automatically found guilty unless proven beyond reasonable during the court’s processes.  And a suspect pronounced guilty may not necessarily be punished.  Sentences could be suspended for a number of reasons including pleas for insanity or for health reasons.

Philippine police in training

The economic analysis of crime is also mindful of the costs of crime prevention and punishment as well as the costly impact of crime on society.  Becker believes that making a distinction between two tasks—crime prevention and apprehension of criminals (or police work) and punishment of criminals (through courts and penal systems)—is useful for analytical purposes.  The incidence of crime, crime prevention, apprehension and punishment of criminals imposes costs (or entails expenses) on society.  While it is desirable to cut the incidence of crime or increase the rate of punishment, society must spend more on law enforcement (for police, courts, and prisons).  If society does not have such other resources, it may have to accept a crime rate which may rise as population grows.

Filipino prisoners

Building on these earlier ideas, Becker notes that if (costly) apprehension does not automatically lead to (costly) punishment such as jailing, then cheaper punishment alternatives should be considered.  The payment of fines is the least costly mode of punishment and incarceration can be seen as a ‘fine’ since the criminal incurs foregone income.  Furthermore, fines as punishment for heinous crimes such as murder and rape are not morally and ethically acceptable.  Generally, that is.  In certain societies, however, a convicted killer may be set free provided a fine (called ‘blood money’) is paid to the victim’s relatives.  Nonetheless with these type of crimes, society must still decide on the resources to use for law enforcement and for punishment of criminals.

In a playfully inquisitive mode, Becker poses this question: Suppose you reduce the resources expended for crime prevention and apprehension of criminals and increase the severity of penalties, will the incidence of crime be reduced?  The reasoning behind the question is as follows.  Society may not have enough resources for both crime prevention and punishment of criminals.  It is must therefore make a decision where resources are to be concentrated.  However, it does not make sense to reduce resources for punishment of criminals and concentrate resources to prevent crime and capture criminals.  It leads to an absurd situation where society is saddled with a great number of criminals in police precincts but with inadequate courts and prisons.  However, increasing the severity of punishment may not ultimately redound to society’s good.  It will simply increase the incentive of the police (specially in weak states) to set suspects free in exchange for bribes or to actively arrest fall guys again for monetary gain.

  1. Edsel says:

    Therefore Sir Bong, crimes that are not heinous and committed with lesser motivation should be punished with fines. Lesser government expenditure and more income. Pwede!

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