Example Answer for Question 4 Paper 3: A Level Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)
Last updated 22 Jun 2017
Q4 (30 marks)
According to Item B there is some debate surrounding the best way of preventing and controlling crime in society. Some for example would argue for “tough punishments” whereas others favour measures to prevent crime from occurring in the first place by tackling its root causes.
According to Item B it is often best to assume a preventative method to tackling crime and deviance and as such surveillance has been used heavily as both a deterrent and as a means for intercepting potential crimes. Surveillance is also used for ensuring justice is served once a crime has taken place – as the UK has significantly more CCTV cameras than most other countries and relies heavily on profiling criminals to see how likely they are to be involved in crime, based on characteristics such as nationality or gender (Item B). In recent years the UK government has relied heavily on surveillance as a method for intercepting potential terrorist plots and has had significant levels of success as a result. However critics would argue that surveillance, like many forms of policing or law enforcement scapegoats and demonises certain social groups and results in their overrepresentation in the police statistics. Similarly there have been criticisms of the effectiveness of surveillance as in the cases of the three most recent terror attacks in London and Manchester the police have been criticized for ascertaining that those involved were merely “peripheral” figures based on their surveillance – or indeed in relation to the fact that one of the most recent London attackers had been reported to them numerous times amidst fears of radicalization and yet this did not inform changes to the level of surveillance he received. This suggests that although there are benefits to surveillance it does not ultimately prevent or even deter crimes and it can often be flawed.
Some sociologists advocate punishment as the most effective form of crime prevention. One feature of this relates to the Functionalist ideas about crime and deviance, as they suggest that there is a need for punishments to reinforce the norms and values of a society by imposing sanctions on those that fail to conform. There is a belief that making an example of offenders can result in them being less likely to commit crimes in the future so they themselves are deterred – but also our knowledge of the sanctions they receive and the subsequent impact this has on their life chances makes the rest of society less likely to engage in criminal activity. This approach was well documented as part of the Thatcher government which believed in short stints in young offenders institutes as a way of sending a clear message to youth offenders that their behavior would not be tolerated. Another aspect of punishment is the view that it can actually be used to rehabilitate offenders. By providing education and guidance to offenders and making this compulsory as part of their sanctions they are better equipped for the future and are therefore less likely to engage in criminal behavior in the future. A third aspect of punishment that can cause a reduction in crime is incapacitation. By placing an individual in jail in response to their crimes or even stronger sanctions such as execution or chemical castration, law enforcement agencies are sending a clear and direct message that a failure to conform to the laws of a society will not be tolerated and the strength of sanctions imposed will correspond to the severity of the crime that has been committed and the negative impact it has on society. By physically removing the most serious offenders from society we are inevitably seeing a reduction in crime as these individuals are far more likely to reoffend if allowed to remain free. The final aspect of punishment that serves to reduce crime in society is retribution. For many, there is a real sense that crimes committed must in some way be paid for and although this will of course prevent future crimes, it is also based on the assumption that past violations against the law must be paid for in some way. By expressing social outrage towards the perpetrator of a crime it significantly reduces their chances of reoffending and once again asserts to dominant norms and values of a society.
Based on the evidence presented so far it would appear that punishment alone is a very effective measure of crime prevention. However other sociologists would be critical and would argue that it does not address the reasons why crime occurs in the first place and the social conditions which bring it about. Situational crime prevention is described by Clarke (1992) as a means to pre-empt crime and is based largely on reducing the opportunities to commit it. Basic measures such as locking doors, using surveillance such as CCTV for example have a dramatic impact upon the number of crimes that are possible. This is because situational crime prevention is based on an underlying rational choice theory, whereby the criminal weighs up their chances of being caught for an offence and if enough obstacles have been placed in their way, they are much less likely to engage in criminal activity. Similarly, there is an additional element to situational crime prevention called displacement. This involves the movement of crime from one place to another which can actually have an impact on crime levels rather than simply moving them on as again it makes it more difficult to commit a crime. An example of this could be dispersal orders which make it difficult for young offenders to congregate in large groups to commit crime – instead moving them on to other areas which may prove more difficult to commit crime in. This suggests therefore that there are other effective measures of controlling crime.
Another aspect of crime prevention is environmental crime prevention which focuses on the physical environment and has found that by managing it effectively, law enforcement agencies can have a significant impact upon the crime rate. Wilson and Kelling (1982) famously published a study on “broken windows” which suggested if areas that showed signs of social disorder such as broken windows, graffiti, litter, dog fouling etc. were allowed to remain in this state, it actually had the impact of encouraging further criminal behavior as members of society felt the clear signs of previous criminal activity meant they themselves were less likely to be caught for it in the future. This is because areas with “broken windows” also lacked forms of social control (no formal police presence and no informal community policing) which meant individuals were free to violate laws without fear of repercussions. Wilson and Kelling therefore proposed a zero-tolerance approach to policing and immediate restoration of any signs of social disorder to prevent this from happening in the future. This is further evidence of the range of possible strategies that could prevent or deter crime.
A final element of crime prevention comes from social and community policing and crime prevention. This approach places the emphasis on the context of offending and aims to remove the social issues that cause crime in the first place. This could mean tackling social inequality and unemployment levels or reducing the opportunities to commit crimes amongst some social groups’ e.g. young males. It could also focus on the methods used in policing to ensure they are more effective and less discriminatory towards social groups. Many sociologists would argue that this is the most effective form of crime prevention as it addresses the root of social issues around crime.
Based on the evidence, sociologists would argue that there are a range of crime prevention strategies that could be employed by authorities – however no single strategy fully addresses the social problem of crime.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.