Crime Theories

First Published: 2000-03-08

Michael Stevenson, a lecturer in Criminal Justice at the College of the Bahamas, wrote a Letter to the Editor letter titled "Central cause of crime wave is economics" (The Tribune March 3rd). This letter panders to the victimization instinct present in all humans …and… is not likely to promote communal support for sound government policies.

The Theories

Mr. Stevenson listed a number of theories to explain the Bahamian crime wave:

  • Slavery. Young black males were forcibly cut off from their heritage by slavery. Thus they do not know where they came from and have become victims of crime and drugs. "People need to know who they are… the past gives stability, structure and meaning to the present."

  • Slavery and colonialism. Both slavery and colonialism have made the social processes of forging social solidarity a formidable task since they are the antithesis of communal formation.

  • Relative deprivation. In times of increasing prosperity… periods of rising visible levels of material welfare… the expectations of some people exceeds their capacity to experience that prosperity and they naturally resort to crime.

  • Degraded environment. Overcrowded inner and outer suburbs erode a sense of community. Those communities do not provide identity structures and thus the illegal culture fills a cultural void.

  • Economics. The Bahamian economy has not created sufficient opportunity for the mass of Bahamians to participate in the ownership and control of the means of production… Bahamians work in unfulfilling work settings that weaken social bonds.

This is simply bad theory because it ignores the responses to traumatic events that have occurred elsewhere. It is a type of "special pleading" since slavery, colonialism and prosperity have produced other responses in other countries and peoples.

Other peoples

The history of Ireland, for instance, is a shining example of the triumph of the human spirit. The conquest of Ireland by England in 1649 produced a mass confiscation of land and draconian laws to eliminate the Irish language, culture and faith. Both passive and violent resistance led to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and to independence in 1922.

But it was poverty that defined the Irish experience. In the early 1840s the country had a large inefficient feudal system of subsistence agriculture. It produced a life expectancy of 19 years for its tenant farmers… compared, for instance, to 36 years for contemporary American slaves. Then came the potato famine of 1846 and the "assisted" emigration of whole villages.

The worst case was the eviction in 1847 of 900 tenants from town land in Roscommon County and their "assisted" emigration to Canada following the murder of a prominent landowner. Five hundred of the nine hundred boarded the ship "Virginius" in Liverpool, 158 died during the trip and no more than eight were able to disembark on their own. A Canadian medical officer described the living as "ghastly yellow-looking spectres". There is no record of what happened to the 400 who did not reach Liverpool.

Between 1840 and 1880 starvation and emigration reduced Ireland from eight to four million people. Yet… in the 20th century the Irish both at home and abroad succeeded beyond anyone-s imagination.

Similar stories can be recounted about the Jews and Chinese. Events of profound trauma did not destroy their society and culture. The theory or explanation of human social development is not simple. However, insights are more likely to be found in the work of Thomas Sowell on race, migration and conquest, Francis Fukuyama on social capital and Jerad Diamond on the geographic determinants of civilization.

What to do about crime?

Mr. Stevenson calls for "a social revolution… to restore the communal framework"… to "restore civic pride and commitment to public morality and interest." The economy must provide "opportunities for self-realization".

Given the present crime wave this vague call for a "social revolution" is inadequate and misdirected. This lecturer in criminal justice does not address the need for a well trained compensated and motivated police force… one that operates independently of politics. It does not speak of the rule of law, respect for private property and an impartial and efficient justice system. It fails to address the abject failure of the public school system, the sweetheart culture and deadbeat dads. These are areas where government can take action and provide leadership.

Instead buried in this "abstract" is a Marxist prescription… workers are unfilled because they don-t own and control the means of production. Is there a need for widespread citizen ownership of shares in private corporations? If so, what is the role of government in this regard? Or… do we need new public corporations? Or… a more intensified regulation of private enterprise?

In this time of troubles, Mr. Stevenson owes his audience something more.

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