Why Do People Commit Crime?

What causes some individuals to commit violence, fraud, and harm others while others do not commit crimes against others? This short paper will review the definitions, forms and some explanations of psychology that are often used to explain criminal behavior

Definition of crime

When it comes to crime, there are actually a lot of things to say. At least start with a definition of crime. Crime is often defined as behavior that violates the rule of law as a result of which a person can be subject to punishment. Crime occurs when someone breaks the law either directly or indirectly, or a form of negligence that can result in punishment. In this legal perspective, criminal behavior seems active, humans commit crimes. But actually “not behaving” can also be a form of crime, for example: child neglect or not reporting to the authorities when they learn about acts of violence against children around us.

There is also a moral perspective. A behavior can be called a crime only if it has 2 factors: 1) mens rea (the intention to do the behavior), and 2) actus reus (behavior is carried out without coercion from others). For example: murder is called a crime when the perpetrator has the intention of ending the life of another person, and the idea and execution of the behavior of murder is owned by the perpetrator himself without coercion from others. If the perpetrator turns out to have a mental disorder that causes his intentions to occur out of consciousness, for example: criminal behavior occurs during sleep or is unconscious, then the mens rea factor is considered incomplete, or cannot be clearly stated as a crime, because people with mental disorders are not can be held accountable for their behavior (Davies, Hollind, & Bull, 2008).

Forms of crime

Furthermore, when discussing crime we also need to identify the perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator is a person who has committed an act of violating the rights and welfare of a person, while the victim is a person whose rights and welfare are violated. In criminal cases, identification will be related to making demands and legal responsibility. Even so, sometimes it is not easy to identify the perpetrator and the victim, especially in cases where the perpetrator is also the victim, for example: prostitutes are actually victims of their behavior.

Crime in general can be divided into several types: personal crime (the perpetrator and victim of the crime are the same), interpersonal (there are perpetrators who harm others), and social crimes (the effects of the perpetrator’s crime are detrimental to the lives of many people in society). In terms of the implementation of crime can also be divided into organized crime (often called “white collar” crime which has a system and planning and expertise in committing crime) and unorganized (crimes committed without planning and committed by people who do not have special skills or amateurs) . Criminally, there are several examples of criminal behavior: murder, violence, rape, theft, robbery, plunder, fraud, assault, substance and drug abuse, and many others.

Crime theory

There are so many forms and types of crimes, it is interesting to know what causes people to commit crimes. In fact, humans have always tried to explain why some people become criminals. The earliest explanation is the Demonological Model. It used to be thought that criminal behavior was the result of the influence of evil spirits. So the way to cure mental disorders and evil behavior is to drive out evil spirits, usually done by torturing, removing parts of the body that are considered evil (for example blood, or other body parts).

However, in the study of Forensic Psychology, there are several theoretical approaches used to explain criminal behavior: Early Criminology (Cesare Lombroso), Psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud), and Bioecological-Social Theory.

Cesare Lombroso was an Italian criminologist who in 1876 explained the theory of “anthropological determinism” which states that criminality is an inherited trait or in other words a person can be born as a “criminal”. Criminal traits can be identified by a person’s physical characteristics, for example: large jaw, leaning chin, narrow forehead, high cheekbones, flat or wide inverted nose, large chin, very prominent in appearance, hooked nose or thick lips, sly eyes, minimal beard or baldness and insensitivity to pain, and having long arms. He also concluded that most crimes were committed by men. Women who commit crimes mean degeneration or setbacks. She believes that the passive attitude, lack of initiative and intellectuality of women make it difficult for her to commit crimes.

Sigmund Freud in the perspective of psychoanalysis has his own view of what makes a criminal. The imbalance of the relationship between the Id, Ego and Superego makes humans weak and as a result more likely to commit deviant behavior or crimes. Freud argued that perversion resulted from excessive guilt as a result of an excessive superego. The person with the excessive superego can feel guilty for no reason and want to be punished; the way he did to deal with guilt was by committing a crime. Crime is committed to defuse the superego because they unconsciously want punishment to get rid of guilt.

Apart from that, Freud also explained the evil from the “pleasure” principle. Humans have a biological basis that is urgent and works to achieve satisfaction (pleasure principle). It includes the desire for food, sex, and survival that is maintained by Id. Freud believed that if this could not be obtained legally or according to social rules, then people would instinctively try to do it illegally. Actually the moral understanding of right and wrong that has been instilled since childhood should be able to work as a superego that balances and controls Id. However, if moral understanding is lacking and the superego is not fully developed, as a result, the child can grow up to be an individual who is unable to control Id’s impulses, and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what he needs. According to this view, evil is not the result of the criminal personality, but of the weakness of the ego. The ego that is unable to bridge the needs of the superego and the id will be weak and make humans vulnerable to deviance.

From the perspective of Social Learning, Albert Bandura explained that criminal behavior is the result of a psychological learning process, the mechanism of which is obtained through exposure to criminal behavior committed by people around him, then there is repeated exposure accompanied by reinforcement or reward; thus increasingly supporting people to want to imitate the evil behavior they see. For example: if the child observes his parents stealing and understands that stealing money creates positive rewards (having a lot of money for fun); then the child will want to imitate stealing behavior. On the other hand, behavior that is not followed by rewards or produces negative reactions means that children learn not to; or in other words imitate not to repeat in order to avoid negative effects. In this perspective, Bandura believes that humans have an active thinking capacity capable of deciding whether or not to adopt the behavior they observe from their social environment.

Social theory explains that criminal behavior is the result of damage to social systems and structures. A criminal from a divorced family, experiences a difficult childhood, lives in a poor social environment and has many violations of the law, does not have a good education, has physical and mental disorders and various other psychosocial difficulties. In this perspective, the impression is that the individual is seen as a passive system formation around him. But actually in the Bioecological approach by Urie Brofenbenner, there is an interaction of personal factors (the individual himself, including aspects of personality, trauma, biological aspects) with the social system factors around him. This means that criminal behavior will emerge as an interaction between personal factors and environmental factors that must be identifiable. For example: someone who has a personality disorder, has experienced traumatic parenting and is currently living in a lawless environment can make it easier to commit crimes.

Should all crimes be treated equally?

Crime takes different forms. Even the same criminal behavior can be for different reasons. Suppose that one person steals to survive, while another tries to earn as much money as possible in order to avoid as little work as possible. Various explanations of the crime theory above can be used to understand crime cases. Why and how criminal behavior can arise in a crime case. Sensitivity and expertise in sorting theoretical perspectives in explaining crime are needed in finding a bright spot in a crime case. With this understanding, he hopes, it can also be understood how each one should be treated and given the legal consequences and psychological rehabilitation. The process of correcting and rehabilitating criminal behavior should be carried out based on an accurate and precise description of criminal behavior.