Crime in a Free Society: Selections from the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice

By Robert W. Winslow | Go to book overview

4 The etiology of crime

Even simple crimes such as an assault or theft reflect the complex interaction and influence of many different persons and conditions.To understand different types of crime we need to know a great deal about different aspects of the situations within which crimes typically occur. Of central importance is greater knowledge of the characteristics of offenders.... Much can be learned from the statistics now collected independently about offenders . . . for various administrative purposes. However, lack of knowledge of their interrelationships prohibits the development of more informative and useful statistical reconstructions of criminal events. This type of information must be secured more systematically if greater understanding of the different conditions under which crimes occur is to be achieved.


Characteristics of Offenders

There is a common belief that the general population consists of a large group of law-abiding people and a small body of criminals. However, studies have shown that most people, when they are asked, remember having committed offenses for which they might have been sentenced if they had been apprehended. 1

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1
The following studies are representative of the different populations surveyed in these "self-report" studies and of the different types of methods used to get the information: Austin L. Porterfield and Stanley C. Clifton, Youth in Trouble (Fort Worth: Leo Potishman Foundation, 1946); Fred J. Murphy , Mary M. Shirley, and Helen L. Witmer, " The Incidence of Hidden Delinquency," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 16:686-696, October 1946; James F. Short, Jr., " A Report on Incidence of Criminal Behavior, Arrests and Convictions in Selected Groups," Research Studies of State College of Washington, 22:110-118, June 1954; F. Ivan Nye, James F. Short, and Virgil J. Olson, " Socioeconomic Status and Delinquent Behavior," American Journal of Sociology,63:381-389, January 1958; Robert Dentler and Lawrence J. Monroe, " Early Adolescent Theft,' American Sociological Review, 26:733-743, October 1961; John P. Clark and Eugene P. Wenninger , " Socio-Economic Class and Area as Correlates of Illegal Behavior Among Juveniles," American Sociological Review, 27:826-834, December 1962; Maynard L. Erickson and LaMar T. Empey, " Class Position, Peers, and Delinquency," Sociology and Social Research,268-282, April 1965; Martin Gold, " Undetected Delinquent Behavior," The Journal of Research

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