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Assess the Usefulness of Official Crime Statistics to a Sociological Understanding of Crime

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Assess the Usefulness of Official Crime Statistics to a Sociological Understanding of Crime The Government publishes official statistics on crime in Britain annually. The main source of these statistics are gathered from recorded crimes by the police and courts and through the British Crime Survey (BSC) which is a large-scale victim survey conducted annually by the Home Office. The combination of both of these statistics should provide a picture of the full extent of crime in Britain, however, sociologists believe there are a number of factors that influence these figures and that these official statistics do not reflect a true representation of crime in Britain today. We shall explore these factors and perspectives further to assess whether the official statistics do serve a purpose in the reporting of crime in Britain. From the functionalist perspective Emile Durkheim stated that deviance is a necessary part of all societies and that police and the courts are necessary to keep deviance in check and to protect social order. Durkheim argued that crime is an inevitable part of society and that all social change begins with some form of deviance and in order for change to occur, and that yesterday's deviance must become today's normality. That a limited amount of crime is necessary and beneficial to society and that society could not exist without some form of deviance and it marks the boundaries of society. page 353 Haralambos and Holborn [2000] The most fundamental limitation of official crime statistics is that they only include crimes actually recorded by the police and many crimes go unrecorded or unreported. ...read more.


For instance if an elderly person or female is the victim of a violent attack, in their reporting they create a fear that these groups are more at risk when in fact young males feature far more in crime statistics as victims of assault and robbery. Technical factors also influence official statistic and affect how offences and offenders are counted. Several offences may be committed in one incident in which case only the most serious is counted or where there is a 'continuous series of offences such as using a stolen credit card several times, only one offence is counted (Coleman and Moynihan 1996) page 27 Croall [1998] The judicial system also contributes to the official statistics but even these figures should be open to question as the practice of plea-bargaining often takes place in the courts. Sometimes it is negotiated with the accused in that they are offered a possibility of a lesser sentence if they plead guilty so the true crime is not recorded. Page 374 Haralambos and Holborn [2000] The BCS is a cross sectional survey and doesn't contain information about crime in different areas of Britain. This has resulted in Local Crime Surveys (LCS) being conducted in particular areas to identify unequal distribution of crime. These surveys are a lot more detailed than the BCS and uncovered crime not reported in the BCS. One well known survey is the Islington Crime Survey (1986 and 1995). ...read more.


We should also question the problem of representativeness with self report studies as most are on young people and students and not on a fair cross section of the population. The role of the government where laws are changed in response to cultural changes can have an impact on the crime statistics. What was considered to be a crime changes over time as a result of governments changing the law in response to cultural changes and the influence of powerful groups. For instance attitudes have changed to the use and possession of Cannabis and it's deregulation to type C so there has been a decline in arrests due to the police response to public opinion. The official statistics make it look as though it's declining in use when in actual fact it is not. Despite these criticisms, official statistics on crime are still a useful resource as long as they are used critically. They have been collected since 1857 and so can provide us with a historical overview of changing trends over time. They are cheap and easily available and they give us the ability to assess change over a period of time and they consist of a large number of cases. If they are combined with other statistics from self-report and victim surveys the sociologist can be given a clearer picture of the extent of crime in Britain. As with all surveys they must be assessed critically to ensure their validity and that they represent a cross section of people and give a balanced representative picture. ...read more.

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This essay gets nearly five stars. It is excellent in its breadth and depth. The full marks could be achieved by a closer tying of the information to the question - this is really an exam skills essay and could be practised by using the phrase "so this shows, in terms of usefulness......" at the end of each section.

Marked by teacher Lesley Clark 08/02/2012

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