Explain the concept of social control and how the criminal justice system deals with crime and deviance
Explain the concept of social control and how the criminal justice system deals with crime and deviance.
Many theorists study social control in relation to crime and deviance. Some of the prominent theorists include David Getza, Hirschi, and Ross. However surprising it may seem Jones (2004) recognized that it is only recently that social control has been studied in its own right (262). However, the root cause of this is not specific but could be put down to the fact that many regarded social control as a phenomenon with little importance. Academics have their own different definitions in relation to the concept social control. In general terms social control refers to the tactics and procedures carried out in order to help control the behaviours of individuals and groups, in terms of greater sanctions and rewards. Cohen (1985) puts this simply in his explanation of social control as he defines:
‘Social control as a term which as been used to describe all means through which conformity can be achieved from infant socialisation to incarceration’ (Cited in Muncie, 2001; 310).
Some form of social control exists in all societies. The significance of Social control within society has being recognised for many years. Philosophers have identified many needs for social control, one reason being that it assists in the upholding of law and order.
However the means of social control have revolutionized as times have changed. Traditionally social control was managed by the Parliament, Churches, and Kings. However in the present day the most common form of social control is managed by the government in the form of Laws. Social control is managed by two different means, these being informal and formal processes. In order for social control to be effective the structure of the control must be managed by those with authority and control. At present the Criminal Justice System deals with the majority of formal social control. The rest of this paper will endeavour to look at the concept of social control in more detail and go on to explain how the criminal justice system deals with crime and deviance.
Williams (2004) describes social control as ‘the ability of social groups or institutions to make norms or rules effective’ (330). Basically saying that social control is the things that citizens do or have done in order to help preserve or amend ones behaviour. Social control is also frequently perceived as wide-ranging, basically indicating any occurrence which leads to conformity. Whilst others regard it as a symbol of the procedures which are carried out within society in order to keep law and order. Whichever way it is perceived social control recognises deviant behaviour as infringements upon the law. Social control attempts to prevent or minimize such deviancy via the use of formal and informal processes. The processes implemented can include the use of laws, norms, traditions, and many other methods that aim to control ones behaviour. Such forms of regulated social control assist in the maintenance of society, without these societies would be total anarchy. Muncie (1999) argues that an ‘Absence of social control allows ever present criminal inclinations to be realized’ (154).
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One of the primary agents for social control is the socialisation process. This process is present from birth and consists of the way in which a child develops. Durkheim considers the socialisation process as influential, he argues that:
‘Human beings are born with the freedom to break law and will only be stopped from doing so either by preventing any opportunities arising… or by controlling their behaviour’ (cited in Williams, 2004; 335).
The socialisation process consists of what one decides to adopt as their particular norms. This can be formed by ones background, upbringing, or just the’ following of their natural desires’ (Williams, 2004; 335). Socialisation is classed as a form of social control because it determines what people are going to accept as their social norms later on in life. If this process fails to promote conformity and cultural norms other methods of social control will need to be taken.
Following socialisation, informal control processes are usually the primary ones used. Informal control systems focus on the ‘micro-social’ perspective and regard the basis of control to be external (Walklate, 2003; 32). This form of control works on the basis of rewards and punishment for acceptable and deviant behaviour. The processes used are usually exercised by those closest, for example your siblings, friends and peer groups (Williams, 2004; 335). Techniques used for this form of social control includes: extrinsic motivation techniques, bribery, and leading by example. Informal sanctions can be both positive and negative. Positive sanctions, which are usually carried out on children, try and make people behave in a normal manner. Whereas negative sanctions are basically something that is not very pleasant in order to make an individual conform to the cultural norms. If methods of informal social control are unsuccessful formal control processes will therefore take place.
The formal control system explores the ‘macro-social’ perspective whereby deviance control methods are carried out by those in authority (Walklate, 2003; 32). Formal control uses legal norms as it foundation for control. This usually consists of the use of laws, statutes, rules and regulations (Cohen, 1985; 41). Such forms of law enforcement are formed by the government and are usually administered by state controlled organisations such as the police, courts, prisons and the probation service. To create formal social control these organization use various law enforcement mechanisms, these usually been sanctions such as fines and detention for deviant behaviour. It is very rare that you will find formal control agencies using positive sanctions.
The Criminal Justice System regularly intervenes with the social control process. Williams (2004) believes they act upon social control when’ less severe and less formal agents of social control have failed’ (Williams, 2004; 329). They intervene in order to keep up with the demands of society. As society has become more and more complex so have the procedures to manage social control. Within the Criminal Justice System there are many organisations which use formal social control in order to prevent or diminish crime and deviance. Some of the primary organisations include the police, judiciary and the armed services. They all have there owns ways in which they try to use social control in order to prevent crime and deviance. Williams (2004) identified some of these methods as shown below:
‘ The creation of new crimes or the extension of old offences; the introduction of CCTV surveillance; zero tolerance policing; increased emphasis on victims; more minimum sentences, more extended sentences; greater use of sovereignty in community punishments’ (352).
The organisations mentioned use various social control techniques in order to reduce crime and deviance the main of them being preventative and detective techniques, as shown above. If these social control techniques fail to prevent crime and deviance some form of punishment will take place. However, rather than using positive sanctions whereby they persuade individuals to conform to the cultural norms of society they adopt the use of negative sanctions and ‘threaten them with what might occur if they do not’ (Williams, 2004; 351). They use this social control technique as a deterrent from crime and deviance. If someone commits a deviant act the social control consequences will usually mean them getting arrested by the police or armed services. Once arrested the judiciary will implement their social control practices. This will result in punishing the offender and the providing of justice. Most courts ask not only what punishment is applicable to the offence, but also what should the offender suffer or, often, what does this offender need (Williams, 2004; 358). Their method of punishment is via negative sanctions which are unpleasant and usually consist of fines, cautions, rehabilitation, and imprisonment.
The decisions made in relation to the sanctions given are of great importance. It is of great significant to everyone in society to ensure that criminals do not re-offend. However the way in which the Criminal Justice Systems deals with criminals can to some extent result in constant re-offending. David Metza identified this in his Four Process theory which focuses on the interaction between the individual and formal social control agencies. He ‘recognised that the relationship between them both could result in labelling one as deviant’ (Jones, 2001; 189-90). Metzas theory consists of four processes: ban and transparency, apprehension and labelling, exclusion, and post prison stigmatisation and social rejection. The first stage that he referred to was ‘ban and transparency’. This process is carried out by the Criminal Justice System when they find the accused guilty. In Metza’s theory they ‘ban’ ones behaviour and start to take away their identity. This then leads to there life being in the eyes of the public as they find it difficult to keep it secret. The second stage is ‘apprehension and labelling’. They are then classed as criminals by the Criminal Justice System. There will therefore be an increase in ones fear of their identity. The third stage is ‘exclusion’. Ones former identity will start to disappear. Imprisonment will then confirm the individual’s criminality. The fourth stage is ‘post prison stigmatisation and social rejection’. Society will be reluctant to accept the deviant back. (Jones, 2001; 189-90). Once the offender reaches the fourth stage it is almost an impossible task to get out of. They are labelled as deviants and everyone will know it. The Criminal Justice System forms this vicious circle. Once people are labelled as delinquents they loose their original identity and struggle to get rid of the labelling. As a consequence they will find it hard to get a job. They will then commit more deviant acts in order to get money to pay for food and shelter. They could then find their selves going through the whole Criminal Justice System yet again.
Evidence shows that informal social control methods use to be the traditional way of control as it was an easy method and relied upon the socialization process. This therefore meant that most people conformed to fit in with the social norms of society. It would be ideal if everyone conformed to this method but this seems too simple to ask of society. However the modern society of today is a lot more complicated. As a consequence of this people are left to be more reliant upon formal control methods. The results of this can be shown in the Criminal Justice Systems statistics as more and more people have to go through the system as a form of social control. Some think that the Criminal Justice System is an effective way of delivering justice. However when looking at Metza's theory this can be questioned as it seems to be that the Criminal Justice System are delivering life sentences of criminal labelling rather than justice. Lemert (1967) emphasizes this:
‘Firstly deviance is a process, and secondly that social control is not simply a response to deviant activity, but plays an active and propelling role in the creation and promotion of deviance’ (Cited in Muncie, 1999; 118).
Cohen, S. (1985), Visions of Social Control, Crime, Punishment, and Classification, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Jones, S. (2001), Criminology, Second edition, Butterworth’s.
Muncie, J. (1999), Youth and Crime: a Critical Introduction. London: Sage Publications.
Walklate, S. (2003), Understanding Criminology, Second edition, Open University press: Buckingham.
Williams, S. (2004). Textbook on Criminology, Fifth edition, Oxford University Press.