Does Poverty Cause Crime?
Presenter: John Pope
Since the advent of modern social science, sociologists and criminologists have been preoccupied with finding the answer to what is the root cause of criminal (or deviant) behaviour and, therefore, what are the best ways to prevent it. Many theories have been put forward on the subject. Some of them have since been completely discredited — like Lombroso’s theory that you can determine a person’s propensity toward criminal behaviour by measuring certain physiological traits such as head size.
But much of the focus and research into the causes of crime has centered around the impact of social deprivation or poverty on those who commit it. Poverty is a huge problem worldwide, the US census in 2010 recorded that 15.1% of people in the US live in poverty, and for those aged under 18’s the rate was even higher at 22%. While the numbers in absolute poverty have been dropping there were still 1.4billion people on less than $1.25 per day as of 2005. Oxfam records that 1 in 5 in the UK live below the poverty line, and this is mostly children, pensioners or disabled people.
Keep in mind that ‘crime’ needs to be defined carefully, as it is a term which covers a very wide variety of activities and behaviours which are very difficult to address together (for example, burglary, incitement to racial hatred, insider trading, pedophilia abuse, driving over the speed limit and murder). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime, and also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty.
Some Canadian statistics:
•Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent.
• More than 70 per cent of those who enter prisons have not completed high school.
• Seventy per cent of offenders entering prisons have unstable job histories.
• Four of every five arrive with serious substance-abuse problems.
• A Toronto study of 300 homeless adults found 73 per cent of men had been arrested and 49 per cent of them incarcerated at least once. Twelve per cent of women had served time.
• Aboriginal peoples, many mired in poverty, represent 4 per cent of Canada’s population, they make up almost 20 per cent of those in federal prisons.
Questions to ponder:
- Are Canadian laws more strongly enforced in places where there is more poverty, or in aboriginal communities?
- Are the wealthy and the poor treated differently by Canadian courts?
- Are the wealthy and the poor treated differently by Canadian police?